Prayer is good.
Praying for each other is good.
And I appreciate people who pray for me in the privacy of their own minds.
But I am taken to a whole new level of honored when someone prays for me out loud in my presence. I am humbled. I am touched someone would take time out of his or her life to talk to God on my behalf. I feel valued when someone lets me eavesdrop on their intimate conversation with our Father about me.
These are the emotions I experience reading John 17. In this chapter, Jesus is praying to God the Father for Himself, for His then-disciples, and for all believers to come.
We have every reason to assume that Jesus is praying in front of His disciples. They are conversing in the last verse of John 16, and the first verse of John 17 reads, “After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed” (John 17:1).
Can you imagine listening to Jesus talk to God the Father? Just to hear Jesus pour out His heart about Himself would have been moving enough (John 17:1-5). But then He prays for the disciples in their presence (John 17:6-19).
Jesus spends the first three verses commending the disciples to the Father. Jesus tells God the disciples have “obeyed your word” and “accepted [your words]” and believed “with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me” (John 17:6-8). In other words, Jesus is vouching for the disciples. JESUS. Not just some random person. Jesus Himself. What an honor that must have been for the disciples to hear.
After Jesus verifies the disciples’ faith, He begins to pray for them (John 17:9;11;13;15;17;19). Jesus asks the Father to protect the disciples while they remain in a world hostile to them and the Gospel they represent (John 17:14-15). Jesus asks for protection from the evil one and for God to “sanctify [the disciples] by the truth” (John 17:17;19).
The footnote in my Bible defines sanctify as “set apart for sacred use or make holy”. How honored must the disciples have felt for JESUS to ask the Lord to use THEM – a ragtag crew prone to doubt, density, and denial -for Kingdom purposes?
There is a curious verse in the middle of Jesus’ prayer for the disciples. In verse 13 Jesus says “I am coming to you (God the Father) now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.”
Jesus is explaining that his praying for the disciples in front of the disciples will yield the full measure of His joy within the disciples.
And I kind of know what He means. When someone pours out a heartfelt prayer on my behalf, I feel valued. How much more so when the person praying is Jesus Himself?
Lucky for us, Jesus prays for us in the next section of the chapter (John 17:20-26). Jesus prays for “those who will believe in me through [the disciples'] message” (John 17:20). To be clear, that means every believer who has ever lived since that first batch of believers who walked and talked with Jesus Himself. The discples’ message – the Gospel – is still being spread today. And anyone who believes in Jesus on account of hearing that message is the subject of Jesus’ prayer.
So what does Jesus pray for us? Unity. Unity with each other, and unity with the Godhead. Jesus also prays, “I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory…” I think this is Jesus’ invitation for us to experience His glory during our earthly lives. But what does that mean? Maybe it means having spiritual eyes to see Him working around us. Maybe it means working with Him to accomplish Kingdom objectives – like spreading the Gospel, seeing hearts changed by the Word, and serving others with Christlikeness so they will see Jesus in us.
Jesus finishes His prayer for us by asking that “the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them” (John 17:26). I don’t think I can come up with two greater gifts than the Father’s love and Jesus Himself in me.
Jesus prayed for you. And He still – currently, continuously – prays for you (Hebrews 7:25; Romans 8:34; 1 John 2:1).
Knowing this, may you have the full measure of His joy within you.