Are you familiar with John 17? The precious chapter of the Bible when Jesus prayed for you and for me? The Holy Spirit has led me to it again and again in recent months as I have found myself wrestling with such a heavy burden for the church (the body of Christ)!
I’ve seen such beauty displayed among its members at times that I feel as if I’ve gotten a glimpse of heaven. Yet, I’ve also seen so much damage being done. I’ve seen ministries torn down, precious people wounded, and I’ve felt the heart of my Savior break over what should never be! But as I bask in the words of my Lord in John 17, He has whispered to my soul, “This is my deepest desire – the greatest longing of my heart!”
I feel compelled to appeal once more to the small audience I have and ask us all to revisit this passage (this prayer for unity) together, asking God to lead us to the cry of His heart. Let’s ask Him to help us understand our part in that unity and to make us one body, united as perfectly as the Father and Son.
The Heart of Jesus in John 17
If you knew that in about an hour, (maybe two) you were going to be arrested and tried for a crime you didn’t commit what would you do? What if you already knew that you would be convicted for that crime and sentenced to death? What if you knew, that before you were killed for this crime you didn’t commit, you would be beaten until you were unrecognizable as a human being, and abandoned by everyone you loved? WHAT IF you knew that you would hang in utter pain, agony, and total misery; mocked, despised, rejected, and alone until you breathed your last breath?
I can think of a lot of things I’d probably try to do, but I don’t think one of them would be to stop everything and take the time to pray for my closest friends. (The ones I already know are going to abandon me in only a few short hours.) No, pretty sure that’s not what I’d do.
I also doubt I’d be thinking about anyone’s future but my own, so I don’t think I’d pray for people that haven’t even been born yet! But Jesus, He’s not like me! In the chapters of John leading up to John 17, we get an intimate look into that last day Jesus spent with His disciples before his arrest and subsequent execution. He did a lot of really special things during those hours, but as the time drew near for Him to be betrayed, we see that Jesus approached His Father in order to intercede for the ones He loved.
Praise God, John (the disciple Jesus loved) recorded this beautiful prayer for us in John 17. I don’t know about you, but in light of the extraordinary circumstances, it seems to me like this might be something to pay attention to. It seems like this must have been the most important thing to Jesus, don’t you think? And if it was important to Him, surely it should be important to us too!
Jesus Opens His Prayer for Unity
John 17:1-5 – After saying all these things, Jesus looked up to heaven and said,
“Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son so He can give glory back to You. For You have given Him authority over everyone. He gives eternal life to each one You have given Him. And this is the way to have eternal life – to know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the One You sent to earth.
I brought glory to You here on earth by completing the work You gave Me to do. Now, Father, bring Me into the glory We shared before the world began.”
The first thing that strikes me in these first few verses of John 17 is the attitude with which Jesus approaches His Father. Surely this is something I should study and seek to imitate. Surely the attitude of Christ in prayer is the attitude His followers should also have!
I notice right away that He speaks with boldness. There’s no making excuses for what He says, or what He asks. He seems to understand who He is, and isn’t afraid to speak with the authority that comes with His position. At the same time, every single word is focused on the glorification of the Father. I want to be like Jesus and understand my purpose as one who is to bring glory to God, above all else.
John 17:6-8 – “I have revealed You to the ones You gave Me from this world. They were always Yours. You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your Word. Now they know that everything I have is a gift from You, for I have passed on to them the message You gave Me. They accepted it and know that I came from You, and they believe You sent Me.”
As Jesus continues to pray, I am struck with such a sense of God’s sovereignty! “They were always Yours…” “You gave them to Me…” “Everything I have is a gift from You…” “You sent Me…” I’m so grateful for the security I have in knowing that God’s already got it all figured out. Jesus had total confidence in Him and in His plan, and simply lived His life seeking to fulfill that plan. I can too!
Jesus Prayed for the Disciples
John 17:9-12 – “My prayer is not for the world, but for those You have given Me, because they belong to You. All who are mine belong to You, and You have given them to Me, so they bring Me glory.
Now I am departing from the world; they are staying in the world, but I am coming to You. Holy Father, you have given Me Your Name; now protect them by the power of Your Name so that they will be united just as We are. During My time here, I protected them by the power of the Name You gave Me. I guarded them so that no one was lost, except the one headed for destruction, as the Scriptures foretold.”
Just a few verses earlier, Jesus stated His deep desire to be with the Father again; to return to the glory they shared before the world began. He obviously longed for heaven, but at the same time, in these verses, He expressed sincere love and concern for the ones He had been given here – the ones He would have to leave behind. I am so encouraged by that, because often, I feel torn between my longing for heaven and the things that matter to my heart here. I find it validating to know that Jesus not only understands, but shared that internal conflict.
What was Jesus’s greatest concern for His followers after He left this world? That they would be left vulnerable and unprotected and could in turn be divided. This is what inspired his prayer for unity.
I think every one of us with children understands His heart in that moment! How often do we pray that if God ever takes us home to Him that He will protect our children in our absence? That He will keep them together and help them to be able to depend on each other to get them through? Don’t we also fear that they’ll be left open and vulnerable, knowing no one else could possibly love and protect them the way we do?
Jesus had the same fears, but He also trusted completely the truth that His Father loved those precious souls just as much as He did. He believed that God’s power was sufficient to keep them safe – whether Jesus was here on earth or not! Do I have that same kind of faith? Have I confidently placed my trust in His power to guard what matters most to me and bring it all together under His perfect plan?
Instead of worrying about all the little details, am I instead inspired to simply trust God and pray a prayer for unity? God, please help my unbelief!
John 17:13-19 – “Now I am coming to You. I told them many things while I was with them in this world so they would be filled with My joy. I have given them Your Word.
And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I’m not asking You to take them out of this world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. They do not belong to this world any more than I do.
Make them holy by Your Truth; teach them Your Word, which is Truth. Just as You sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. And I give Myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by Your Truth.”
WOW!!!! What love! Jesus understands that in order for His followers (the ones that He loves so much) to be protected from the evil one, they must first be made holy, just as He is holy. He also knows that can’t happen as long as they’re bound by this world. He knows they have to be set free, and He offers Himself without hesitation so they can be protected!
He gives so much to those He loves, doesn’t He? His joy, God’s Word, a purpose and a mission, Himself, holiness, and Truth! On top of all that, His tone as He prays is so tender, so concerned, so utterly in love!
Jesus Prayed for the Church (And Jesus Prayed for YOU!)
John 17:20-21 – “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in Me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as You and I are One – as You are in Me, Father, and I am in You. And may they be in Us so that the world will believe You sent Me.”
Be still my heart! Jesus wasn’t just praying for His disciples here. He was praying for all who would ever believe in Him. Jesus prayed for ME!!! Friend, if you are a believer, Jesus prayed for you too!
Who am I that the Holy One of Israel would do such a thing? I am overwhelmed to think that before He went to the cross to pay the price for my sin, Jesus took the time to pray for me! Doesn’t it make your heart flutter to think Jesus prayed for you?
It should also cause us to take notice. What was it that was so important to him? What did He ask the Father for when He lifted us up in prayer? One simple thing – unity! He wanted us to be united together as one, and so His was a prayer for unity. He wanted all believers through the whole of time to experience the one-ness He had with His Father so the world would believe that Jesus was sent by God.
His greatest desire was for us to be united so that the world will believe in Him!
Are we taking the deepest longing of our Savior’s heart seriously? Are we living united with the body of Christ here on earth? Sadly, I have to answer that many times, I am not! Many times, I’m standing in the way of my Lord’s desire because I’m too proud to let go of this or that. Can you relate?
How it must break His heart! How crushing it must be to have given His everything for us, only to have us flippantly treat each other with contempt! I am so saddened as I consider what I’ve done to Him – how I’ve hurt Him. I am filled with such regret as I consider that my behavior may have kept the world from seeing who He really is. My behavior may have been the reason that someone else never believed! I am so sorry!
Lord, help me!
Help us all!
This should not be!
Jesus’s Prayer for Unity – Make them ONE
John 17:22-26 – “I have given them the glory You gave Me, so they may be one as We are One. I am in them and You are in Me.
May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that You sent Me and that You love them as much as You love Me. Father, I want these who You have given Me to be with Me where I am. Then they can see all the glory You gave Me because You loved Me even before the world began!”
“Oh righteous Father, the world doesn’t know You, but I do; and these disciples know You sent Me. I have revealed You to them, and I will continue to do so. Then Your love for Me will be in them, and I will be in them.”
Praise the Lord, we serve a God who continues to show us grace and mercy every day of our lives! As long as there is air in our lungs we have another opportunity to get it right!
Will you resolve with me to work hard at taking the unity of the church as seriously as Jesus did? Sisters, He died in our place, He gave us His glory, He revealed the Father to us, and He prayed for us!! Surely the least we can do is seek to share His deepest desires and work to make them a reality.
Let’s follow Jesus’s example a pray a prayer for unity.
Let’s pray that we will experience a revival, a great awakening in the church, and that we will join together in perfect unity; just like God. Let’s pray that as we do the world will see us and know that Jesus was the Messiah – sent by God, and that God loves them as much as He loves His own precious Son. Let’s ask God to fill us up with His love, and let’s work hard to allow it to overflow. Lord, make us one!