We return to our message series on prayer. We looked at prayer as communion with God and caring for self. We saw that prayer is not so much getting God to love us or getting God to do what we want, but prayer is getting to know the God who already loves us and who wants to show us His love if we would only ask.
This morning, we will look at prayer as caring for others. Sometime ago, I saw a cartoon in a Christian magazine of a pastor walking toward one of his parishioners. In the text bubble above the pastor’s head read, “Uh-oh, there’s Bob. I said I would pray for him this week. ‘Dear God, please be with Bob.’”
The next frame, the Pastor shakes Bob’s hand, and says, “How are you, Bob? I prayed for you this week.”
Can anyone identify with this cartoon? All of us have forgotten to pray for others at one time or another. Sometimes our forgetfulness comes from not understanding our motivation to pray for others. Other times we forget because we have not developed a time or a way to pray for others. And for those who know the reason and have the way, there is still the need to know how to pray for others. We will look at all three concerns to enable us to effectively pray for others.
Our text this morning is John 17, known as the real Lord’s Prayer or the high priestly prayer of Jesus. We will make three observations: Why we pray for others, who we pray for and what we pray for when we pray for others.
Jesus prayed this prayer after his last meal with his disciples. Through this prayer, we see Jesus’ great concern for others, even as he was aware of his imminent death. Caring for others through prayer is compassionate, resourceful and enduring. From Jesus’ example of praying for others, we can discover why, who and what to pray for when praying for others. Let’s look together.
First, the reason for why we pray is the glory of God. Vs. 1-5; 24-26
Many people note that Jesus began this prayer by praying for Himself. On the surface, that appears to be true. But when we look deeper, we realize He is praying that God the Father would be glorified, that God the Father would get the credit for what Jesus accomplishes on the cross. And at the close of Jesus’ prayer, He prays that others might see and agree that God the Father is the One Who deserves the credit for sending Jesus to us. In short, Jesus’ prays for others because he wants to introduce God’s love and goodness to others.
Why do we pray for others? We pray for others maybe out of compassion for them. We pray for others in order to change them. We pray for others because others ask us to pray. We pray for others because we are helpless, but God is not. We pray for others, because we also can benefit from God answering our prayer for others.
These are some of the common reasons for praying for others. But the best reason for praying for others is that God the Father might be glorified. We pray for others so that we might introduce to them the God Who is powerful, good and loving.
When we pray for others in order to declare God’s power, goodness and love, three wonderful things happen. First, we pray with pure motive. No longer is our prayer to alleviate our helplessness or to control others for our own benefits. Our prayer for others is about introducing others to God and His power, goodness and love.
Second, we offer others the best. When I ask Connie how I can pray for her when she discovered her cancer had returned, she told me, “Pray that my life would glorify God.” In other words, pray that my life would declare God’s power, goodness and love. God made us to glorify Him, and when our lives glorify God, we are living life to its best.
Third, we persevere in prayer. We often don’t pray for others because we lack love for others; we lack discipline in prayer; or we lack motivation to pray. I’ve found that we persevere in prayer when we obey God, not when we hear a motivational message on prayer. God commands that we declare His greatness and goodness through our lives. And praying for others introduces to others God’s greatness and goodness.
The next time we pray for others, we might pray something like, “God, glorify Yourself in this person’s life. Show Yourself strong, good and loving in her life.”
Second, the people for whom we pray are those God entrusts to us. V. 6-22
We see that Jesus prayed for those whom God entrusted to Him. He also prayed for those who will respond to His message spoken at a later time. Jesus did not pray for everyone, just those within His circle of influence.
With our current technology, our circle of influence is not limited by geography or time. Our circle of influence can include people around the world and people in future generations, because of the Internet. But to be sure, our circle of influence includes our family, our coworkers, our classmates, our church and our neighbors.
Proverbs 3:27 tells us, “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act.” Samuel understood the good we have the power to do include prayer: “As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you – [the people God entrusted to him] (1 Samuel 12:23).”
I usually pray for no more than five people each day. On Mondays, I pray for pastors and missionaries. On Tuesdays, I pray for our community and world concerns. On Wednesdays, I pray for church members. On Thursdays, I pray for my calling, character and competence in ministry. On Fridays, I pray for Susan, Esther and Hannah. On Saturdays, I pray for the Elders, Ministry Team Leaders and potential leaders of our church. On Sundays, I pray for my extended family members.
These are the people God has entrusted to me. I simply devise categories to not leave anyone out and to make possible praying for each one eventually. When we want to pray for the people God entrusts to us, we can be like the ant who ate an entire elephant – one bite at a time. The ant is not overwhelmed by such an enormous task, and we don’t need to be overwhelmed by our task to pray for those God entrusts to us.
Third, the content for what we pray is what God controls. Vs. 6-22
Jesus prayed for matters that are in God’s control. Jesus did not ask God to do for him what he was responsible to do. Jesus was faithful; he worked hard; he taught his disciples about God the Father; he protected his disciples from the evil one. But when he prayed this prayer, he knew his time with his disciples was coming to an end. What Jesus asked of God was outside of Jesus’ control. These matters were now in God’s control.
Praying for others is not a substitute for tangibly doing what we can to help others. Praying for others is not getting God to do what others need to do for themselves. Praying for others is not a magic spell for the lazy or the irresponsible. Praying for others is asking God to do what God controls.
God does not control everything, even though He is in control of everything. Some people equate God being in control with God controlling everything, even our reactions to situations. If that were true, we would be like robots or puppets, without the freedom to choose and without responsibility for our actions. Yet, the Bible tells us God holds us responsible for our actions. We have the freedom to choose how we react to situations.
When we pray for others, we are not asking God to control other people’s reactions. We are asking God to provide what are beyond their control. 1 Samuel 2:6-7 tells us, “The LORD brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up. The LORD sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts.” These are in God’s control, but we are responsible for our reactions to these situations in life.
People are not in control of every circumstance, but we are in control of our reaction to our circumstances. Sometimes temptations come our way without our asking for them, but we are still in control of our reaction to the temptation. We are not in control of what happens after death, but we are in control of our receiving the gift of eternal life from God. What others are not in control of, and what God is in control of, is the content of what we pray for others.
For instance, God is in control of our life, death and healing. But people are in control of choosing healthy behaviors, avoiding risky behaviors, and taking their medicine if they are sick. When we pray for a sick person to get well, we are asking God to heal and to extend life, not to manipulate a person to do what we think is best. Dr. Ben Lerner pointed out, “Medicine does not heal. God heals. Give medicine to a dead person, and the medicine will not do a bit of good.”
When we pray for others in areas within their control, we don’t know that God really intervened. But when we pray for others in areas beyond their control, we can see God’s intervention in their lives. And the glory will not go to others nor will the glory go to the one who prayed. The glory will go to God.
St. Francis de Sales commented, “Some men become proud and insolent because they ride a fine horse, wear a feather in their hat or are dressed in a fine suit of clothes. Who does not see the folly of this? If there be any glory in such things, the glory belongs to the horse, the bird and the tailor.”
When we follow the example of Jesus Christ in praying for one another, neither others nor we can take the glory. The glory belongs to God, who helps us in what is beyond our control.