Seven times Christ prays for believers in the Lord’s Prayer:
The Lord’s Prayer is in John 17. Jesus, in nearly his last words to his disciples, wants them to know this prayer, and evidently uttered it so that at least John was able to hear and remember what was prayed. He later recorded those words of prayer for us, that we might know the very things that Jesus mentions in nearly his last prayer on earth. Hebrews of course teaches us that he “ever liveth to make intercession for us.” I find it wonderful to recount the seven petitions that Jesus makes for believers.
1. I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.
First, Jesus prays specifically for those that the Father has given him, not for everyone in the world. He centers out the believers to the Father as separate and wants the Father to know specifically that he is praying for those who would believe.
2. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.
Jesus asks that the Father would keep each one who has believed—those that the Father has given to him. He asks that the Father might make them one, just as the Father and Son have a oneness. Here he is praying for a unity that ought to make us ashamed of our infighting, and that before a lost world.
3. And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.
He asks that the very joy he has might be given to believers. What a remarkable fact it is that joy is a common theme of saints throughout history! We have literally Jesus-joy!
4. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.
We are to be kept by the very power of the Father from evil, or from the evil one. As Paul later reminds us, nothing is able to separate us from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.
5. Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.
At the time this was prayed, there was no New Testament—not a single book had been written. Jesus is praying that the whole truth of God may separate us for His glorious purpose. Note that the last prayer is to keep us from evil and this prayer is to separate us for God’s purpose.
6. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
Again, he affirms the petition for oneness, and that ought to sober us as we think of how we ought to treat one another. Jesus here connects that oneness as being the very thing that will attract a lost world and signal to them that God has sent Jesus, just as the gospel declares.
7. Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.
In John 14:2, Jesus declares “I go now to prepare a place for you, that where I am you may be also.” Here he petitions exactly that, that believers may one day follow him into heaven itself, and that we might be able to see the very glory that is given Jesus of the Father.
In my final observations, I would note again that Jesus really prays for us to have unity. As a twice-trained counselor for Billy Graham Crusades, I watched as people willingly put aside doctrinal differences to put on a loving Christian face that did indeed make for a powerful testimony of the gospel. Jesus tells us in this prayer solemnly and twice that the unity is important and its intended result is that the world might believe that God sent his Son into the world for whosoever may come.
Having said that, unity is hard, and comes only with great cost and with great risk. How many times has history seen divergent groups going their own way, with that way ending in disaster? No one wants to unify with such a group. But it can be easily seen that there are many less divisive things that interfere with our unity. In our prayer for revival (For how can the Spirit of God work unless these dead bones be revived?) let our petition go up to God, that he may unify us in his Spirit, and let that unity speak loudly to our lost world.
Unity, joy, and sanctification are three main themes of the Lord’s Prayer. In our walk through the Christian life we would do well to pay attention to all three themes. Keeping in mind the fourth theme, that we will someday be allowed to see Jesus in all his glory, ought to be a motivator to pray and seek the other three themes.