In times of stress and cultural chaos—pandemics, protests, political strife, and more—Christians rightly remind one another of the importance of prayer. A deepening prayer life is often needed, tested, and enriched in times of crisis.
In peaceful times too, Christians will often ask, “So how’s your prayer life?” as a gentle accountability goad to prod saints into a more faithful devotional life. It’s a good and helpful question.
But as worthy as these exchanges are, Scripture reminds us that there is a prayer life that matters most in times like these . . . and it’s not ours. It’s the prayer life of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Best Pray-er of All
That Jesus is a perpetual, nonstop pray-er is clearly taught in Scripture (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 2:17–18; 4:14–16; 7:23–25). He always lives to make intercession for us. To intercede is to approach one person on behalf of another, bearing a request or need. When a sibling says to another sibling, “Go ask Mom if we can have some candy,” he is asking for intercession. When a person seeking work at Company X asks someone there to “put in a good word for me” to the company boss, that person is hoping for an intercessor.
In Christian terms, intercession is prayer before God on behalf of another. We should do this for each other, of course. But more importantly, we need to know that Jesus is doing this for us, all the time (Heb. 7:23–25). He is our access to God (Eph. 2:13, 18). He is the great high priest who enters the Father’s presence, and—through the merits of his blood that has secured everything we need (Rom. 8:32)—carries our needs before the throne of grace. He prays for us that our faith will not fail (Luke 22:31–32).
We should not conclude that because Jesus asks the Father for our needs, there is ever any difference between what the Father wants for us and the Son wants for us. God is not a reluctant Father who needs to be persuaded to give us our needs. He is happily eager to bless. Nevertheless there is, in the redemptive purposes of God, a mediatorial high priestly role for his Son. Between us and God is Jesus—and it’s a good thing. He is the only mediator there is (1 Tim. 2:5), our faithful advocate before God (1 John 2:1–2), and the very best pray-er alive.
Jesus is the only mediator there is (1 Tim. 2:5), our faithful advocate before God (1 John 2:1–2), and the very best pray-er alive.
What a relief this is. In truth, we do not always know what or how to pray, which is why the Holy Spirit lends us his own interceding help (Rom. 8:26–27). Our prayers are often—if not always—flawed and inadequate. Weak and ill-advised, too often they’re little more than poorly motivated attempts to manipulate God to give us what we want; with next to no consideration of what we might need (James 4:3).
This is why it’s good that Jesus is praying for us. He’s the best pray-er of all; the one whose prayers matter most and do the most good. This is true because Jesus always prays for us (Heb. 7:25) and knows what we need (Heb. 2:17, 18; 4:14–16). He always prays in faith, with perfect knowledge of our needs, and in complete accord with the will of God—all of which are essential components of effective prayer (see Mark 11:24; James 5:15; 1 John 5:14).
Best Prayer of All
If Jesus is the best pray-er of all, then what is the best prayer of all? I know of none better than John 17:1–26, which many have called “the true Lord’s Prayer” or “the High Priestly Prayer.” This is Jesus praying passionately—for us. As Jesus (in John 18–19) stepped into the darkness surrounding the arrest, trial, travesty, bloodying, and brutalizing that would lead to his death, he knew the trauma this would inflict on his disciples. So he paused and prayed for them—in their hearing. And in so doing I suspect he intended to offer them—and us—a preview of what he continues to pray on their (and our) behalf (John 17:20). I see five primary requests in this prayer.
1. “Father, Fortify Them”
Jesus prays that in the face of a hostile world and evil enemy, we will be guarded and protected, spiritually secured by the Father’s hand—“though all hell should endeavor to shake” (see John 17:11–15).
2. “Father, Sanctify Them”
Jesus prays that we will so know the truth that it will make us holy, setting us apart from the world and sin, and consecrating us in devotion to God (John 17:16–19).
3. “Father, Unify Them”
Jesus prays that the church—despite all our vast and deep diversity—will be one as he and the Father are one, unified as a single body at the foot of the cross (John 17:20–23; Eph. 2:13–22).
4. “Father, Multiply Them”
Jesus prays that the testimony of a holy and unified church will lead the world to know and believe the truth (John 17:18, 21–23; 13:34–35); that the church will be multiplied because our unified love will have been a compelling witness to the world.
5. “Father, Glorify Them”
Jesus prays that we will see his glory (John 17:24), in part that we might share his glory (John 17:22). Since it is by seeing glory that we are transformed into glory (2 Cor. 3:17–18; 1 John 3:2; Phil. 3:20–21)—Jesus prays this hope would become reality in a glorified church.
His Prayers and Ours
From this best of all prayers we learn what things burden our Savior’s heart—that we be fortified, sanctified, unified, multiplied, and glorified. This prayer also teaches us to rearrange our own prayer priorities. Rather than only requesting material prosperity or political victory or physical health, we too should pray for the security, holiness, unity, increase, and enhanced glory and beauty of the church.
When life is hard and disaster looms everywhere, remember that Jesus is praying for us. From this best of all prayers offered by the best of all pray-ers, we gain peace and hope. We are assured of this: the church will be fortified, sanctified, unified, multiplied, and glorified. For Jesus has prayed that it would be so, and his prayers never fail.