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A Discernment Prayer to Know God’s Will (John 17)

God’s will for us is “good, pleasing, and perfect” (Rom 12:2), but at major decision points it may be difficult for us to discern what God wants us to do.

Meditating on Jesus’ prayer in John 17 helps us to align ourselves with our Lord’s petitions and his spirit. He offered his priestly prayer with his apostles in the Upper Room just before he was betrayed and crucified. It’s a prayer for all of his disciples down through the ages. It’s a helpful discernment prayer that can be used for personal matters, community, or ministry.

Jesus’ prayer to the Father is especially important for a leadership group, which is why he prayed it in the first place! It’s a prayer for his apostles and all of his disciples and servant leaders.

Discerning God’s will is the highest priority of Christian leadership groups like church staffs, elder boards, or nonprofit boards of directors. Yet, often we lack a defined process for discerning God’s will together. We gather smart, gifted people around a table to work hard to make the best decision for their community or organization — that’s a good start, but it’s not enough!

Soul Shepherding’s Discernment Process

Before I share the John 17 Discernment Prayer Tool let me offer a bit of background…

Kristi and I co-lead Soul Shepherding’s Board of Directors (pictured above) as a Christ-centered spiritual formation community. They govern our 501c3 and we operate the ministry. They make the big organizational and financial decisions and we lead them spiritually. It’s a balance of power. It’s a process of mutual submission to one another as onto Christ.

This way of working together as a community under the headship of Christ enables us to be a spiritually discerning community. What does this look like in a given meeting?

As we listen to the thoughts, hopes, and concerns of others we want to always be looking to the cosmic Christ in our midst, the One “in whom are hidden all treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:3). We don’t rush! We always Ask Jesus to Lead the Meeting!

Many leadership groups don’t have a defined and strategic process for listening to God and so they are greatly hindered. Here are the key steps to our process:

  • Make sure that each person at the leadership table is a mature disciple of Jesus who knows how to listen to God and follow his will in their daily lives
  • Clarify the question for discernment and background issues (it’s best to do this before the meeting and then reiterate it at the start of the discernment meeting)
  • Cultivate genuine, authentic community at the start of the group meeting (e.g., meditate on Scripture together and pray for one another; Romans 12:1-2, 15-16)
  • Explicitly and with faith ask for God’s wisdom (James 1:5-6)
  • Abandon outcomes to God; become indifferent to any course of action, happy to so whatever God leads (Matthew 6:10; 26:39)
  • Have open discussion about the issue
  • Break for extended time in solitude and silence for refreshment and opening up a new and contrasting way of hearing God (this may need to be repeated; Jesus and his Apostles often did this)
  • As a group identify options and steps
  • Walk out your discernment of God’s will with Jesus, seeking confirmation of his will within unfolding circumstances.

(If you study the decisions that the early Church made in Acts you’ll see that they used a process like this. Some of these insights and steps are articulated in Pursuing God’s Will Together by Ruth Haley Barton.)

Jesus’ Prayer as a Discernment Tool

Kristi and I used this John 17 meditation and discernment prayer at a recent Soul Shepherding Board retreat. It fostered fruitful conversation and guidance about our next step as a leadership group.

The idea of this tool is simple: use Jesus’ petitions from John 17 as discernment questions to help you with the decision you need to make. If we make Jesus’ holy prayer our prayer then we’re sure to get in sync with God’s will!

Here are six main petitions from Jesus’ prayer, each framed as a discernment question. Bring the options and possible next steps you’re considering into the light of these holy desires of our Lord:

  • What will give the most glory to God and to the risen Christ? (vv 1, 24)
  • What is especially life-giving and fosters the full measure of Jesus’ joy in us? (vv 2-3, 13)
  • What helps us obey God’s word (message) and manifest his kingdom to others?  (vv 6-9)
  • What will protect our unity with God and one another so that the Lord Jesus Christ is honored as we love one another? (vv 11-12, 23)
  • What sanctifies us or sets us apart to serve God with distinction? (Even it means experiencing persecution and requires special protection from the evil one; vv 14-19)
  • What helps us to experience the love of the Father and Jesus so we share in their intimacy? (vv 21, 25-26)

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