Mission Is At The Centre Of Prayer

Read John 15:1-17

So far, as we have looked at prayer, I have focused mainly on what Jesus taught about prayer. There is plenty of other biblical examples and biblical teaching but I have chosen to turn to Jesus.

So let’s ask another question: What did Jesus teach us to pray for? He said various things about how to pray but what did He say about what we should pray for?

Last week we looked very briefly at the Lord’s Prayer. I said it contained just 5 requests. Looking at it again I think maybe there are 6. They are, after acknowledging that we pray to our Father in heaven:

Hallowed be your name God’s glory
Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven God’s Kingdom
Give us today our daily bread Our needs
Forgive us our sins as we forgive others Our forgiveness
Lead us not into temptation Help to live a godly life
Deliver us from evil Protection from evil

One question that arises from that is that Jesus tells us to pray for our routine, every-day needs but what about other people’s needs? Should we pray for other people’s needs, their protection etc?

Jesus did not tell us to pray “Give me this day my daily needs.” The Lord’s Prayer is a group prayer. We are not praying just for ourselves, we are praying for others in our church family or, even, others world-wide. Even if we pray it alone, we are praying for the needs of others as well as ourselves. If we use this prayer as a model but we use our own words or we expand on the various requests, we will pray for others in need because that is what “our needs” means.

Perhaps surprisingly, Jesus didn’t say very much else about what to pray for. There is only a handful of other passages and, it seems to me, that they tie in quite closely with the Lord’s Prayer topics anyway.

Let’s play a little game. I will remind you of a passage in which Jesus told us to pray for something and you tell me which petition of the Lord’s Prayer each one corresponds with.

Matt 5:44             Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you [as we forgive others]

Matt 24:20           Pray that your flight will not be in winter or on a Sabbath [Deliver us from evil]

Matt 26:41           Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation [Lead us not…]

Mark 9:29            This type of demon can be driven out only by prayer [Deliver us from evil]

Luke 18:13-14     Jesus commended the tax collector who prayed for forgiveness [Forgive us]

Luke 21;36          But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” [Deliver us from evil]

There is one other that I have kept one up my sleeve because I want to use it later!

You might have noticed that they corresponded with the last three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus probably didn’t need to tell us to pray for our daily needs. That is often our first inclination anyway. In any case, He said, for example, what father would give his son a stone instead of bread, a scorpion instead of an egg or a snake instead of a fish. He also told a parable about a man asking his neighbour for bread so there is every indication that we should pray about those daily things.

However, all of those examples from Jesus had to do with us. What about the first two petitions in the Lord’s Prayer where we are to pray for God’s glory and the coming of God’s Kingdom?

Twice in those first 17 verses of John 15, Jesus promises that God will answer our prayers.

John 15:7            If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

John 15:16          You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the father will give you whatever you ask in my name.

Are they blanket promises – whatever you pray? Or do we need to look at the context to see what prayers Jesus was referring to?

Imagine you told me that you were going to start a small business.  I might be impressed with your plan and I might say, “If there is anything I can do to help, let me know.”

That sounds like a generous offer but in the context of our discussion, you would know that I wasn’t offering to do absolutely anything. I am probably not offering to finance the whole thing. I am probably not offering to do all the work while you watch TV. I am not even offering to take your cat to the vet or educate your children. The context of the conversation tells you that I am offering to help in one particular area – starting this new business – and even then, common sense tells you that there will be limits on what I am offering to do.

Context is all-important. If I tell you that I bowled a maiden over you won’t know whether I was playing cricket, driving a car or flirting! Only by knowing the context will know the meaning.

What is the context for these promises of Jesus’? The image is that of a vine and its branches. Ten times in those verses, Jesus talks about bearing fruit. It is very clear that the theme is fruit-bearing. Alongside that, and repeated about the same number of times, is the theme of abiding in Christ, or remaining in Christ. And those two themes are linked. It is only by abiding in Christ that we can bear fruit and if we do abide in Him, we will bear much fruit, Jesus promises. Abiding means living in a close and constant relationship. If we live in that sort of relationship with Jesus, we will bear much fruit. If we do not, we will not bear fruit and the branches that do not bear fruit are thrown away and later burnt.

That is a very sombre warning that we ought not ignore. It is pretty clear that being thrown away and later burnt is a picture of judgement, isn’t it? If we don’t bear fruit for Jesus, that is our future. I am sorry that that is so blunt but that is what Jesus said. All of us should consider whether we are bearing fruit for Jesus and then go back a step and remember that to do so we must abide in Him – live in a close and constant relationship with Him.

What is the fruit to which Jesus is refers? This is debated because Jesus didn’t define it. It could be the fruit of the Spirit, mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23 – our character being transformed by the Holy Spirit so that we are people of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Jesus does, twice, command us to love one another. The fruit undoubtedly includes our character but I think Jesus is talking even more about reproduction. The grapes do not simply improve the quality of the vine. The grapes are the result of the quality of the vine. The grapes contain the seeds that contain the potential for reproduction. I think Jesus is talking about fruitfulness like in the parable of the seeds, where the seeds in good soil produced 30, 60 or 100 times what had been sown.

In other words, I think the fruitfulness here represents one disciple making more disciples. I know that some of you might think I have talked about that too much already but am I right? In a sense that is not different from transformed character because, if we have a Christ-like character we will make disciples anyway. The two are intimately linked. Jesus says here that we will abide in His love if we obey His commands and in v.16 He says, “Go and bear fruit- fruit that will last.” It is like the commissioning; Go.

Just out of interest, “fruit that will last” sounds very much like “the fruit for eternal life” in 4:36 where Jesus is talking about bringing in the harvest. “Fruit” in John 15 is not defined. I am sure it does include character but ultimately I think it is referring to the fruit of our mission to make disciples. Again, character leads to mission anyway. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (13:35)

That is the context for Jesus promising answered prayers. As you go bearing fruit, ask whatever you will and it will be given to you. Those are the prayers God promises to answer – fruit-bearing prayers.

Then v.8 says, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” So now, do you see, this is about those first two petitions in the Lord’s Prayer – the two that we thought hadn’t been mentioned. God receives honour when we are transformed to be more like Jesus. People think, “Wow! Look at the change in him. And that’s because he has chosen to follow Jesus. Wow!” God receives honour when we are obedient, People think, “She thinks highly of God. Look how her whole life is lived to please her God.” But even more, God receives honour when other people come to know Him and grow in their love of Him because there are more and more people saying, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God almighty, early in the morning our sing shall rise to Thee.” / “Amazing love that You my King would die for me”

And God’s Kingdom is coming. God’s Kingdom exists wherever people honour Him as King. As people become disciples of Jesus, God’s Kingdom grows and God receives honour. “Hallowed be Your name. Your Kingdom come; your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

I said I had kept one of Jesus’ prayer topics up my sleeve. Here it is:

Matt 9:37-38        “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.”

There are not many things Jesus told us to pray about but He quite explicitly told us to pray about mission and John 15:7 and 16 promise that prayers about mission will be answered.

In lots of other places too the point of prayer is mission. When Paul asked people to pray for him, very often his prayer request was that his mission would be effective.

Colossians 4:3     3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.

Eph 6:19-20        19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

When the early church first experienced persecution, what did they pray?

Acts 4:29-31        29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30 Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

It changes our prayer lives when we realise that prayer is not primarily about our own needs. First and foremost, prayer is about God’s glory and the coming of God’s Kingdom. Can I encourage you to consciously pray prayers based on those first two petitions in the Lord’s Prayer?

Can I also encourage you to commit yourself to frequently pray about the mission of this church? I know that some people are getting anxious about doing things to grow the church. I am not in a hurry. My desire is that we first lay a foundation of prayer.

I listened the other day to an interview with a missionary who works in an undisclosed Asian nation – undisclosed because, in this context, he cannot be open about his work. In 10 years, he saw 10,000 people converted and 300 house churches started across 3 previously unreached people-groups. In another project, in 3 years he saw 110 churches planted in 20 cities with about 5,000 believers, where there had previously been none. In another project, he saw 7 churches planted in just 2 months amongst rural folk who had never heard the gospel before.

But for the first year, he did not do much other than fast and pray. Pray and fast for a year. Then God started giving him a strategy and started giving him fruit.

Prayer is not just about God looking after us. Biblically, mission is at the centre of prayer because mission is what we have been sent to do and mission brings glory to God. It is those mission prayers that Jesus promised to answer. And prayer is at the centre of mission. If you want this church to grow, then please pray fervently for the extension of God’s Kingdom and pray for God’s name to be honoured in Mornington, in Dunedin, in New Zealand. The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into the fields.

For Reflection

Bible study

  1. Read John 15:1-16
  2. Do you agree that the context for the promises of answered prayer (in vv.7, 16) is fruit-bearing and that Jesus is therefore speaking here about prayers in that context?
  3. What do you believe “fruit” here refers to? What are your reasons for saying that?
  4. What are the things that most effectively bring God glory?
  5. In v.8 Jesus says that bearing fruit both glorifies God and proves that we are disciples. How would you explain both of those?
  6. What in this passage says that fruit—bearing is not optional for Christians?
  7. Why, in this context, does Jesus command us to love one another?

Application

  1. What percentage of your prayers would you say are focused on God’s glory and the coming of His Kingdom?
  2. What percentage would you like it to be and what can you do about it?
  3. Jesus here is not talking so much about prayers for mission as the prayers of missionaries i.e. we are to bear fruit not just pray about others bearing fruit. In what areas is God asking you to bear fruit?
  4. What changes do you need to make in order to bear more fruit?

Further resources

  1. Jesus’ words on what to pray for.

Matt 5:44             Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you

Matt 9:37-38        “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.”

Matt 24:20           Pray that your flight will not be in winter or on a Sabbath

Matt 26:41           Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation

Mark 9:29            This type of demon can be driven out only by prayer

Luke 18:13-14     Jesus commended the tax collector who prayed for forgiveness

Luke 21;36          But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

  1. The interview with the missionary mentioned above – http://www.movements.net/resources/the-movements-podcast. (All of these podcasts are inspirational but the one mentioned is the second interview with “Barney”)
  2. Model Prayer

Sermons

  1. A David Wilkerson sermon on this passage: http://www.worldchallenge.org/en/node/1242
  2. Ray C. Stedman – http://www.raystedman.org/new-testament/john/the-vine-and-the-fruit

What is the fruit of John 15?

The fruit is not defined here and there have been various suggestions. There are other biblical references to fruit but we must decide whether fruit here is being used in the same way. There are also clues in this passage. The following might help clarify your thinking.

  1. I Chose You To bear Fruit – John Piper – http://www.soundofgrace.com/piper81/101181e.htm
  2. What Is The Fruit In John 15:5? – quotes D.A. Carson – http://www.whatsbestnext.com/2011/04/what-is-the-fruit-in-john-155/
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