I am praying for them…

“I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” (John 17:9-13 ESV)

What powerful words… I am praying for them. I’ve heard many comments in the past few days, and the past few years, about how we Christians should do so much more than pray when a national tragedy occurs. While I understand what they mean and I acknowledge the need for more than just rhetoric, please, please remember that praying, real heartfelt, pouring out our souls before God praying is SO much more than just empty words flung towards heaven. Effective and decisive action always begins with information, thoughtful insight, planning and communication. While there are certainly times when we should and must act quickly, it doesn’t negate the need for these other essential elements of decision making.

Praying is, at its core, communication with the sovereign God. The failure to pray or to do so without humility along with a desire to obey, a willingness to listen and a desire to change is the height of arrogance and disobedience for a follower of Christ. We often approach prayer as a “wish list” we are presenting to a grandparent who wants to spoil us instead of an omnipotent creator who knows us better than we know ourselves.

While human communication is certainly a give and take, prayer must always be more listening and receiving on our part just by its very nature. While God certainly desires that we be open and honest with our fears, struggles, failures and questions when we pray, we must also recognize that God doesn’t need our advice on the best way to handle any situation. That’s really why he’s God and you’re praying to Him and not vice-versa.

But notice who Jesus prays for in this moment. He prays for the disciples and for US! “I’m praying for those whom you’ve given me, for they are YOURS!” You and me. He was praying for us because we belong to the Father. I have three children, two sons and a daughter, and four grandchildren, two beautiful granddaughters and two handsome grandsons. While I have love, compassion for and a desire to help all children, I have a special affinity for these because they’re mine. They love me, call me, text me, and occasionally ask for my advice. Sometimes they even follow it. But, I promise that my love for them goes beyond their ability to know it. I would willingly give my life for theirs. Sound familiar? Sounds like Jesus’ words…

God loves and desires to bless all mankind, but many reject His Word, ignore His commands and scoff at His acts of compassion and love. Unfortunately, those who often reject God’s sovereignty and authority over their lives are those most familiar with His Word. Consider the story of Jonah and the people of Nineveh. God sent the prophet to proclaim judgment on their sin, but he resisted and then outright refused. Even after spending days in a fish’s belly Jonah reluctantly preached repentance to the people of Nineveh. He then sat on a hillside overlooking the city to watch God’s judgment, but the people repented and God withdrew His judgment. Jonah then became angry because God had shown compassion on them, just as he had predicted. Jonah’s anger was misplaced, and ours is often misplaced. We want judgment, but God desires repentance.

“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9 ESV)

Now, I want to look at some specific things Jesus prays for us, and expects from us…

First, He asks the Father to “keep them in your name.” Last week I mentioned that a person’s name represents his true identity and nature in Hebrew culture. So, for Jesus to request that we be kept in the Father’s name is to call upon the very nature and essence of God’s character to preserve Christ’s followers through divine power and action. Many mistakenly assume that their ongoing salvation is dependent upon their own goodness and perseverance. However, Paul asks the Galatian believers…

“Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:2-3 ESV)

If our salvation comes by grace through faith and not by our own efforts or goodness, then our being kept or our preservation in Christ comes the same way. By His very nature, God keeps us and holds onto us. We know this through our own experience as parents. While our parenting abilities are but a shadow of God’s true nature, they do give us glimpses into His character. A good parent would never abandon their child just because he made a mistake. We would draw him close and teach him how and why his actions were wrong, the damage his actions caused and how to change and do better. Surely our Heavenly Father would do no less.

By the way, some of us have experienced the pain and struggles of rebellious children, just like Jesus references the loss of Judas in this passage. No matter how much we love them sometimes children simply reject their parents teachings and rebel against their family’s deeply-held religious beliefs. When this happens, we continue to love them, tell them what’s right and best for them, encourage them towards change, and hope and pray for a different outcome. But, some still reject all efforts of love and forgiveness. They see nothing but their own selfish path and foolish choices. Do we ever stop loving them? No, but we grieve over their rebellious actions and their rejection of our love. God does too…

Next, Jesus prays for unity among the disciples, that they may be one even as He and the Father are one. This should also be our prayer and desire. Too often, the church is seen as being divided and split by hundreds of different factions and denominations. In truth, we are more alike than we are different. Martin Luther desired reform in the church, not division. Martin Luther King, Jr. also desired reform in the church and not division. While some see Luther’s and King’s goals as both good but distinct and different, I think they sought the same thing. Unity in the church and glory to God through scriptural obedience.

Theological errors and abuses in the church led Martin Luther to take a stand against papal authority, the sale of indulgences and a stand for salvation by grace through faith. Theological errors and abuses in the church led Martin Luther King to take a stand against racial injustice and inequality and for social reform. They both believed the church of Christ should lead out in making social and cultural change and should seek unity among followers of Christ.

While neither Luther’s nor King’s vision of a united church is a reality, I believe it is becoming a priority for most churches. However, we must continue to push towards unity among believers from all cultures, ethnic backgrounds and even Christian denominations. Too often we let our differences divide us when they can, and should, unify us. The very truth of scripture is that the gospel is for all men regardless of their ethnic or religious background. Our obedience to and proclamation of this truth is deeply needed by our modern culture. James tells us…

“If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors… So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:8-9, 12-13 ESV)

If you didn’t catch that, James says there’s no place for showing favoritism in the church. We are all deeply in need of mercy, and mercy trumps judgment. We should speak and act as one who understands we too could have been judged guilty under the law, but we were shown mercy by the Judge. Let us show mercy to those we tend to judge. Mercy leads us into unity, the unity of those who’ve been forgiven by the merciful King. Unity in faith…

Finally, Jesus prays that the disciples will experience the fullness of Christ’s joy within themselves. He specifically prays that this would happen “in the world” because He’s going to the Father, and soon. Why does he pray specifically for this? Because they are about to experience the very depths of despair in the circumstances of the next 24 – 72 hours in light of their human knowledge and understanding. However, if they are able to keep a proper perspective, they can discover the joy that Jesus already possesses.

Scripture always encourages us to view our circumstances in light of God’s eternal purposes and plans. That’s really what faith is all about. It’s trusting God when our physical reality doesn’t reflect our spiritual beliefs or understanding. It’s believing God when everyone else says you’re wrong. It’s trusting God’s Word when everyone else says you’re nuts. It’s knowing God’s heart when you can’t quite see His handiwork in your circumstances. It’s believing in the resurrection before you go to the cross.

That’s the joy Jesus wants them to know. That doesn’t imply the nails weren’t painful, just necessary, purposeful. Joy doesn’t deny the pain, it simply sees beyond it.

The joy of faith is not a denial of the reality of pain but a confidence in the resurrection. How about you? Is your happiness fleeting or enduring? Is it based in your abilities or God’s faithfulness? Having begun in the Spirit, and are you now trying to be perfected by the flesh? Not only can it not complete you, it can’t fully satisfy you either. Only Christ can do that…

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