Undoubtedly Jesus prayed for his disciples on many occasions (cf. Luke 6:12ff.), but John 17 stands out as the longest, most complete, and instructive of his prayers. In this High Priestly prayer our Lord petitions his Father on behalf of the disciples. First, He humbly asks that the Father protect these 11 men after he departs. This protection concerns their unity as well as their eternal security. Indeed, it concerns the unity and eternal safe-keeping of all those who would later believe in Christ through the disciples’ message (17:11, 20). Second, and in keeping with his prayer for the disciples’ protection, Jesus also asks the Father not to take the disciples out of the world, but rather to protect them from the Devil (17:15). Third, the great “High Priest” also prays for his disciples’ sanctification through the word of God (17:17) and that they will go into the world as he himself did. Fourth, Jesus asks God to make his followers “one” so that the world would know that he had been sent by God and that God loves those who believe in Christ (17:23). Fifth and final, Jesus prays that those who love him might be with him in eternity (17:24).
So we find in John 17 the twin blessing of the knowledge of how Jesus prays for us as well as a model of how we ought to pray for those whom we disciple in the Lord. In other words, we too should pray that God will protect our disciples while they journey in this world-protection from the world and the devil. We should also pray for their unity with other believers, that they would seek to preserve the bond of unity among brothers and sisters of different persuasions. Pray too that they not seek to be separate from the world, but instead live in the world as Jesus, the master, did. Finally, we should ask God to give our disciples and friends a longing for heaven, i.e., to be with Jesus; such a longing will properly orient and focus the rest of their lives and service here on earth.
Paul, following his master in particular, prayed extensively for his children in the faith. His prayers are very instructive and we would do well to study them, reflect on them, and then imitate them with sincerity of heart. Let’s look at just a couple of them.
1:15 For this reason, since I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 1:16 I do not cease to give thanks for you when I remember you in my prayers. 1:17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you spiritual wisdom and revelation in your growing knowledge of him, 1:18—since the eyes of your heart have been enlightened—so that you may know what is the hope of his calling, what is the wealth of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 1:19 and what is the incomparable greatness of his power toward us who believe, as displayed in the exercise of his immense strength. 1:20 This power he exercised in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms 1:21 far above every rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 1:22 And God put all things under Christ’s feet and he gave him to the church as head over all things. 1:23 Now the church is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
In this passage Paul teaches us, by way of example, that prayer for Christians is a necessity and that it begins with thankfulness. We are to give thanks to God when we see His people exercising faith in Christ and love for one another. After all, this is precisely what Jesus prayed for in John 17: faith in him and love for each other. We are then to pray, asking the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ to give them (and us) spiritual wisdom and revelation. Our people need to receive great insight into God’s character, will, and ways so that they might see how their life connects with Christ and how it is now to be lived through him in a way that honors God. This is spiritual wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of God.
Having prayed for wisdom and revelation, then, we are to continue, asking God so that our people (disciples) might know three things: (1) the ultimate end, certainty, and direction (hope) of their calling (Rom 5:3-5; 1 Cor 2:9; Titus 2:13); (2) the wealth of God’s inheritance in the saints and their place as a hand-picked member of that inheritance, and (3) the experience of His incomparably great power toward us, the same power that raised Christ from the dead, secured us for himself, freed us from sin, and now enables us daily to submit to His Lordship (vv. 21-23), love others, and walk worthily of the salvation we have received. When we pray as Paul does here, we must remember—as he demonstrates—that every good thing we have is through Christ Jesus our Lord (cf. Rom 11:36).
3:14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 3:15 from whom every family in heaven and on the earth is named. 3:16 I pray that according to the wealth of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner man, 3:17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, so that, by being rooted and grounded in love, 3:18 you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 3:19 and thus to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. 3:20 Now to him who by the power that is working within us is able to do far beyond all that we ask or think, 3:21 to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
The ultimate goal for which Paul is praying here is that the Ephesians and the church worldwide would be filled up to all the fullness of God. The expression “fullness of God” refers to God’s “presence and power, his life and rule”26 in all its Trinitarian glory. Paul realizes that there are several things God will have to do before this prayer can ever be answered. First, and we should pray this for our people, Paul prays for strength in their inner man so that Christ might dwell in their hearts through faith. Second, he prays (assumes in prayer) that the community will be rooted and grounded in love for Christ and each other, and in that context will come to know the greatness, magnificence, and supra-rational nature of Christ’s love. This will lead to the church being filled up to all the fullness of God. And, Paul says, we should pray with confidence because God is able to do it beyond our wildest dreams! These are the kinds of prayers we ought to utter for our disciples.
Generally speaking, there are two kinds of time that we spend with people whom we’re helping: informal and formal. Informal time is any and all time together when we’re not doing a specific task such as Bible study, evangelism, etc. It’s just family time! Ideally, the bulk of your time should be informal so that these younger Christians can see you around your family, work, friends, hobbies, etc. This is where they see the “best” and the “worst.” “More is caught than taught” (cf. “imitators” in 1 Thess 1:6). Remember, the best context for real impact is friendship. Don’t hide behind 1 hour meetings. When asked where he was going, Jesus told Andrew and Peter, “come, and see!” (John 1:39).
Given that your friendship is deepening, you have an excellent context for some structured time together. It is during these times that your disciple/friends will come prepared, having done a study, etc., and you will invest concentrated time together working through issues of the “heart, head, and hands.”
When someone first becomes a Christian they need help. Just like a newborn coming into the world needs its mother’s milk, so the new Christian needs to immediately feed their souls on God’s word and prayer (1 Peter 2:1-3). The “Lessons on Assurance” are designed to get a new believer into the word and strengthen them in their faith. These studies can be done in 30 to 60 minutes. You should give these to new Christians (e.g., one per week) and then meet with them after they’ve completed the study in order to find out how everything went. Though they’re designed at a basic and foundational level, they have proven very helpful to countless numbers of Christians. The five studies are: (1) Assurance of God’s Love; (2) Assurance of God’s Forgiveness and Cleansing; (3) Assurance of Answered Prayer; (4) Assurance of God’s Strength for Victory; and (5) Assurance of God’s Presence and Guidance.
5:6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 5:7 (For rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person perhaps someone might possibly dare to die.) 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
1. How did God prove his love for us? (How does God continue to prove his love to us? E.g., Matthew 6:32)
2. What condition were we in when Christ died for us? What do you think it means to be helpless? In what sense or in respect to what?
3. What is the difference between God’s love and the love people have in the world?
4. How many of your sins were future when Christ died for you? What is this saying about his love for you?
5. Read Romans 5:5. How has God made his love known to you personally?
6. Summarize what this passages teaches about God’s love for you.
3:22 The Lord’s many kindnesses never cease, for his great compassion never comes to an end. 3:23 They are renewed every morning; your faithfulness is abundant! 3:24 I said to myself, “The Lord is the portion of my inheritance; therefore, I will put my hope in him.”
1. What does the word kindness mean? What does it mean to you that it is in the plural, i.e., kindnesses?
2. According to this passage will there ever come a time when God no longer desires to be kind and compassionate to you, i.e. to stop loving you dearly?
3. Why is it significant, do you think, that Jeremiah says that God’s kindnesses are renewed every morning? How does that create hope in a person?
4. What does the word faithful mean? What kind of faithfulness does God demonstrate?
5. Why do you think the Psalmist puts his hope in God? Why should you put your hope in God?
6. Summarize this passage and relate how it has helped you today.
12:4 You have not yet resisted to the point of bloodshed in your struggle against sin. 12:5 And have you forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as sons? “My son, do not scorn the Lord’s discipline or give up when he corrects you. 12:6 “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son he accepts.” 12:7 Endure your suffering as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline? 12:8 But if you do not experience discipline, something all sons have shared in, then you are illegitimate and not sons. 12:9 Besides, we have experienced discipline from our earthly fathers and we respected them; shall we not submit ourselves all the more to the Father of spirits and receive life? 12:10 For they disciplined us for a little while as seemed good to them, but he does so for our benefit, that we may share his holiness. 12:11 Now all discipline seems painful at the time, not joyful. But later it produces the fruit of peace and righteousness for those trained by it.
1. What does it mean to struggle with sin?
2. Does loving your children entail the idea that you will never discipline them when they err?
3. What relationship are we to God? How do you treat your children when they err?
4. Summarize in your own words the thought in vv. 7-8. Certainly you disciple your own children. Would you really love them if you simply let them carry on in their folly and waywardness? But do you do the same for other people’s children?
5. What, in verse 9, is the ultimate goal for which God disciplines us as his children?
6. What is our experience of discipline? Is it fun? Read v. 11. But when God disciplines us what is the outcome, according to v. 11?
Summarize this study on God’s love bringing together His work on the cross, your need, and the way he treats you now as a Father. How has this study impacted you; how has it deepened and changed the way you view your relationship with God? What are some questions that you still have that you would like to discuss with someone at some time?
1:7 But if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 1:8 If we say we do not bear the guilt of sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 1:9 But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.
1. What do you think John means by walk? Light?
2. What is the condition for fellowship in v. 7?
3. On what basis are believers cleansed from their sin? How much of their sin is cleansed?
4. What is the problem with claiming that we have never sinned or that there isn’t sin in our lives any more?
5. What is guilt? Think for a moment. If a person breaks the law, they are in a state of guilt whether they “feel” guilty or not. But, when John mentions “bear the guilt of sin” is he talking about the state as well as our condition (e.g., the experience of a stricken conscious)?
6. Two things are true about those who deny the presence of sin in their lives. What are they according to v. 8?
7. To confess our sins means “to acknowledge our sins before God himself.” We do not hide them; he knows each and every one. What are the two attributes or characteristics of God that John mentions? How do they relate to what God says he will do when we confess our sins?
8. What does God promise to do if we confess our sins to him? Will he cleanse us from only certain sins? What sin have you committed that makes it hard for you to believe that God will forgive you when you confess it (or, has forgiven you when you did confess it)?
9. What things make it hard for you to believe that God not only wants to forgive you, but that he already has? How does verse 9 help you with this?
103:11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; 103:12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. 103:13 As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him…
1. How far are the heavens above the earth? The east from the west? How far has he removed our transgressions from us?
2. How does a father have compassion on his children?
3. Think through some positive examples of fathers and their children and relate them to God’s “fathering” of his children.
4. How does the Father image of God help you relate to him and believe that your sins are forgiven?
5. Summarize this passage and how it relates to your experience of God’s forgiveness.
Summarize the ideas in these verses. Note the foundation of forgiveness and its extent.
16:24 Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive it, so that your joy may be complete.
1. What had the disciples never experienced before? Is that true for you as well?
2. What did Jesus tell them to do?
3. What promise did Jesus give the disciples if they asked? What does this tell you about the heart of God?
4. Read Matthew 6:25-34. What does Jesus tell us about God’s understanding of our needs? Why then do you suppose, if God knows our needs, he still commands us to pray?
5. Why does God answer our prayers, according to John 16:24? How does answered prayer relate to joy in our lives? Have you experienced this in answer to a prayer?
6. Try writing out a prayer and begin to pray it daily. Watch for God’s answer. Then share your joy with someone and write it down for future encouragement. Remembering God’s faithfulness is a key source of encouragement in difficult times.
5:14 And this is the confidence that we have before him: that whenever we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 5:15 And if we know that he hears us in regard to whatever we ask, then we know that we have the requests that we have asked from him.
1. What does the term confidence mean? Give an illustration.
2. What does anything mean? What is the one limitation put on the anything?
3. What is the key source for learning about God’s will so that we begin to think like he does and therefore ask things that are really on his heart?
4. What does John say it means when God hears us?
5. Summarize what this passage teaches about prayer. Relate it to John 15:7.
6. How could you apply this passage in your life this week?
Summarize what you think these verses teach about the assurance of answered prayer.
4:13 I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me.
1. How did Paul do all that God had called him to do?
2. How did God strengthen him? How will He strengthen us?
3. Does this mean that Paul didn’t want or need help from other people? Read Philippians 4:14.
10:13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not faced by others. And God is faithful: he will not let you be tempted too much, but with the temptation will also provide a way through it so that you may be able to endure.
1. What does it mean to be overtaken by a temptation?
2. In what way are our trials and temptations no different than other people? How does knowing this help you?
3. What, in this passage, is the key attribute of God to remember when going through temptations? Why would this be important?
4. What do you think, after reading 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 Paul means by “a way through it”? What might that way be?
5 What is the key virtue that temptation is intended by God to bring?
What does it mean, then, to be assured of God’s strength for victory over sin? Read Romans 6:12-14 to help you flesh this idea out a bit more.
3:5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding. 3:6 Acknowledge him in all your ways, and he will make your paths straight.
1. What is the key virtue we are to express in the process of seeking guidance from God?
2. With how much of our heart do we need to trust him? Why is this so?
3. What does it mean to not “rely on our own understanding”? Is this the same thing as not using it? Certainly the human decision to trust God with all our hearts implies using our understanding. So what do you think the writer means?
4 According to v. 6, what is a key expression of trust?
5. What is the promise for those who trust God by acknowledging him in everything they do?
32:8 I will instruct and teach you about how you should live. I will advise you as I look you in the eye.
1. What does God promise to do in this verse? In what area in particular does he promise guidance?
2. What does it mean to “look someone in the eye”? What does this indicate about the way God will guide us?
Summarize what these verses teach about God’s presence and guidance. How does the issue of guidance relate to the Bible and the work of the Spirit? How does receiving guidance from God relate to our growth in holiness?
NOTE: There are areas of guidance in which God has already spoken and made clear in Scripture, e.g., prayer, giving, etc. There are, however, other areas that pertain specifically to my life, e.g., where to live, vocation, etc. We should not expect God to guide us in these specific areas unless we are obeying what he has already clearly revealed for all Christians in Scripture.
Some basics in receiving God’s guidance include a commitment to His Lordship, obeying his Word and prayerfully seeking his leading. With these in place a person is able to properly interpret and act on the knowledge of his/her gifts, godly counsel, circumstances, desires, peace, and sovereignly placed limitations.
1. What does God promise he will do?
2. How will God instruct us in the truth about how we should live? What role do the Spirit, scriptures, and teachers/godly friends play in this guidance? How about circumstances?
3. What does it mean to advise someone?
4. What is the significance of the phrase: “as I look you in the eye”?
4. After answering all the questions, how do you think God will guide you in the daily affairs of life as well as important and life changing decisions?
26 See Andrew T. Lincoln, Ephesians, Word Biblical Commentary, ed. David A. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker, vol. 42 (Dallas: Word, 1990), in loc. elec. version.