David Jeremiah - Is He Praying for Us or Are We Praying to Him?
After the death of former President George H. W. Bush, at the age of 94, the media began discovering a lot of activities that he had secretly pursued during his life, and in some cases, it came as a surprise to those who knew him. Unfortunately, usually when we hear secrets that come out after somebody dies, we cringe, but in the case of H. W., we smile. The news wasn't about scandal or shame, but about compassion and care. Turns out he had been quietly helping many people using the name "G. Walker" so that they wouldn't know he was the President.
For example, for years, Bush sponsored a Filipino boy named Timothy through the nonprofit organization Compassion International. He made contributions toward Timothy's support and regularly wrote him letters. The two started corresponding when Timothy was seven, and in his first letter, Bush wrote, "I wanna be your new pen pal. I'm an old man, 77 years old", I don't like that part of the story, "but I love kids. But I love kids, and though we have not met, I love you already. I live in Texas. I will write to you from time to time. Good luck, G. Walker".
Well, occasionally, Bush would drop hints about his real identity. In one letter, he sent a picture of his dog, saying, "This is Millie. She's met lots of famous people". Another time, he wrote, "We're goin' to have Christmas this year with my son at his house, and, oh, he lives in a big, white house". But Timothy never caught on. He would write Mr. G. Walker, and Mr. G. Walker would read the letters and reply, offering encouragement.
After Timothy graduated from the program at the age of 17, a Compassion International worker flew to the Philippines to tell Timothy the true identity of the man who had been such a blessing to him. Timothy was dumbfounded. "I knew he was a kind and encouraging and wonderful man, but I had no idea he was the President". It was hard for him to grasp that the President of the United States would know his name and care so much about him.
Like Timothy, we find it difficult to believe such a great man would care about his life. We too can find it difficult to believe that Jesus cares for us. Sometimes we know he's there, but we don't know that he cares. We don't know for sure that he cares. People sometimes tell us that he does, but it's hard for us to believe that he could really, I mean, there's so many of us. How could he care for us? Yet, when you survey the life of Jesus, you find a man who cared for the people around him in surprising ways. He touched lepers. He cured the sick. He befriended social pariahs. He cherished children. His last acts were to pray for the forgiveness of his murderers, and then, to look beside him and feel compassion for a dying thief whom he encouraged and assured of salvation.
The more difficult Jesus's life became, the more people crowded around him with demands, and the closer he moved to a torturous death, the more loving and caring and forgiving he became. When Jesus saw broken humanity, he reached out to care for them. And I don't know about you, but one of the first verses I learned as a little child was 1 Peter 5:7, "Cast all your care upon him, for he cares for you". Although Jesus is no longer walking beside us in the physical realm, his concern for us is no less real, and the Bible tells us that one of the ways he chooses to care for us is through prayer.
I mentioned this to you earlier in this series that Jesus is praying for us, but I wanna unpack and explore that a little bit further today. After Jesus accomplished all that was necessary for our redemption and salvation at the cross, he took his place at the right hand of the Father, and from there, for the last 2,000-plus years, he has continued his ministry to us through prayer. We all know that we pray to Jesus, but we may not know that Jesus prays for us. The Bible speaks about this in several places in generality.
For instance, Romans 8, says that this way: "Who shall bring a charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us". "He's interceding for us", said Paul to the Romans. And the writer of Hebrews echoes these words, "because he continues forever", "He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through him, since he always makes intercession for them". Mark it down in your notes that Jesus is praying for us.
Have you ever had the experience of knowing that someone was praying for you? I mean, there's not anything like that in the world to know that people are praying for you. So many times, you guys send me notes or personally tell me, "Pastor, we pray for you every day", and you have no idea what that means to me to know that you pray for me and that I pray for you. I remember reading about John Paton of Scotland, who grew up in a small Scottish cottage where he could hear his father praying for him in the next room, and the sound of his father's voice in prayer followed him through all of his life. Even after his father's death, he said he could still hear his father praying for him as he would think about him.
Anne Worthington is a lifelong Christian worker who now is retired in North Carolina. She recalls her parents rising every morning for devotion. She said, "When my father was working, he would get up at 4:30 and study and pray, and as long as I live, I will remember hearing him in the bathroom, praying out loud over his prayer list". I remember hearing my mother pray for me. I would come home from a game or from some outing, and oftentimes I would walk in, and I would hear my mother praying for me out loud. Perhaps you're thinking, as you listen today, "You know what, Dr. Jeremiah? I don't think anybody's ever told me that they're praying for me".
I'm sure there's somebody here like that. Well, you can have that joy right now because on the final night of his normal earthly life, Jesus gives us a glimpse of his prayer life, how he prays for us. It's recorded for us in the 17th chapter of the Gospel of John. This passage is normally referred to as Christ's high priestly prayer. It's the longest section of the words of Jesus in the Bible. And some of the great past teachers of the Bible have said this is such a special passage that they don't dare preach on it.
So when they're preaching through the book of John, they preach through the 16th chapter, and then they preach from 18 on, and they just read John 17. Some people say, "John 17 is holy ground. Take your shoes off when you come to John 17. This is Jesus praying, and we have the words of his prayer". Now, the chapter is organized so that the first five verses record Jesus's prayer for himself, and verses 6 through 26, record him praying for his disciples, and in that section where he prays for his disciples, he's praying for us, and there we can learn several things about what Jesus prays when he prays for you and me.
Very interesting that his prayers are quite different than ours although, in some ways, they're the same. What's the one thing we pray about most often when we pray for our children, especially if they're not around us? We pray for their protection and their safety. And I want you to know, first of all today, that Jesus cares about your security. Read with me John 17, verses 11 and 15. We'll put 'em up on the screen. This is what it says: "Holy Father, keep through your name those whom you have given me. I do not pray that you should take them out of the world but that you should keep them from the evil one".
In these verses, Jesus is praying that the Father would keep us secure in the world. Has there ever been a time in your history or mine when we've needed that more, to know that the Father is hearing prayers from the Son for our protection? We are living in a dangerous world and a frightening world in many respects, but Jesus is praying for us. He's asking the Father to keep us safe as he himself had kept his disciples safe while he was on this earth. And the word "keep" is a wonderful word. It means to guard or watch over.
I think of Jesus, on one occasion, the disciples are out in the middle of the Sea of Galilee in the boat, and they're in deep trouble. There's a big storm. While they're out in the boat, Jesus is up in the mountain. The Bible tells us he went up to the mountains to pray. And when they got to the moment of their greatest trial, Jesus comes to them in the midst of the storm because he'd been watching over them from the mountains. And when he wasn't in the boat with them, he was watching over them in prayer. And that's what he prays for us: "Father, in the midst of their storm, in the midst of their difficulty in this world, watch over them, protect them, and keep them". He's praying for your security, for your safety and for mine.
There's a story from World War II about the town of Dover, which ended up on the front line of battle, not because they wanted to be there, but because of the way the battle was going. They were on the French coast of England, and they found themselves right at the front line. They were being bombarded by long-range guns located on the occupied French coast and in eminent danger every day of being invaded by the Germans, who were at the other end of their little village. And looking at their situation, you would've thought there was no way they would've lasted till the end of the war, but when World War II ended, there was Dover. They survived and were there to encourage others with the joy of victory.
Basically, military experts tell us they survived for three reasons: Number one, there was an internal garrison of artillery within the city, and that artillery was able to offset the other shots that were coming in, the guns that were pointed toward them. Number two, the ships of the Royal Navy that patrolled the English Channel kept at bay the invading forces of the French. And, thirdly, fighter planes of the Royal Air Force flew overhead and provided a protective umbrella for them. So in spite of the mortal danger and the fact that nobody thought they would survive, Dover survived the war and shared in the total victory.
Just like Dover, you and I are protected. We have a threefold protection just as they did. The indwelling Spirit in our hearts is the garrison against the attack of the enemy. The Word of God in our hands is the guard with which we must do combat. And up in heaven, overhead, just like the Royal Air Force, is Jesus seated at the right hand of the Father, praying for us that we might be protected. I look back over my life, and I'm sure you could do this as well, and I realize that there were many times when I was at a crossroads where I had a decision to make, and I didn't know what to do.
And if I had made the wrong decision, it would've changed everything about my life. I surely wouldn't be here today. I could've gone the wrong way. It was the indwelling Holy Spirit that brought conviction to my heart, kept me from doing the wrong thing, and oftentimes, when I was at a point of decision, I would be reading the Word of God, and a portion of God's Word would jump off the page into my heart, and it was like God was speaking out loud, and I would know, "This is the way. Walk in this way", and I would do the right thing, where If I had been left to myself, I would've probably done the other thing.
How many of you know, as you look back over your life, you did a lot of things you didn't want to do, but they turned out to be the right things? But the one thing I'll never understand till I get to heaven is this: When the Holy Spirit has done all he can do to keep me out of trouble, and the Word of God has done all it can do to keep me out of trouble, there's still more, for up in heaven next to the Father is my Savior, and he's praying for me. He's praying, "Take care of Jeremiah down there in El Cajon. Don't let him do somethin' foolish. Keep him from the evil one. Don't let him get caught up in something that could ruin his life".
The Word of God and the Spirit of God, and the prayer of the Lord at the right hand of the Father. I found these words again from the Old Testament Psalms. They fit right here. Let me read them to you. Psalm 121, verses 3 through 8, "He will not allow your foot to be moved. He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper. The Lord is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day nor the moon by night. The Lord shall preserve you from all evil. He shall preserve your soul. The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth, even forevermore".
The Lord is our keeper, and he is praying for us at the right hand of the Father. Then in the next verse, Jesus asks his Father to protect us from the evil one. How many of you know that Satan is our accuser? He's called the accuser of the brethren. The Bible says he goes around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. What is he trying to devour? He's trying to devour our influence. He's trying to devour our testimony for Jesus. He can't devour our salvation because he has no right to take that from us, but he can destroy our reputation and destroy our influence for God. He's always about that, testing us and trying to get us to make the wrong decision. But did you know that the Lord Jesus is praying for us that we will not be overcome by Satan?
The best illustration of that is in a verse of Scripture concerning Peter. Luke chapter 22, verse 31, Jesus is talking to Peter, and this is what he says: "Simon, Simon, indeed, Satan has asked for you that he may sift you as wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith should not fail, and when you have returned to me, strengthen your brethren". When Satan singled out Peter, Jesus assured Peter that he would not face the evil one alone. He told Peter that he was praying for his faith not to fail.
Now, we know, hours later, it appeared as if Peter did fail. He denied the Lord Jesus Christ three times. But how many of you know that wasn't the end of the story? You have to read all the way through the book of John to the 21st chapter. And after Jesus's Resurrection, Peter returns to Jesus, and Jesus gives him the assignment to strengthen the brothers. In other words, in response to Jesus's prayer, God allowed Satan to sift Peter, but he did not allow Peter to fall through the sieve, and although Peter fell, his faith did not fail.
What a reminder to us, men and women, that Jesus cares enough to pray us through our failures. All of us are men and women who have failed. We're not failures because we fail, but we have all failed in some way, and when we fail, the Bible gives us this encouragement that, as Jesus prayed for Peter during his three-point denial of Jesus, Jesus prays for us. Even, you know, we think, well, when we succeed, it's Jesus praying for us. No, when we're failing, Jesus is praying for us, and he prays us through our failures so that we get back to the place of fellowship with him. We don't fully understand the spiritual warfare that we face every day. We do not know all the ways in which the devil accuses us before God, but we have the blood of Jesus Christ pleading for us, and we have the one whose blood is pleading for us.
Jesus protects us from the evil one. He shields us by his prayers and by the power of his blood. His prayers are a protective force around us. Jesus is praying for us. What is he praying? He's praying for our protection. He's praying for our security. Number two, Jesus cares about our sufficiency. Verse 13 of chapter 17, says, "Now I come to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves". In verse 13, Jesus prayed that the joy he has might be fulfilled in us. He wasn't talkin' about just joy, but fulfilled joy, overrunning joy, abundant joy, sufficient joy. He was talking about Jesus's joy.
Let me tell you, as you know, he's not talkin' about happiness. That depends on the happenings. He's talkin' about joy that depends on Jesus. And Jesus's joy is so amazing. Jesus's joy is the answer to the Hebrew greeting, "shalom". They tell us that the word "shalom" means more than "peace". It means a sense of well-being within a person. The joy of Jesus is that sense you have that, no matter what's going on around you, the most important thing is okay, and in your heart, there's this feeling, this sense of the sufficiency of the joy of Jesus. I've seen this illustrated in so many believers, and I've even experienced it sometimes in my own life that during very troubling times and times that would normally take a smile off of your face, the inward Jesus puts joy in your heart that's beyond anything you can explain.
You know, Jesus was a joyous person. I've always been amazed that, when Jesus came on the scene, his first miracle wasn't at a funeral but at a feast. It was at the feast of Cana of Galilee. It was a marriage. Everywhere you look, Jesus was involved in joy. Throughout the New Testament, he generously imparted his joy to other people. One day, he healed a crippled woman. She stood right up and began praisin' God. The Samaritan leper, healed by Jesus, returned to Jesus, and the Scripture said he was praisin' God in a voice, and when the lame man at the Gate Beautiful was healed, he got up and went into the temple.
Listen to this. He was walking and leaping and praising God. Now there's a man who's happy. Describing these moments in the life of Jesus, Paul put it this way. He said, "The kingdom of God is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit". Paul said our lives ought to be characterized by righteousness and peace, and joy. We ought to be the most joyous people in the world. We can't help it. We rejoice. We sing upbeat music. We sing happy music. We sing joyous music. I know some people think you worship with a dirge, but I can't put that together in the New Testament Scripture. We are to be people of joy. We should never apologize for being joyous.
One of the great lessons I learned when I studied the book of Ecclesiastes, which is a rather dark book because it records the writings of Solomon when he was away from God and he's trying to reason life out as if there were no God, but even in the midst of all of that, eight times in Ecclesiastes, we are told to rejoice in the life that God has given us. Men and women, we should not go around all sober and look like life is over. Even in the most difficult things we have on earth, we have so much to be joyous about.
Lewis Smeads was one of my favorite writers. He's in heaven now, but his books remain. Here's what he said: "You and I were created for joy, and if we miss it, we miss the reason for our existence". Jesus experienced joy in his life, and now he's praying that we do the same. When I wake up in the morning, I often say this, tired as I might be and as much as I don't wanna get up, "This is the day the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it".
You know, if you've ever been through a serious illness, maybe one where you weren't sure if you're gonna make it or not, every day is a gift from God, isn't it? And every day is a day to rejoice, and every day is a day to say, "Today is God's gift to me, and I'm gonna rejoice in this day. I may not know the answers to all my problems, but I will not be defined by the difficulties of my life. I will be defined by the joy of Jesus in my heart". Jesus gives us that opportunity.
Now, listen to all that, and then just let me remind you again this is what Jesus is praying for us. He's not only praying for our security, he's praying for our sufficiency. He wants us to have joy, Jesus's joy, fulfilled joy, shalom in our hearts. Here's the third one: Jesus cares about your maturity. This is found in John 17. Jesus is praying, "Sanctify them by your truth. Your word is truth".
When I was a child, growing up in my father's church, we used to have Wednesday-night prayer meetings and Sunday-night church services. And quite often, both on Wednesday night and Sunday night, they would take time out of the early part of the service for what they called a testimony meeting. We would have open testimonies. We do that now at funerals. We used to do it in church, open testimony, open mic. It was always interesting. But what I noticed was there was always about three people that, every week, they would be the first ones up, and I hate to say this, but it was three ladies, and they always said the same thing. They would get up and say, "I'm just so thankful that I'm saved and sanctified", and then they go sit down.
I knew what "saved" was, but I wasn't sure what "sanctified" was, and I was pretty sure I didn't want it 'cause I didn't wanna turn out like them. I didn't know what "sanctified" was until many years later, and I found out it's not a bad word. It's a good word. "Sanctified" means "to be made holy". Up in heaven, Jesus is praying that you and I will be good people, holy people. He's praying for our sanctification. The Bible is God's chief means of bringing that about, and so we aren't surprised to read that his prayer goes like this: "Sanctify them by your truth. Your word is truth".
What he is praying is that, when we open this Book, we don't just learn more of the Bible, but the Bible gets into our lives and changes who we are. He says, "Sanctify them. Make them holy by your truth. Your word is truth". He's praying for us right now as we meet in this room that the Word of God that we're studying from John 17, will not just pass through our minds and out the other side, but they will find a place of residence in our hearts, and we will listen to the words, and those words will change us from the inside out. That's what Jesus is praying. He is praying for our sanctification. He is praying for our maturity. Here's the fourth one: He's praying about our ministry.
In John 17:18, he says this: "As you sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world". Now let me just break that down for you. Jesus was the first missionary to the world in which you and I live. One day in heaven, God called his Son to the throne and said, "I need you to go to the earth where the people are struggling and don't know what to do, and they're in sin. I want you to go there and seek and to save that which is lost. Pay the penalty for their sin on the cross". Now Jesus is saying to his Father, "Just as one day you sent me into the world, I am sending all of your disciples", including us, "into the world with the same message, to seek and save the lost".
Whenever we go out to do the ministry God has given us, we can be assured that, up in heaven, Jesus is prayin' for us. He's praying for me, when I preach, as all of you do. Some of you pray that I won't preach so long. I understand that. But I don't think Jesus is prayin' that. I think you all are praying it, but I don't think Jesus is praying it. He's praying for you. When you usher. He's praying for you when you teach children. He's praying for you when you work in the parkin' lot. He's praying for you when you drive the shuttle. He's praying for you when you serve on the board.
If you're in the ministry of Jesus, you can count on it, you are on his prayer list, and he's praying for you that you will carry out the ministry in a way that brings fruit to the kingdom. He's praying for your ministry. Here's number five: He's praying for your unity. John 17:20 and 21, says this: "I pray", Jesus is praying now, "I pray, Father, that they all may be one as you are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that you sent me". In other words, Jesus is praying for our unity. He's praying that we have unity in our church.
Now, I'm not gonna ask you to raise your hands 'cause a lot of you would. Many of you have come out of situations where you've been in a church where unity wasn't anywhere to be seen. I remember reading about Ray Stedman. He said that, "Christians can be like a group of porcupines on a cold winter's night. They need to be close to another so they can reflect the heat from their bodies, but as soon as they get close enough to get heat, they prick each other with their quills, and then they spread apart again". I'm glad we don't have a porcupine church.
I've been reminded recently of early days in my ministry when I first got to Fort Wayne. I used to go to the YMCA every day for lunch and play basketball for an hour, and there was a whole group of us that played. Some of those guys still write me, remind me how rough I was when I played. But, anyway, you would go to the YMCA, and over the arch of the YMCA, when you walked in it, were these words from John 17, "That they may be one". We'd walk through the arch and go down in the pit and kill each other for an hour, but over the arch was "That they may be one". Kind of like many churches, you know. We speak it, but we don't live it.
Thank God that, at Shadow Mountain, we have this wonderful unity that God has given us. Don't take it for granted. And right now, up in heaven, Jesus is praying for our unity. He's praying for our oneness that we would reflect, according to the Bible, the same Spirit that he has with the Father. He wants us to be one in our unity. And then, finally, Jesus is praying for our destiny. Listen to this, verse 24 of chapter 17, "Father, I desire that they also whom you gave me, may be with me where I am".
Now, folks, here's another one of those little kind of upside-down truths. We all know that we wanna be with Jesus. I mean, all of us, we talk about that. As we get older, we have so many people that we've invested in heaven already, we look forward to the day when we're with Jesus, and we're united with the people that we love. But here's what we may not know about Jesus. Listen to this: Jesus wants to be with us. It's not just that we wanna be with Jesus. Listen to this. It says, "That they may be with me where I am". Jesus wants us to be with him. Over in John chapter 14, he says, "In my Father's house are many mansions. If it were not so, I would've told you. I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again to receive you unto myself that where I am, you may be also".
Jesus wants us to be with him. We wanna be with him. We know that, but did you know that Jesus wants you to be with him way more than you wanna be with him? It's his desire for you to someday be with him. If you've put your trust in Jesus Christ, there isn't any doubt about the fact that that will happen. The Bible says, when you're a Christian, if you trust the Lord, absent from the body is present with the Lord. As soon as you take your last breath down here, you take your first one up there, and you're absent from your body, but you're present with the Lord, and the Lord Jesus is so looking forward to that, that he prays about it in his prayers. It's on his prayer list that, one day, we will be with him. Listen, friends, Jesus is praying for us. He's praying for you.
You've probably noticed that Chicago is being mentioned a lot. Lot of bad things happening in Chicago. Many people being murdered there every year. Every year it's either one or two in the number of murders, gang warfare. Chicago is a rough place. It's always been known for its mobs, but right now it seems like we've gone back to the 20s, and mob-gang warfare, it's just awful. Right in the middle of Chicago is a place called the Pacific Garden Mission.
When I was a student in college, I worked at a Christian radio station, and one of my tasks was to put the programs on the air that we aired on that station. One of 'em was called, "Unshackled", and "Unshackled" was a program about all the miracles that happened out of the Pacific Garden Mission, people that would come there. It was just right down in the heart of the roughest part of Chicago, and people would come there with no options left. Pacific Garden Mission was the place where you went if you didn't have anything. If you couldn't eat, they would give you food. They'd give you a bed to sleep in, and part of the deal was, you had to go to chapel, and they had preachers in there all the time preachin' the Gospel.
Hundreds of thousands of people got saved at the Pacific Garden Mission and went out to tell their story, thus you had the program "Unshackled". And it was kind of like the last resort. If you went there, you would just be overwhelmed at the condition of the people who filed in the door. They knew they could get somethin' to eat. They knew there would be a place to sleep. Over the door of that mission were these words, words that make you almost cry when you hear them. Here's what's over the door of that mission: "Your mother's prayers have followed you".
So when you walk in the mission, that's what it says: "Your mother's prayers have followed you", a subtle reminder to many of them that they had mothers who prayed for them, and those prayers followed them all the way to the mission in Chicago until finally they were arrested by the Spirit of God and brought to a place of redemption. I've discovered in my own life, as a parent, that there are certain things that we can do to influence our children. When they're small, we can guide them. We can make sure they go on the right path. We put 'em in Christian Schools, and we build some barriers around the edges of their life, but as they get older, there comes a time in our life when we have to turn them over to the heavenly Father, to pray that he would care for them, to pray that he would keep them, to pray that he would watch over them.
I've gone through that with all of my children, and some of my grandchildren, "Lord, nothing more I can do, but I pray that you will guide them". Prayer is an amazing thing, and the Father in heaven is hearing the prayers of his Son Jesus for you right now. When he prays for us, we draw near to him. He draws near to us, and he's praying for you right now.
If you don't know him as your personal Savior, his prayer is that you might come to him and open your heart and receive him. And if you're a Christian, I don't know what you're goin' through this week, but let me tell ya somethin': Jesus is prayin' for you. You pray to Jesus, but Jesus is praying for you. He knows you better than you know yourself. He knows what your need is. Right now in heaven, before God's throne, he's interceding for you and for me, hallelujah. Thank you, Jesus.