Selfless Prayer

Matt Coulombe   -  

Any believer would tell you that prayer is an important aspect of the Christian life, as it is one of our primary means for expressing a humble trust in Jesus. It is through the privilege of prayer that we worship and adore God, confess our weakness and failures, offer up thankful praise, and come to Him with our daily requests. Our heavenly Father delights in us approaching His throne of grace with confidence and regularity, to seek His face, lay down our burdens, and bring our needs before Him. Not only that, but He also loves it when we come to Him on behalf of others; giving time and attention to their needs, concerns, struggles, and hardships. Additionally, God has also called us to be mindful of His purposes in the world and His glory in all of creation. As this relates to our prayer lives, we are to approach the Lord with a great sense of mission as well! “Your kingdom come, Your will be done; on earth as it is in heaven.” Indeed, there is a time and place and call to get beyond ourselves, stand in the gap, intercede for others, and realign ourselves with God’s redemptive heart.

Even in his most anguished hour – on the very night of his betrayal, and hours before his own death by torture and crucifixion – Jesus modeled humble, others-focused prayer. In the most selfless of ways, he cried out to his Father on behalf of his disciples, and all who would eventually come to believe in their message (that’s us!). When we read John 17, we are moved by the incredible expressions of love that are uttered from his lips, even amidst his own great burdens:

“Don’t take them out of the world but protect them from the evil one!”

“Yes, protect them by the power of Your name!”

“Sanctify them by the truth!”

“Bring them to complete unity! Make them one as we are one!”

“Hold them fast and carry them through till the end!”

 “Let them be with us and experience the great joy of heaven’s glory!”

It’s amazing to consider how someone could be this others-focused, especially at a time when they would have been justified for focusing on their own pressing needs and personal angst. Yet here, Jesus takes away any reason we may have to be excused from approaching the Lord on behalf of others! When it comes to our prayer life, our approach ought to reflect his heart for people and his Kingdom priority.

Recently, our Growth Group shared in an especially meaningful time of prayer together…that had very little to do with any one of us! Now, usually we do spend time praying for each other, lifting up one another’s needs, burdens, struggles, and families/oikos to the Lord. This time though, we approached it differently, which provided some “big picture” perspective that gave us new insight and a deepened understanding of how God was carrying out His purposes throughout the world. As we went around the circle, each person chose one of four categories to focus their prayer toward:

Mission. Pray for a missionary you know or a gospel outreach effort somewhere in the world.

The World. Pray for a part of the world, or a segment of your community, where you want to see gospel faith awakened and Jesus’ kingdom expanded.

Suffering people. Pray for someone you know who is suffering, or for believers who face suffering and frequent persecution.

Worries. Take a fear or worry that is bothering you, and turn it into a prayer for someone else. Who do you know that probably is anxious about that same worry or something similar? Pray for them.

What resulted was a really special time of getting beyond ourselves and considering others; lifting up their needs, trying to put ourselves in their context, and growing in empathy as we pictured various individuals, families, missionaries, and people groups, here in our valley and around the world, undergoing all types of challenges and opposition, and with a range of physical and spiritual needs. I highly recommend gathering some fellow believers together to approach prayer in this way. I believe that you’ll get to the end of your time feeling purposefully encouraged!

The Apostle Paul gives us this command, which, amidst numerous applications, can be focused in the way that we approach our prayers:

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interest of the others.” (Phil. 2:3-4)

What is remarkable to me, is the fact that Jesus – now resurrected, glorified, and seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven – even now, continues to model others-focused prayer as he advocates and intercedes on our behalf!

“Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Jesus Christ who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Rom. 8:34-35)

“Because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” (Heb. 7:24-25)

Christian, do you know how loved and provided for you are by Jesus? May we respond to this incredible reality with awed praise and humble thanksgiving, and then take our cues from him in the way that we uphold others through selfless prayer. We are blessed to be a blessing!