“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.” (John 17:20-21)
Many of us tend to be reactive in prayer. We pray for provision when our finances get tight or we lose our job. We pray for healing when we arrive at the hospital or experience emotional trauma. We pray for wisdom when we find ourselves at the crossroads of decisions. We respond – or react – to the situations that come our way. This is an entirely appropriate and powerful way to pray. Throughout Scripture, from the early disciples’ prayers when facing arrest to Moses’ prayer before the burning bush, we see people respond to their circumstances with prayer.
But along with this reactive style of prayer we need to learn from Jesus’ approach to prayer in John 17. There, Jesus proactively prays for things that are yet to come. This forward-thinking approach to prayer arises from the fact that Jesus had both the most realistic view of human life and the most active engagement with the divine life of any person that has ever walked the face of the earth. Jesus prays for all who will come and, in this moment, brings the future people of God – even you and me – into God’s holy presence through prayer. Just pause for a moment to consider the reality that Jesus prayed for us. It is amazing.
The focus of Jesus’ prayer was unity among believers. I remember a time when I was on a short-term trip with a group of students and conflict broke out within the group. People were name-calling, tensions were rising, and the leaders on the trip were completely caught off-guard. Of course, our response in the moment was to pray and ask God to heal the rifts and bring us to unity. God did graciously answer our prayer, redirecting the team so that our disunity did not distract from our purpose for being there.
What I learned from that experience is that we should expect the threat of disunity to arise within our life and ministry as believers. Disunity descends because of our sin, human brokenness, past history, and spiritual attack from the evil one. The threat of disunity should not surprise us. Jesus knows this, and so He prays for unity before disunity even has the opportunity to exist.
If we want unity in our relationships – in our church – in churches around our city, nation and world – then we must pray proactively for God to make us one. We should not wait for divisions to come upon us. Instead, knowing that the possibility of division is always around the corner, we should pray for unity ahead of time.
There is power in such proactive prayer. Jesus understood this and He shows us – even as He prays for us – the importance of bringing things to God ahead of time.
Lord, please make us one
as You are one.
Protect us from the divisions
that the evil one sows into our midst.
Save us from the walls we often raise up
between us and others.
We admit that divisions often come,
and have already come,
and may come in future days.
Forgive us, Lord, for the ways
we contribute to disunity.
Make us more like You:
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
who reign in glorious, Triune unity.