14th January 2012

Praying For Us

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you….May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
John 17:20-23 (NIV)

Most of us have the experience of praying in hopefulness mixed up with various degrees of confusion, doubt or maybe frustration. You pray because you ought to, or because you need to; you give thanks for what you hope God intended and make requests for what you suppose is good. And then at other times, maybe too transient to recall with any certainty, there is a sort of peace, a sense that one is praying straight towards the will of God and that the prayer, whilst needing to be said, was already true from the moment it was thought or spoken.

Given that Jesus was Son of God and had power himself to guarantee the prayers of his apostles, it follows that his own prayers would surely head the second category. That a prayer by Jesus was an act of creation. That these three prayers would not be hopeful requests for what might or might not come true, but actual statements of the divine purpose—may all those who believe in Jesus be brought to complete unity, and may the bringing about of this unity stand as evidence that Christ, and Christianity, are for real.

It certainly needed to be spoken. Of all the great perils—heresy, backsliding, gates of hell and persecution—that have faced the church through the ages, arguably the one that most endangers the credibility of our message to the world is the lack of unity among Christians.

How does God intend to fulfil this prayer? The differences between church denominations, and even between members of the same denomination, are huge—and very real. Differences arising from self-seeking should of course be dropped; those arising from demographics or culture should be given tolerance, but what about the many genuine differences in how we understand/interpret/apply the words of the Bible? Where do we put those?

The wording of Jesus’ prayer—“May they be brought to complete unity”—suggests that he knew division would be present. The way that he said “be brought” rather than “bring themselves” indicates that maybe we can’t, all by ourselves, succeed in getting other Christians to fall into step with us. One thing we can do: join our own prayers with Jesus’. If all Christians are doing that, at least we’re praying in harmony.

Father, we are grateful to be loved by you and prayed for by Jesus. Help us to know the truth of what Jesus said; and teach us what to do with our differences and disagreements. In Jesus’ name.

Study by Fiona Jones

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