This article appeared in the March 2023 issue of HomeLife Magazine.
Words are powerful—good or bad. In Genesis 1 and 2, the living God created by speaking words. The Jewish people believe that words can create or destroy worlds. A word of encouragement can lift you. A word of discouragement can level you. We’re human beings walking around with something so meaningful within us—our words.
Prayer is one of the most powerful ways we give and receive words in this life. In praying, we give our words to the living God, and we posture ourselves to hear His words given to us.
John 17 is the last chapter in the Upper Room Discourse (John 13–17). It’s a final prayer prayed by Jesus at the Last Supper with His disciples before Gethsemane and His arrest, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection. This last meal together was the final moment of calm before the chaos of all that would follow, and Jesus knew it. John 13 begins with the words, “Before the Passover Festival, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. Now when it was time for supper …” (1-2a).
In This Together
Jesus’s prayer in John 17 is personally so special to me because within it, He prays for you and me. If you’ve ever wished you could have been at the Last Supper to experience it with Jesus and His disciples, know that you were there in Jesus’s mind, heart, and in His words of prayer at the very end of the meal: “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” (vv. 20-21a).
For the Jewish people, prayer is more than words. Prayer is active partnership with the Lord to see heaven come to earth, to bring the rule and reign of Jesus into the “now” of right here. In other words, when you pray for someone or something, you’re telling the living God you’re ready to actively partner with Him in bringing it to fruition, to reality.
Prayer isn’t passive. Prayer is active. Think about that. When you pray for other people, you’re agreeing to contend for them, to advocate for them, and to actively be part of the help they need. You’re telling the living God that you’re willing to enter into the situation and be His hands and feet in it to bring help, aid, relief, or comfort to the one you’re praying for.
Of all the things Jesus could have prayed for in this last moment of calm, He prayed for you and me to be one. He prayed for unity, for oneness. Jesus was showing us what He wanted us to actively participate in bringing to earth— harmony with one another.
We’re not here to believe in unity but to create it. As followers of Jesus, we want to not only pray for oneness but to actively seek to create it in this world of brokenness, fracture, and division. As followers of Jesus, we seek to heal the divides and invite the whole world to God’s generous table of welcome. In a world set against itself, we live the way of Jesus within it, bringing light into darkness and calm to chaos.
We’re here to use our words of prayer, edification, encouragement, gentle challenge, and honest conversations to bring the unity of heaven to earth. We don’t want to simply talk about it. We want to be about it. We seek to take Jesus’s words in John 17 and put them on, wear them in faithful obedience in this world.
How have you been using your words in prayer lately?
What have you been praying about?
Who have you been praying for over the last few weeks?
Take some time today to write it out. Make a list. I would encourage you to live out your prayers. Reach out to the people you have been praying for and use your words to create hope in them. What would it look like for you to actively engage with some of the needs you have been praying for in others’ lives and put feet to those prayers for them?
Prayer is active partnership and participation with the living God to bring shalom into the world. Let’s go be about it together, as one, unified in Jesus.
Kristi McLelland is a speaker, teacher, writer, and college professor. She has dedicated her life to discipleship, to teaching people how to study the Bible for themselves, and to writing about how God is better than we ever knew by explaining the Bible through a Middle Eastern lens. Kristi is the author of the Bible studies Jesus and Women: In the First Century and Now and The Gospel on the Ground: The Grit and Glory of the Early Church in Acts. She also hosts the K-LOVE podcast Pearls with AccessMore. Kristi regularly leads biblical study trips to Israel, Turkey, Greece, and Italy. For more information about Kristi and what she’s up to, visit: newlensbiblicalstudies.com.
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