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Why don’t we pray more often than we do? And how often when we do pray, do we look to the model prayers we find in the Bible – and not least from the lips of Jesus?
Dr. JI Packer once commented, ‘I believe that prayer is the measure of God’s people, spiritually, in a way that nothing else is, so that how we pray is as important a question as we can ever face’.
Come with me to the prayer that Jesus’ prayed on the night of his arrest. We find it in John chapter 17. In verse 1 we read: After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you,…’
Glory. Knowing he was about to die, Jesus prayed that he would be honored in carrying out God’s previously hidden plan. His impending death was now a certainty, for John tells us that Judas had gone out into the night to do his dark work of betrayal. And now, as Jesus looked into the darkness of this evil, he prayed that he would not only remain faithful to his mission, but would also be glorified.
The meaning of glory often eludes us for we tend to think of it more in terms of the splendor of fame or beauty. But the meaning of glory here is more subtle. It refers to the outward splendor of hidden, inner nature and qualities.
In praying, Father… glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, Jesus was asking God to clothe him with glory because his cross would reveal for all time the nature and cost of God’s love.
Furthermore, he prays that as he himself is glorified, in carrying out this supreme mission, men and women will see the splendor of the extraordinary love of the Father for men and women, even though they choose to divorce him.
Ashley Null has observed that for Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury during the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI, ‘The glory of God, is God’s love for the unworthy’.
The theme of glory through his crucifixion continues in verse 4: ‘I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do’.
Jesus is saying that he has completed the work God had given him to do. In his teaching he brought further revelation of God and in his miracles (signs) he revealed God’s compassion and power. One great work – his greatest work – remained. When he was lifted up on the cross at Calvary, he would bear in himself the sin of the whole world (John 3:14-15 and 16).
In John 19: 28 & 30 we read Jesus’ final words on the cross: “It is finished”. With his death, Jesus had completed his mission. He had offered the one perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world, once and for all time. To try and repeat it, is to diminish and dishonor his work.
Jesus’ prayer continues: ‘So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed’ (John 17:5).
The words of John Stainer’s Crucifixion capture something of John’s record: ‘Far more awful in Thy weakness, more than kingly in Thy meekness, Thou Son of God… Here in abasement; crownless, poor, disrobed, and bleeding: There in glory interceding; Thou art the King!’
Prayer for the Disciples: ‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word’ (17:6).
The greater part of Jesus’ prayer is for his disciples. This tells us of their importance. They are to be the bridge between himself and the rest of humanity. Much will depend on their understanding of Jesus as the Christ – the Messiah – and their courage and loyalty.
So he prays that the Father will give them eternal life. In verse 11, he prays that the Father will protect them; in verse 15, that the Father will keep them from the powers of evil; in verse 17, that the Father will make them holy in the truth; and in verse 16, that the love God the Father has for the Son, will be true for them as well.
Jesus knows that the road ahead for the disciples will not be easy. Yet he doesn’t pray that they will be taken out of the world, but that they will be kept faithful and guarded from the powers of the evil one.
Prayer for his people: ‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, 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. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one.’ (17:20-22).
In praying for his people through the ages, Jesus alerts us to the heart of his disciples’ mission. Their ministry is to be a declaratory (Word) mission. The content of their preaching and teaching will be that Jesus is God’s king who has come for us – to restore God’s friendship with us. Furthermore, Christ has come so that he might be in us – the oneness of God’s people (not denominational structures) will draw others to faith in Christ. In turn all his people through the ages will share with him as heirs in the glory to come.
Which brings me back to prayer and the theme of God’s glory. How often do we pray that God will be glorified? After all, Jesus taught us to pray, ‘Father, hallowed, glorified be your name’ (Luke 11:2). In this era of God’s mercy shouldn’t we be praying that God will glorify his name in the changing lives of his people – in you and me? Shouldn’t we also be praying that God will honor his name in drawing the lost to faith, turning hearts to their true home in Jesus Christ?
A prayer. Lord Christ, eternal Word and Light of the Father’s glory: send your light and your truth so that we may both know and proclaim your word of life, to the glory of God the Father; for you now live and reign, God for all eternity. Amen.