Lately I’ve realized that my prayers are very inwardly focused. I’ve made great progress in exploring my heart, I am learning how to separate the wants from the needs of my soul, and I am better praying for my will to be aligned with what is actually “right.” All of that is good, but I still feel at a loss when it comes to praying for others.
My greatest hesitation is simply due to the fact that I can’t examine someone else’s soul in the same way that I can search my own. I find a lot of my prayers for other people follow a pattern of “please allow that they may have this blessing…unless that’s not really what they should have…in which case, I don’t know, just bless them with whatever it is they actually do need?…”
It’s not at all a question of whether I should be praying for others, but more of how I can do so in a way that lends real confidence to those prayers? I know the scriptures have some mighty examples of people praying for others, and I have decided to try and glean from their examples.
And with that in mind I suppose I might as well go straight to the source. I will conduct my study with a prayer directly from Jesus Christ’s own mouth, one entirely focused on those he cares for. I am talking, of course, about the Great Intercessory Prayer found in John 17.
These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee:
As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.
And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.
Glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee.
Jesus has previously taught that the son can do nothing but what he has seen from the father. He reinforces that notion here in his prayer. He has to be glorified by God first, and then he can glorify God.
If we are to do good to others, if we wish to be used as an instrument to bless the lives of others, then first we need to be shown God’s goodness ourselves. It is not selfish to pray to receive, when our intent is that by the receiving we may then have to give to others.
As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.
Jesus has been given power and also the people which he is meant to exercise that power for. This means he has a calling, a specific thing he is supposed to do. I think much of our uncertainty when praying for others will be lifted if we better understand what our calling to them is.
What was the purpose God had in mind when He put us in their lives? What power did he give us to then carry out that purpose? Knowledge of these two things informs us of both the need and of the resource. Then we just let those two halves meet within us.
John 17:4, 6, 8
I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.
I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word.
For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me.
I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.
It really struck me that this was the prayer before the end. Jesus is praying for these disciples because he is about to leave them, and he knows it. I can only imagine how deeply his emotions would be running for them at this moment.
They have kept thy word…I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them…they have believed that thou didst send me.
And Jesus really does know these followers intimately. He knows what they have kept, what they have received, and what they believe. He knows them clear through to their hearts. These are his friends, and I think you can feel the pride he has for them as he appraises their growth.
My takeaway for this is that I believe it is possible and worthy to pray for those you don’t know (soldiers and missionaries abroad, the poor, the world in general), but I also believe that your prayers gain greater power the more connected you are with those you are petitioning for. The more you are able to know and love your fellowman, the more perfect your prayers for them will be.
John 17:11-12, 14
And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.
While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled.
I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.
…that they may be one, as we are
Perhaps the most succinct expression of Jesus Christ’s entire gospel: simply to bring unity between God and man. And notice that he is praying for this blessing right as he is about to go and perform the one action that will make this union possible.
Sometimes I fall into a habit of asking God to grant wishes like a genie, hoping that He will take care of things so that I don’t have to. Really I should have my own plan for accomplishing good in the world, and then ask Him to bless me in those efforts.
I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept … I have given them thy word
Jesus further reinstates that idea of doing our part to accomplish the good in the world. Can you see how he is affirming the fact that caring for these disciples has been a partnership between him and God? God gave them to Jesus to care for, Jesus in turn kept them in God’s name, and he did so by giving them God’s word. This is not a one-sided affair, this is two companions working with a shared objective. It’s the same partnership God wants with all the rest of us as well. A partnership where we work with Him to bless the lives of others!
I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.
And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.
This continues that idea of how Jesus is only imparts the same as what he has received. He has to be sanctified by the truth before he gives that same sanctifying truth for others.
Once again, if we seek to bless the lives of God’s children, first we need get ourselves living in harmony with God. Remember when Peter’s faith failed and he started to slip into the sea? Jesus wouldn’t have been able to help him if he had been treading water himself.
…that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.
Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.
It struck me that Jesus is praying for universals. Everyone needs to be kept from evil and to be sanctified through the truth.
One of the confusions I mentioned at the beginning of this study was not knowing the specific life-experiences everyone else needed. Therefore I didn’t feel bold in knowing what to pray for them. From these passages I’m starting to think that that might be okay.
While I may not know whether my friend should get that job he’s applying for or not, I do know without a doubt that that friend needs to feel the love of God in his life. I know it because that’s a universal need, so I can be praying specifically for that.
John 17:21-23, 26
That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:
I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.
And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.
That they all may be one…
…they also may be one in us
…that they may be one, even as we are one…
I in them, and thou in me…
Jesus’s intentions come across very clearly here, don’t they? He finishes his prayer with an intense focus on perfect unity. He really wants these disciples to be one with him and the Father. That’s what his gospel and his sacrifice are really all about. Jesus died so that we could be one.
And I think if we examine our sincerest prayers we’ll find that unity is all we’re really asking for as well.
“Help me to alleviate their pain…”
“Bless them to feel thy love…”
“Show me how to forgive them…”
“Give me the words to speak to them…”
Each of these are prayers to take down walls of separation, to bring in empathy, understanding, and a shift of perspective. It isn’t just unity between each other, either, that wouldn’t be enough. It has to be a unity with God, a three-way meeting of the minds between us and Him. If ever we obtain real peace, it will only be by all parties converging on Him.
I really was not sure what I would find when I decided to do a study on how to pray for others. Even when I selected John 17 for my research, I wasn’t sure what I would be able to glean for it. I have honestly been amazed at the wealth of messages that are in this short chapter, though, and the promise of “ask and ye shall receive” has been abundantly filled! In the Great Intercessory Prayer I feel that Jesus lays out a perfect template for how to petition for our brothers and sisters. Let’s do a review of what we learned.
Get Yourself Connected First
First and foremost you need to consider your own connection to God. You need to know His goodness before you can pray for it in others. If we try to pray for the love of God to come into other’s lives and we have not experienced that love ourselves, then we are just praying a “wish” instead of praying in “faith.”
19- And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified.
23- … that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.
Secondly you need to be connected to those you pray for. Even if these are strangers you are praying for, you can have your heart drawn out in common humanity for your fellow brothers and sisters. Jesus knew those he prayed for clear through to their very souls. He knows their goodness, and he knows their failings. He truly was their shepherd.
8- For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me.
12- While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition;
Make this a partnership
We’re not meant to treat God like a genie and ask Him to do everything for us. Neither are we meant to treat God like a taskmaster and who demands us to do everything on our own. One of the messages that comes through clearest to me in Jesus’s prayer is the relationship he and God have as fellow workers in the same field.
8- For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them.
22- And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them;
ask for the universals
If you’re unsure of what to specifically ask for those you pray for, pray for what you know. You know that everyone needs God’s love in their lives. You know that everyone needs to feel the reality of being God’s own child. You know that everyone is their best when they see themselves the way Christ sees them. You know everyone needs forgiveness and Grace. Jesus prays for universal goodness that all of us can echo in our own prayers.
15- I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.
17- Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth
Ask for unity
And recognize that your desires for others all come back to the need for you and those you pray for to come to a common ground: God’s common ground. If there is a rift between you, each of you coming to God will close that gap. If there is a hurt or a wound, God’s presence will heal that. If there is a desire to serve and love, God’s guidance will show your hands the work to do.
21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.
26 And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.