John 17:9 “I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.”
This verse in English has always bothered me a bit. It feels like when God told Jeremiah not to pray for the Jews. (Jeremiah 7:16, 11:14) However, the Japanese makes it a little easier to take. It says, “I request for them.” Etymologically, “pray” does mean “request,” as we have to remember any time we read Shakespeare, but we generally attach very specific feelings to the word today. That said, I think we need to learn something here. What we are to pray in relation to the world is that God’s rule and reign be established and His will be done. (Matthew 6:9-13) If we aren’t careful, prayer can devolve into love for the world itself. In his first letter, John made it very clear what our attitude should be. “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15) That’s not to say we shouldn’t enjoy, even “love,” nature, but we need to remember that everything physical is temporary. People get all worked up about “climate change,” when everything about the physical universe is changing. We are accountable to God for what we do with the physical things around us, but they in no way approach the value of a human soul. In praying for people who are not yet in God’s family, and even for those who are, I like a prayer my mother often prayed: “Keep them from unnecessary pain.” Sometimes pain is indeed necessary to grab our attention and force us to turn to God. The thing is, we aren’t infinite, and we are to focus our prayers under the direction of the Holy Spirit. If we try to pray too broadly, we run the risk of loving mankind while despising individuals. When even Jesus focused on those closest to Him, we are not wrong to do the same.
Often as a pastor I want the believers to lift their eyes and pray for more than “I-my-me-mine.” I get newsletters that seek to keep me updated on persecution around the world, and right now you can’t turn on the news or the Internet without being bombarded with situations that cry out for prayer. However, I must be careful that I myself don’t fail to pray for those close to me, being distracted by those far away. I am greatly bothered by those who try to “guilt trip” people into supporting various causes, but I am not to allow that to turn me off to genuine need. Again I am back to needing the Holy Spirit to guide me. As Paul said, we don’t know how or for what to pray! (Romans 8:26-27) I am not to be uptight about it, but pray freely, earnestly, and often, however He directs.
Father, thank You for this Word. I really do feel overwhelmed at times at all the things to pray for, and I tend to retreat into not praying. Keep me from that! Help me be effective as Your instrument to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8) through proclaiming Your will, Your Word, in prayer, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!