01 Sep Jesus’ Priestly Prayer: Obeying It, Praying It
President, Frontline Ministries
Our global mix of cultures, cities and nation-states is more desperate than ever to witness a socio-spiritual community where people of diverse ethnic, economic and generational profiles live and work together in some measure of harmony.
At present, religious extremism, ideological polarization, and overt violence are at troubling levels. A prophetic word from Isaiah seems to capture the situation, and offer a challenge to the Body of Christ:
“See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light…” (Is 60:2, 3).
Man’s extremities bring opportunities for God’s people to “rise and shine” and demonstrate the redemptive presence of Christ’s kingdom reigning in the hearts of everyday redeemed people living in everyday places. “Nations will come to your light.”
So, how might we “rise and shine?” Following the upper room meal with his disciples, Jesus poured out his heart in prayer to his Father. This John 17 prayer is oft-quoted, but sadly not often lived out the lives of real saints in real places. Let’s be honest. As followers of Jesus there is little we can do to ignite a broad spiritual awakening across any nation or region in our troubled world. But in any given community, local saints can choose to take Jesus’ highest command seriously, allowing the Holy Spirit to bond their hearts and lives together with their fellow sojourners. Typically, this takes what I call “A/C” leadership (in some circles, “apostolic,” others “catalytic”), men and women of conviction and courage who are committed to build three sustainable cultures: honor, regular prayer with and for one another, and collaboration, working together to more effectively reach their city with the gospel.
Such leaders choose to heed Paul’s admonition to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3).The health and unity of Jesus’ Body in any given place is not an option, but rather a biblical imperative that commands our obedience. Of course, Christians from differing traditions will never concur on all points of doctrine. But to embrace unity in Christ’s Body, there must be agreement on the core tenets of historic, biblical Christianity: the miraculous birth and deity of Jesus Christ, the authority of the Word of God, salvation by faith in the atoning work of Christ. On secondary points of theology and ecclesiology, we extend tolerance.
There’s an apologetic imperative to unity we dare not ignore or dismiss. The integrity of our spiritual union with others is purposeful. Who we are and how we relate – our humility, forbearance, patience, sacrificial caring—reflects the character of our triune God, and gives evidence to a watching world that Jesus is indeed Son of God and Messiah: “one…so that the world may believe” (17:21). Sorrowfully, a chief source of the skepticism of unbelievers is division and fragmentation of Christ’s Body.
The content and focus of Jesus’ prayer is anchored in his upper room discourse. He uses an agricultural analogy to depict a progressive bearing of spiritual fruit: pruning, which allows for “more fruit,” learning to listen and ask in prayer, which results in “much fruit,” and finally, the Master talks about “fruit that will last:” people coming into the kingdom, broken lives healed, men and women walking in discipleship–lasting spiritual legacy. In John 15:9-17, I see three clear components that result in lasting fruit: 1) taking Jesus seriously by loving fellow believers, even being willing to die for one another, 2) ministering not in our best efforts, skills or talents, but in the power of Christ’s appointing, with the Spirit’s anointing, and 3) having our prayers tangibly answered by the Father (“the Father will give you whatever you ask”). Clearly, living in unity with fellow Christ followers, abiding daily in Jesus’ presence, listening for his words and will, and partnering with Father in prayer, bears lasting kingdom fruit.
This can all sound so abstract, so mystical. Where does this happen in the real world? In 2003, friend and colleague Bill Berry and I were invited to facilitate a Leaders Prayer Summit for a group of some 120 church and non-profit Christian leaders from Mumbai, India. Mumbai is a major economic engine in this vast nation, a city of some 22 million souls, with daunting societal challenges of poverty, injustice and suffering. Like any major urban center, the city has its strong Church congregations, non-profit organizations and marketplace leaders engaged in kingdom work at all levels. That’s “all good.” I believe, however, the Body of Jesus is “better together.” In this first-ever Summit, praying into the promise of Psalm 133 and embracing Jesus’ prayer in John 17, these men and women experienced a supernatural presence of the Trinity that was fresh, undeniable, compelling. Some 2000 years after Pentecost, in an “upper room” tent in Lonavla, India, these 120 leaders chose to take Jesus seriously, repent of criticism, division and competition, and walk together in covenantal love.
Key leaders immediately booked another Summit for a year later. They also addressed the question: “What must we do together that we cannot do through our own congregations and organizations?” A team was selected to steward this new movement, the Mumbai Transformation Network. They began prayer groups for leaders in different venues across the city. In 2005, they participated in the first expression of the Global Day of Prayer, and by 2008 offered GDOP venues in a variety of ethnic and language groups in separate venues. As they continued to pray blessing on one another’s callings, they saw measurable increase of collaboration: partnerships bringing the gospel to sex workers, working together to plant new churches, sharing resources to meet the needs of the “poorest of the poor,” and providing quality education to children and orphans.
In February of this year, the Mumbai Transformation Network hosted the first-ever India City Advance, some thirty city gospel movements from across India coming together to learn how the Holy Spirit is working through unity, corporate prayer and collaboration. What most marked this consultation? Not just encouraging stories of breakthrough. Not sharing best practices on how to build a citywide movement. Neither scholarly papers, nor profound theological reflection. But rather the palpable presence and frequent practice of desperate, fervent prayer, offered by people who know they don’t have answers to ceaseless, daunting problems, but do have the only answer, praying in agreement to release God’s awesome power to transform lives.
Before arriving in Mumbai, someone told me about Michelle, a young attorney who “instructs” judges in the court system on how to bring perpetrators of sex slavery to justice. Michelle shared her story. The horror and heartbreak of the lives of countless women and children caught in this bondage was so overwhelming, she admitted to losing a grip on her faith. In one of Mumbai’s darkest sex trade neighborhoods, she engaged a woman so ravaged and ruined by repeated sexual encounters, she could not speak. She refused eye contact. In that moment, Michelle was given a vision of Jesus reaching out to her, backslidden in her faith, struggling to believe. He embraced her, holding her in his arms. In that moment, Michelle simply held this helpless, hopeless life in her arms. A prayer of desperation stirred in her heart, a cry for healing. Many in the Mumbai Transformation Network have become her cheerleaders, praying God’s protection over her and his power through her. Day by day, broken life by broken life, women and children are being set free, healed, and dignity restored. Partnerships have been formed to provide safe houses, counseling, vocational training and job placement. And all saturated by prevailing intercession. Measuring this by changed lives, the power of darkness is being progressively exposed and broken, and the spiritual atmosphere of the city changed.
So, here’s a remarkable piece of data. In this consultation, six of the cities where there are measurable signs of breakthrough (increase of conversions, transformed lives, people of faith partnering with people of good will for the good of the city), “A/C” leaders have built the annual Prayer Summit and frequent intercession into their citywide corporate prayer expressions.
So, in the community or region where you live, work and minister, what can “A/C” leaders do to inspire and ignite prayer that brings increase of John 17 unity, and results in “fruit that remains?” Let me share some ideas, first, for you personally:
- Oswald Chambers carried a strong conviction that a chief responsibility of a mature believer was to build up other members of Christ’s Body through prayer (July 12, My Utmost for His Highest). “As a saved soul, the real business of your life is intercessory prayer. Whatever circumstances God may place you in, always pray immediately that His atonement may be as fully understood in the lives of others as it has been in yours” (June 20). In short, personal, Spirit-led prayer for others builds health into the Body.
- Ask the Spirit to convict you of any attitude that hinders unity in the Body, e.g., criticism, envy/jealousy, pride. Confess and receive cleansing.
- Identify a “sandpaper person” in your world, a fellow believer that “rubs you wrong” in some way (irritation, annoyance, or anger). Confess your sinful, reactive response, and ask the Holy Spirit to increase your love for this person.
- Take initiative to get out of your own head and circumstances, and learn the practice of praying blessing on others. I call these “May He” prayers, not “maybe” prayers. Use the Numbers 6:22-27 pattern of the priestly blessing. Memorize and pray some of Paul’s apostolic prayers for fellow saints. My favorites: 2 Thess. 3:16, Rom. 15:5 & 13, 2 Thess. 2:16, 17. Actively blessing others in prayer deepens and strengthens relational unity.
Now, a few ideas for praying corporately. If your John 17 community is to be sustainable, and bring maximum glory to God, establishing a regular rhythm of corporate spiritual disciplines is imperative, frequent connections with God’s presence, and one another.
- Follow the initiative of your local, kingdom-minded leaders (or, take the initiative yourself!) to establish a regular time for pastors, non-profits, marketplace leaders and prayer warriors to engage in “TKC” praying, (“thy kingdom come”) for your community: intentional intercession (see Is 62:6, 7; Jer 29:7; 1 Tim. 2:1-8). Such a meeting itself will become a sustainable culture of John 17” koinonia fellowship. As led by the Spirit, pray blessing on leaders of congregations and organizations that are not in your circle, and have little or no interest in unity. Ask the Lord to bless them, their families, and prosper their ministries.
- Create an “entry ramp” for personal and corporate praying. Host a half-day “prayer encounter” for local kingdom leaders, either preceded by a coffee and connection time, or followed by a lunch. Engage gifted minstrels to lead worship. Share an inspiring devotion on prayer or unity. Structure a variety of prayer, e.g., corporate thanksgiving for God’s goodness and blessings, small group sharing and bearing of personal burdens, offering the “prayer chair” to individuals with specific requests, 30 minutes of silence and meditation on Scripture, corporate praying of Scriptures over your community, etc.
- Consider an annual worship gathering for the citywide Body of Christ: mostly worship, no preaching, and a little Jeremiah 29:7 praying. In my hometown of Corvallis, OR, it’s “Adoration.” In Abilene, Texas, it’s “Exalt!” In Washington, DC, it’s “UNITE.” Gatherings like this put Jesus’ Body on visible display. Truthfully, something profound happens in the heavens over your community. Father God pours out his “commanded blessing” where and when we decide to “dwell together” (Ps. 133).
Here’s a final observation about Jesus’ priestly prayer. Twice, he asks the Father to “protect” those who choose to follow him, those who embrace this kingdom culture of oneness. Friends, when saints in any city or region of our world decide to “rise and shine” in the love and light of Messiah, such witness of oneness validates and radiates Jesus to a watching world: “God’s kingdom works!” The devil and his hordes dread this, and will do all manners of insidious things to contain and stop it, and when it emerges, diminish or disrupt it. This brings us to Ephesians, 3:10: “Now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God (which in unity of all believers through the Cross) should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.” In short, in your community, this is about who you are as a Christ follower, how you walk with fellow believers, and how you work together on the same team to reach others with the gospel. And your endeavors, blessed by the Father, can bring measurable change in the spiritual atmosphere of your community.
Contemplate the priority and power of Jesus’ priestly prayer for your community. Keep obeying Jesus’ commands and prayer, and keep praying it. Signs of his kingly reign will increase over your city. Returning to Isaiah’s word, as “thick darkness” covers our world, there are cities of refuge, places of light where God’s people embrace biblical unity, are “rising and shining,” partnering in prayer, and engaging in good deeds that open doors for the good news. Remember, Jesus’ prayer is not a “maybe” endeavor, but a “May He!” kingdom enterprise.
We at OneHeartDC give thanks for Tom for the wisdom he has imparted within our mustard seed of a gospel movement here in our Nation’s Capital! May the fruit of his labors lead to saturation of the gospel across the DMV and beyond.