If you could ask Jesus to teach you how to do anything you wanted, what would you ask Him to teach you?
Luke records one instance where the disciples ask Jesus for instruction (Luke 11:1). They could have asked Him how to do miracles, how to drive out demons more effectively, or how to forgive their enemies. They didn’t ask those questions, however. They asked Him to teach them how to pray. Something about the way Jesus prayed affected them profoundly.
Jesus’ prayer life leads us to the final events before He is arrested, as found in the book of John. Last month, we looked at John 15 and Jesus’ use of a grape vine to illustrate our relationship to Him. Chapter 16 expounds many of the themes from the earlier part of the larger passage: the role of the Holy Spirit, the world, and persecution. Chapter 17 is a long prayer the Lord prayed just before He was arrested. This prayer, like any prayer, reveals His heart.
Although this prayer contains far too many truths to mention in this column, I think that three themes dominate Jesus’ requests.
The first theme is glory.
Jesus’ very first request is that the Father would glorify the Son (John 17:1). At first sight, this request seems a bit self-serving. Since asking God to glorify us would be selfish and prideful, isn’t it selfish for Jesus to pray for His Father to glorify Him? The answer to this question is in the prayer itself. First, Jesus is praying that His Father would glorify Him so that He can glorify His Father. Second, unlike us, Jesus had glory before anything was even created (John 17:5). He deserves glory in a way that we never will. Third, it is an act of love for Jesus’ glory to be revealed (John 17:23-24). To see Christ’s glory is to see that He is “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Jesus shows His glory in turning the water into the better wine (John 2:1-11), raising Lazarus from the dead, (John 11:1-44), and ultimately giving His life so that we may be saved (John 12:23-26).
The second theme we see in Jesus’ prayer is holiness.
Jesus prays that His Father will sanctify His followers (John 17:17). To “sanctify” means to make holy or set apart. Jesus longs for His Church to be holy, and what sanctifies them then (as now) is His Word. As we heed His Words, we become different from the world (John 17:6, 8, 13-14, 17). This holiness is, moreover, how people come to know Christ. As Jesus’ followers pass on His Word to others, they become followers as well (John 17:20).
The third theme is unity.
Jesus highlights this theme in the last part of His prayer. He prays that His followers will be unified (John 17:20-21, 23). Our unity points others to the triune God, and our disunity drives them away from God. If we say we care about evangelism without caring about Christian unity, then we are deceiving ourselves (John 17:21).
Our prayers reveal our priorities. If we take the prayer of Jesus seriously, then these requests will become ours as well. We will long and pray for Jesus to be glorified. We will pray that God will make and keep us holy through the Word of Jesus. We also will pray for and pursue Christian unity so that the world may believe in the Savior.