Prayer is so often our last resort—words thrown to the wind in hopes the wind will know where to carry them. When life seems out of control and bad things are happening, we’re forced to admit we don’t know what we’re doing. That’s when we look toward heaven to see if perhaps God is paying attention.
But prayer isn’t meant to be a 9-1-1 call to heaven. Prayer is more aptly compared to the lifeline securing an astronaut to his spaceship when he goes out on a spacewalk. Prayer supplies us oxygen to live in a non-life-sustaining environment. It provides communication with the commander. And it keeps us from drifting off into the dark unknown.
If we want our prayers to be more powerful, we must understand the purpose of prayer and we must be faithful to keep the lifeline open. Then, as Jesus did, we’ll know how to pray and what to pray for.
Life in a non-life-sustaining environment
Let’s face it, our daily walk through the world can be poison to our faith. It’s easy to believe we must conform to the pattern of this world if we are to survive in it. But conforming to the world requires us to stop emulating Jesus. We can’t look like the world and our Savior too. “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us” (1 Corinthians 2:12).
In the world, we’re exposed to doubt and sin, which are fatal to faith. Through prayer we renew our faith and strengthen our connection to God.
Communication with the commander
For Jesus and the disciples, prayer was not a last resort. Jesus prayed first, then acted. His goal? “… I do exactly what my Father has commanded me …” (John 14:31). The leaders of the early church understood this was the secret to Jesus’ ministry, and they followed his example, delegating responsibility for everyday ministry needs so they could devote themselves to prayer and preaching (Acts 6:4).
We think of prayer as talking to God. But according to Jesus, prayer involves listening as well. How else did he know what the Father was telling him to do? Prayer is communication with God. It involves an exchange, a give and take.
On a space walk, an astronaut must stay receptive to hear instructions from his crewmembers onboard the spaceship. In the same way, we must learn to listen as well as talk to God. What he has to say to us is far more important than the things we have to tell him.
Protection from drifting into the dark void
Insects are drawn to the light. We aren’t always that focused. It’s easy for us to be distracted by the “dark” things of this world.
Prayer connects us to our source of light, which helps us recognize the shadows we should avoid. “A man who walks by day will not stumble, for he sees by this world’s light. It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light” (John 11:9-10).
For us, Jesus is the light. When we pray, we secure our mooring to him and protect ourselves from the likelihood of falling away.
What does Jesus pray for?
In John 17, Jesus prays for himself, his disciples and us. For himself, he prays to glorify God by doing the work he was sent to do. For the disciples and us, he focuses on three things: oneness, protection and sanctification through his word.
A strong theme in Jesus’ teachings is oneness. He tells us he is in the Father and the Father in him, and he commands us to be one with him. He repeats this concern in his prayer. “May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21).
Oneness isn’t just about feeling good. It unites us into the body of Christ. Remember in 1 Corinthians 12, where Paul speaks about spiritual gifts? He says, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many part; and though all its parts are many, they form one body” (v. 12).
Only through unity can we perform the work of Christ as a church body. Jesus prays for oneness so we can better perform the work we were sent to do. Through oneness we will glorify God.
Jesus also prays for our protection because he knows how hard it is to maintain faith in a world that isn’t unified in him. He doesn’t pray for God to remove us from the challenges of this world, but for God to protect us from the evil one. Then in his next breath, he prays for our sanctification through the truth. Jesus knows we can easily be led astray when our beliefs aren’t founded on truth. Only truth can keep us safely tethered to God. So he asks, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).
Related to oneness and protection, Jesus prays for a special covering through the power of his name. “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me” (John 17:11-12).
Jesus’ prayers are powerful and effective because he knows who he is, and his faith is perfect. If our prayers are going to be more effective, we need to grasp the power available through Jesus’ name. As believers, we belong to God, which means his name is our shield. If we can grasp this truth, we can pray in faith and power simply because we are children of the Most High God.
Learning to pray
As toddlers, we learn to speak by imitating our parents and older siblings. As we learn to pray, we shouldn’t do any differently. Jesus sets a good example by staying connected to God through prayer and listening as often as he speaks to the Father. He also gives us examples of prayer so we can understand how we should pray.
It’s important to realize Jesus never prays for anything outside the Father’s will. Even on the Mount of Olives, when Jesus prays for release from the suffering he knows is coming, he qualifies his prayer. After expressing his heart, he says, “Yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). His prayers always revolve around God’s work and not his own.
If we were to imitate Jesus, we would change the themes of our prayers. We’d ask for God to be glorified. We’d pray for God’s love, forgiveness, unity, joy and protection. We’d pray for others more than we pray for ourselves. And we’d learn to listen.
In the words of Margaret Gibb, president of Women Alive, “We must move from asking God to take care of the things that are breaking our hearts, to praying about the things that are breaking his heart.”
What are some things we should pray for?
• That we develop a true understanding of God and Jesus and their purpose for our lives.
• That God would release the power of his name into our lives, protecting us from the enemy.
• That we would experience joy, even in the midst of opposition.
• That we would know the truth and the truth would sanctify us.
• That we would be one, just as God and Jesus are one.
• That we would understand the love of God for us.
• That we would learn to rest in Jesus and let him rest in him.
• How powerful do you feel your prayers have been?
• After reading Jesus’ prayer in John 17, how much do you believe your prayers look like his?
• What one change could you make to your prayers to make them more effective?