Connections 05.21.2023: On Their Behalf

John 17:1-11

Many of us have probably had the experience of someone praying for us by name, in person, right in front of (or next to) us. Maybe they’re even holding our hands or laying hands on our heads or shoulders. It may take place in a time of formal worship, as in a baby dedication or a graduate blessing, or it may be in a time of intimate, informal prayer. When someone prays to God on our behalf—whether words of thanksgiving, blessing, or intercession—we might experience a range of emotions, from humility to gratitude to embarrassment. I doubt I’m the only one who tends to respond with tears when someone prays for me in my hearing.

As he enters the last week of his life, Jesus is still trying to make sure his closest followers understand—as well as they are able—who he is, whose they are, and how they are to live once he has gone. Occasionally through chapters 13 to 16, the disciples ask questions that indicate their understanding (or lack thereof) and Jesus does his best to clarify, redirect, and affirm. Now that the lesson has concluded, Jesus turns his attention to prayer. He “looked up to heaven” (17:1) and began to speak not to the apostles, but about them to his Father.

There are certainly “teachable moments” in this prayer, and if the disciples are paying attention, they surely pick up on some of Jesus’s powerful statements about his relationship with God, his relationship with his followers, and his relationship with the world. But this prayer is not a lecture; it is an act of faith. In this prayer, Jesus allows the disciples to witness all these relationships in action. They observe in Jesus’s posture and overhear in his words Jesus’s love for God, for them, and for the world.

I wonder what the disciples were thinking and feeling when Jesus prayed for them in person, right in front of them, lifting his thanksgiving and blessing and intercession to God on their behalf. I wonder if later they remembered Jesus’s powerful words even as they watched him be arrested and crucified. I wonder if they trusted enough to hold on to his promises as they awaited his resurrection. I wonder, as they went out into the world in his name but without his physical presence, if they sensed God’s protection and Christ’s abiding Spirit. I wonder if they saw how his prayer would be answered?


  • How do you respond—what are you thinking and feeling—when someone prays for you? Does this help you to imagine what Jesus’s disciples might have been thinking and feeling?
  • Read Jesus’s prayer carefully. What different things does he pray for on the disciples’ behalf? What is he thankful for? What is he concerned about for them? What does he want God to do for them, and why?
  • Reflect on what you know about the events of Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection, and about the disciples’ ministry after Jesus’s ascension. How do you think Jesus’s prayer was answered?
  • Remember that the disciples’ life was not easy after Jesus ascended. Jesus himself was tortured and killed; many of the disciples (and the believers in the early churches) would face persecution, suffering, and death. How do you think they remembered Jesus’s prayer for their protection even as they faced the difficult life of faith?
  • How do we understand—and continue to trust—God’s protection, even when we suffer?

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is the lead editor of Connections. She is a graduate of Samford University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary, and as a military spouse has had nine (at last count) different hometowns in the past 20 years. She and her husband Scott and sons Sam and Levi live in the Washington D.C. area. In recent years, Nikki has written Smyth & Helwys curricula as well as devotionals for and Baptist Women in Ministry. She weaves clergy stoles, knits almost anything, and dreams of making her dreadful novel drafts into readable books. She blogs about faith and making things at


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