We’re excited to share a free excerpt from When You Pray by Kelly Minter, Jackie Hill Perry, Jen Wilkin, Jennifer Rothschild, Jada Edwards, and Kristi McLelland with you. This excerpt comes from Kristi McLelland’s week of study. Learn more about this impactful new Bible study here!
John 17 marks the end of the famous Last Supper, and at the start of John 18 we see Jesus headed off to the garden of Gethsemane. After pouring words of truth and encouragement into His disciples, Jesus ended the meal with a lengthy prayer. I love that Jesus not only took time to give a lot of words to His disciples; He gave a lot of words to His Father, too.
Almost all of John 17 (with the exception of verse 1a) are words prayed by Jesus to the Father on behalf of Himself and His followers. The meal was over, and He had said everything He wanted to say to His disciples. In mere moments they would get up from their Middle Eastern pallet and make their way to Gethsemane.
Knowing that Gethsemane, arrest, trial, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension awaited Him, Jesus prayed. And it was a powerful and intentional prayer. Jesus began this prayer much like He began His model prayer, by acknowledging the glory of God the Father. He also reminded His followers of His purpose in coming to earth in the first place—to unite people to God, a righting of the wrong done in the garden of Eden. This is the work, the mission, Jesus would command the disciples to join Him in (Matt. 28:19-20).
After praying for Himself, Jesus transitioned to a prayer of petition on behalf of His disciples. How would His followers survive the days, weeks, months, and years to come? How would they live forward in a world without the everyday, physical presence of Jesus in their lives? Jesus prayed the answer.
The most important prayer Jesus had for His disciples in this critical moment was that they would be one, that they would be unified.
I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by your name that you have given me, so that they may be one as we are one.
Unity is what I call an “edenic quality.” It existed in the garden of Eden long before sin entered the world. In Eden, everything worked and worked together beautifully. Everything functioned in unison with everything else. Peace was the atmosphere of the original garden. In Hebrew the term for this kind of peace is shalom, and it was the hallmark feature of the garden. Hebraic shalom is about so much more than peace, though. It communicates the idea of wholeness, flourishing, delight, and harmony.
Jesus knew that the coming events would shake the disciples to their core and shatter their immediate sense of shalom in the world. Even the ascension—with the resurrected, victorious Jesus going back to heaven to be with His Father—would have felt like such a deep loss to them, as we considered yesterday. Jesus knew they would need each other more than ever in the years to come. And they would not only need each other, they would be strong, healthy, and unified in their gospel mission. Jesus wasn’t really leaving them; He would be with them in Spirit, and He had a life-saving job for them to do.
It moves me deeply to read these words by Jesus and to see Jesus contending for them in prayer. He was digging deep by praying something for them, over them, and into them that went all the way back to Eden and extends all the way forward to Revelation 19–22—oneness and unity. This is a story that began in the garden and ends in the garden-city.
This part of Jesus’s prayer honestly brings me to tears. Jesus’s prayer for His disciples includes a prayer for you and for me! And He prays the same thing for us that He prayed for His immediate disciples who were physically present with Him in the world.
I pray not only for these, but also for those who believe in me through their word. May they all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us, so that the world may believe you sent me.
This is Jesus, the Son of God, praying for YOU and ME in the Bible! On that special night, the very night of the famous Last Supper, Jesus was thinking about us, about all of the people who would believe in Him because of the faithfulness of His disciples and the faithfulness of God to answer this prayer.
The Bible is living and active (Heb. 4:12). It’s a story we are being invited into. We don’t just learn the story of the Bible. We learn to take our place in it. We cannot make it alone. We were never meant to walk through this life alone. We are meant to live in meaningful, unified harmony with one another. And when we do, it gives the world a clear picture of the love and grace of our Lord (John 17:23). Let me leave you with a story to show you what I mean.
I have had the privilege of being part of a kingdom-oriented community of believers for over twenty years. We are unified in our diversity. Our diversity sharpens us. Our unity strengthens us. I had the opportunity to take my community, my “tribe” as I call them, to Israel in October 2019. We spent fourteen days studying the Bible in the Holy Land together. It was an unreal experience. We laughed so hard. We ate so much food while telling stories every night. We were full of wonder, gratitude, and joy. It felt like a pilgrimage gift the Lord wanted to give each of us and yet a gift to the community as a whole.
Little did we know that we would head home from Israel and into the most difficult year in our community’s history together. Three weeks after we returned home, a family suddenly lost their twenty-one-year-old son. It shattered us. We came home from Israel and entered the agony together. I have never known such joy and such pain so close together like that.
A few weeks after the home going service for that young man, we found out that a nineteen-year-old son in another family had leukemia. COVID-19 hit the United States in March 2020 right at the same time the young man went to Vanderbilt University Medical Center for treatment. No one could enter the hospital due to COVID-19 restrictions, so groups of us would sit outside their window in the hospital courtyard. We just kept coming to be present, to pray, to bring food, to be a comfort as our friends looked out their hospital window to see that we were still there. We were sitting in that same courtyard the morning he passed away.
Two sons lost within six months of each other. Joy turned to unimaginable pain. It was another round of prayers, visits with food, homegoing service preparations, checking on each other even while none of us were even remotely OK. We were one in our joy while in Israel. We were one in the agony of that year and the prolonged sense of deep loss since that year.
Oneness is the way of the kingdom of God in the world. Gospel-centered, kingdom-oriented unity has always been a unity within diversity. Unity does not occur when we become the same. True, robust, healthy and vibrant unity happens within our unique and diverse expressions. The church is best expressed as a bouquet of unique flowers rather than twelve red roses. We are better together.
Jesus prayed we would be one. Let’s do all we can to honor Him as followers of Jesus seeking oneness, unity, harmony, wholeness, flourishing, and delight. I pray our oneness and unity will give the world an ancient taste of Eden and a future taste of the new heaven and new earth fully realized.
How delightfully good when brothers live together in harmony! It is like fine oil on the head, running down on the beard, running down Aaron’s beard onto his robes. It is like the dew of Hermon falling on the mountains of Zion. For there the LORD has appointed the blessing—life forevermore.
You can hear more about the When You Pray Bible study by watching the video below or diving into the free sample here.
And to have a powerful daily reminder about prayer, click on each image to download the free wallpapers below!