Seeing his time had come to be betrayed and executed, Jesus prayed for his followers knowing they would carry his message forth. As Jesus’ followers continue to spread the gospel message around the world, the five petitions Jesus prayed in John 17 are applicable for how we should pray for our sent out ones.
“. . . Holy Father, keep them in your name . . . I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one” (John 17:11, 15).
When we think of praying for the protection of the missionaries we care about, we usually think in terms of physical safety. We don’t want them to be physically harmed, taken hostage, or get incurably sick. Prayers for physical safety should not be discouraged. The apostle John prayed for good health and well-being for his fellow gospel worker, Gaius, with the qualification that such physical welfare didn’t interfere with the welfare of his soul (3 John 2). But the protection Jesus prays for is protection over his disciples’ faith and witness. The evil one wants nothing more than to deposit silencing doubt and fear into Christ’s ambassadors. Pray that even in the midst of suffering, your missionaries will remain true to their calling.
“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 17:13)
Jesus’ prayer conveys great pleasure in knowing his Father and doing his Father’s will. Pleasure that even exceeds the pain of the cross. Jesus wants this joy to be shared by all of his followers. Pray that your missionaries will have greater delight in faithfulness and obedience than in the offers of this world.
“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17)
Missionaries are not elite Christians. The external pressures of living cross-culturally can intensify personal temptations and uncover ungodly desires rooted deep in the heart. So pray your missionaries will grow in holiness. Pray that the Spirit will use their circumstances to refine their character into greater Christ-likeness.
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us. So that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20-21)
Unity among believers is a powerful witness, and serving alongside a unified team is a great personal blessing. The sad reality is, however, that many missionaries leave the mission field due to team conflict. Pray for the missionaries you know to have healthy team dynamics that would not only help sustain their ministry but propel their gospel-witness among the watching nations.
“Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am…” (John 17:24)
To varying degrees, missionaries live cut off from familiarity. Having few people around you who share your core values is lonely. Even your family and friends who live far away don’t always understand (or agree with) why you choose to live in a foreign context. Jesus knew the missionary’s isolation to the fullest extent. For all eternity he enjoyed perfect community with the Father and Spirit, and then he set aside the proximity of that community to live among a people who did not receive him (John 1:11). For all the hardships missionaries face, there is no greater comfort than to know Jesus is with them as he both prayed and promised (cf. Matthew 28:20).
By drawing out these applications, we have only skimmed the surface of Jesus’ prayer in John 17. What is clear is Jesus’ fervor for God’s glory and that God’s grace and love would be magnified through his followers throughout the world. As we align our petitions with the prayer of Jesus, may our hearts become aligned with his.
-Bryan Miller (Connections/Missions Director)