Author and teacher Heather Zempel says that most people read the Bible like they read a yearbook, first going to all the pages where they can find themselves. In Scripture, that's problematic because we are not the point of the story or found on many of the pages. John 17 is one of the safe places where we can, in fact, find ourselves. Here, Jesus prayed not only for His disciples but anyone who would believe in Him through their message. If you are a Christ-follower, that prayer was for you. Jesus prayed that we would be a unified church making it possible for even more people to hear the message and believe in Him. More than just this prayer, Scripture says that Jesus continues to intercede for us. How empowering! How encouraging! How motivating! The will and way of Jesus included prayer then and continues in prayer now. We can join Him in His prayers and be alive with Him on mission.
Scripture and Yearbooks
Heather Zempel says people tend to read their Bible like students going through their school’s yearbook. The first thing on our minds is to go find all the places where we can find a picture or mention of ourselves. It’s not surprising, but it’s funny when you think about it. We already know which clubs we were in, and what we wore on picture day. So why are we so fixated on seeing more of ourselves? Isn’t our own camera roll and the bathroom mirror enough?
Admittedly it’s obvious that we’re not gazing upon our photos in yearbooks to learn something, but more often it’s to confirm something. We want to find ourselves and decide we’re impressive. That we look good, that we’re involved in the most important clubs, and that we somehow a big part of our graduating class. We want to believe the story wouldn’t be the same without us. Whether it’s out of insecurity or narcissism, it’s ultimately a pride thing.
When presented with a book commemorating the bigger picture of a whole school year participated in by dozens or hundreds of individual lives, it’s just more natural to commemorate ourselves.
What about the Bible? Do we treat the Bible for what it is — The Word of God? Your bible is certainly the most comprehensive yearbook of all time. Instead of beginning in August, it opens at the beginning of time. It tells of the one who created everything and everyone. It tells the incredible stories of humanity’s relationship with God. It tells the highlights (and many many lowlights) of God’s people; plus, it offers hope for the greatest reunion of all time, and how Jesus made it possible.
Who Do You See in Scripture?
God’s Word reveals to us what no other book ever could. It shows us who we really are, and what our purpose in life is, and what our eternity will be like. In truth, we really can learn a lot about ourselves when we open the Bible. But if you’re learning only about yourself, and not about God, you’re certainly getting ahead of yourself!
Genesis 1:26 tells us that we are made in the image of God. To understand ourselves, we need to understand what our Creator has revealed about Himself to us. Our identity comes from Him. Our purpose comes from Him. Our hope for salvation depends on Him, and our aspirations for escaping a life of sin rest in His grace. Without God, each of us would be nothing — and that’s a literal statement.
For many, it’s harder to understand how the Old Testament stories are relevant to our life today. All that history about the nation of Israel seems distant to modern living in the United States. But it’s through this history of man’s relationship with God that we come to understand just how loving and patient He is. When we pick up the Bible, we also peer into just how big God’s plans are. He cared for every last one of His people then, and He cares about every one of us today.
Some of us need to hear today that He cares about us as much as anyone else. We are one of billions, and yet He loves us each more dearly than the father of an only child. And others of us need to hear today that He cares about everyone else as much as He cares about us. Even those who’ve lived a life of sin, and those who’ve hurt us, and those who currently despise us. He cares for us, and He also calls for us to care for one another. Jesus prays for us, and for unbelievers.
“My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” — John 17:15-17
Don’t you find it encouraging that Jesus prays for us? In the verses above He prays for His disciples, and we can learn about His plan for you and I from this prayer. The Lord knows that we long to be in heaven and to be removed from all the pain and evil in this world; yet, He prays that we remain here for the time the Father has set for us. He prays that although we are in the world, we become more like Him by keeping our hearts set on the Word. This is because the disciples then (and believers today) are called to the Great Commission, which is to bring others to God.
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. — John 17:20-21
In that moment Jesus prayed also for all who would come to believe in Him. If you are a Christian, even 2000 years later, the Lord was praying for you with these words! He desires for us to be united and for God to shine through us so that others may come to believe in Jesus.
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