Has the truth of scripture ever rocked your world? If not then hold on to your Bible cover because Lesson #8 in the Always Praying series shows us just how wrong it is to concentrate our prayers on our physical needs like the Gentiles/pagans did (Matthew 6:7) and how Jesus concentrated His prayer on making promises and provisions for believers; to the exclusion of the lost in John 17.
“I have revealed You to those whom You gave me out of the world. They were Yours; You gave them to Me and they have obeyed Your word. Now they know that everything You have given Me comes from You. For I gave them the words You gave Me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from You, and they believed that You sent Me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those You have given Me, for they are Yours.” John 17:6-9
In this prayer, Jesus distinctly separates two types of persons. Most notable, He mentions the believer whom God specifically selected for Him (Jesus) and the unbeliever who is of the world. If you follow all nineteen verses, Jesus lays out the promise of joy, protection and sanctification for believers, not unbelievers.
“I am coming to You now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them Your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that You take them out of the world but that You protect them from the evil one.” John 17:13-15
How helpful is it to pray for an unbeliever’s earthly physical needs and not their soul?
If you think of it, it only makes sense. Why would Jesus pray, and for that matter why would we, for an unbeliever to be made more Godly (sanctification) when they have no real desire to obey God in the first place? It’s like wishing that a homeless person would visit your favorite bakery to taste their buttered croissants, orange marmalade and luscious lattes for breakfast when their real and urgent needs are far more basic.
Praying for specific joy, protection and holiness for unbelievers is the biblical equivalent to putting the cart before the horse. What good is joy on earth and protections from tragedy to someone who will perish eternally separated from God? Can you imagine telling someone, “I only care about you for now”? It’s tough to swallow but it is true that Jesus does not promise joy and protection to unbelievers.
What Jesus does for the unbeliever is far more than our misdirected prayers.
Jesus makes the point that it is only through the people of God that true worship to God can occur. So, Jesus prayed for the provision of the believer so that they could help bring the unbeliever into the kingdom where they will find all joy, all protection and complete holiness forever.
“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
In Lesson #8, Pastor Wilson urges us to filter out culturally prolific prayer requests for needs with the utmost Biblical discernment. There are questions to ask before we pray.
- Are we being asked to pray with or for a non-human, place or an entity?
- Answer: “Yes” – prayer is specifically for/about God & Us (the body of Christ, His church), not places and things. We may be able to pray for the people involved but first need to clarify with question #2
- Answer: “No” – then go to question #2
- Is the person(s) we will pray for a Christian?
- Answer: “Yes” – then Jesus instructs us to pray for them specifically using The Lord’s Prayer as a template and gives us warnings about how not to pray for them in Matthew 6. We should not focus on our needs (food, drink, clothes, or even our physical health/healing); not because He doesn’t care, but because He already knows what we need and has promised to provide it.
- Answer: “No” – then pray only that God would draw them to Himself and make them a new creature in Christ. You should want them to have holiness and security in Christ before all other concerns. That is what God is most interested in; the expansion of His Kingdom. We are all going to suffer and die. The how of all that temporary suffering is insignificant in the grand scheme of our eternal life. How well we suffer with Christ as our comforter, protector and provider makes all the difference and significance in this life and the one thereafter.
How and where does a Christian get their needs met?
God has promised to meet the needs of His children, but He will always use means to that end. God’s perfect design for meeting a Christian’s needs is through the church and is spelled out in Acts 2. God brings us together as a complete body. There is not a real need that cannot be met this way. The thing is, we sometimes think we need something but God knows we really don’t. Our list of needs is woefully inadequate compared to God’s list for us.
In Acts 6 we see that elders are appointed in each church to know and address the needs of the congregation. The members of the body will necessarily care about the needs brought before the church because the love of God is poured out in them. God is always able to make us able to care for our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Yes, there will always be those, maybe even you, who come to the leaders with a physical need that reveals a far more important spiritual need that must be addressed. That’s the beauty of the design of God’s provision and protection for His church.
I encourage anyone who hasn’t listened to the Always Praying audio series from Pastor Steve Wilson of Grace Community Church in Bowling Green, to go back and be immersed in the foundational theology of prayer. Each lesson has an accompanying blog post summarization found in Views from the Pew which began April 13, 2017.