John 17:25-26: “Practicing Prayer”
Sunday morning worship, March 18, 2018
The Gospel of John records the prayers of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane in much greater detail and with quite a different focus than Matthew, Mark, and Luke do. Whereas the other Gospel writers focus on “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39), John focuses on reasons beyond paying the penalty for our sins that Jesus went to the cross. In John 17:25-26 Jesus prays: “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” If we can also see a loving Son going to cross because He wants us (1) to know His Father; (2) to experience the same love God the Father has for God the Son; and (3) to be one with Him, then the cross becomes much more than something negative.
Reflect with me for a moment. There’s a good chance most of us have had to do something unpleasant in our lives. The more unpleasant the task, the more difficult it was to undertake that task with a good attitude. But if we can lift our eyes and our hearts beyond the unpleasant task itself and focus on something very important to us that lies beyond the accomplishment of the unpleasant task, then it is possible to do almost anything with a song in our hearts. Helen of Troy was called the face that launched a thousand ships because of the lengths to which King Menelaus went to win Helen back from Paris. We more frequently refer to Menelaus’ pursuit the Trojan War. Think of the sacrifices our service men and women have made because of their love for their families and to give us the freedoms we enjoy in America. As we approach the Easter season, the time of year we focus particularly on the death and resurrection of Jesus, I believe it is important for us to lift our eyes and our hearts beyond the unpleasantries of the beatings and punishment Jesus endured to secure the forgiveness of our sins and focus instead on the goal Jesus kept before Him as He died on our behalf. When we lose a loved one, we suffer greatly. The greater our love, the greater our loss. The greater our loss, the more important it is to us to find meaning in our loss. I don’t believe it would have been enough for Jesus to die a sacrificial death on the cross for our sins if Jesus’ death had no meaning beyond His death itself. By that I mean, if no one ever came to love Jesus, if every person who ever lived rejected Jesus, His death on the cross had no meaning. It would have accomplished nothing. Dying for everyone or even anyone means nothing if no one cares, notices, or our death accomplishes nothing. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:3, “though I give my body to be burned (KJV), but do not have love, I gain nothing (NIV).” That’s why I said we need to see a loving Son going to cross because He wants us (1) to know His Father; (2) to experience the same love God the Father has for God the Son; and (3) to be one with Him. If Jesus’ death on the cross accomplishes those purposes in our lives, then the cross and what happened around it become so much more than something negative. I believe these words of Jesus show us the real reasons Jesus died for us.
So let’s now go back to the Garden and examine these words of prayer in the context of how Jesus taught us to pray. In so doing, I suggest we can learn something vital that, if truly practiced to the point of competency will allow us to live above all of the unpleasantries of this world. The prayer we call the Lord’s Prayer, recorded for us in Matthew 6:9-13, laid over against these words which Jesus prayed that night in the Garden of Gethsemane will show us how to transform the rote praying of the Lord’s Prayer into a dynamic catalyst for powerful living. This morning, let me offer 4 W’s that we can remember and become proficient in practicing. The 4 W’s are Worship, Will, Work, and Walk.
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9). When we worship God our Father we are responding to what He has been able to accomplish in our lives. In the Garden, Jesus prayed: “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me.” Jesus knew who He was talking to—His righteous Father. We have to know to whom we are praying. There is a difference in praying to “our Father” from praying to “if anyone up there is listening…” I talk differently to my earthly father or to anyone with whom I have a good relationship because we share a history. I don’t have to go into as much detail because I know the one to whom I am speaking can accurately fill in the parts I leave unspoken. This is what worship is all about. We know to whom we are speaking. We know the purpose of our relationship. Jesus said to His Father, “I know you have sent me.” The cross had meaning because it was to the cross God sent Jesus. Jesus’ relationship with the Apostles (John 17:6-19) and with us (17:20-24) had and now has meaning because God sent Jesus to effect changes in our lives that only begin with the forgiveness of our sins. Worship also means God talks back to us and we know his voice and are able to respond to His voice.
It is in responding to the voice of God that we approach the second W, the Will of God and our Wills. This battle of the human and the divine will is what Matthew, Mark, and Luke focused on in their Gospels. We are not to forget Jesus did pray, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” But Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” If we want to live eternally in the place we commonly refer to as heaven, and heaven is the place where God’s will is always done, why would we want to live there if we don’t want to do God’s will? Why would we want to do eternally what we don’t want to do for a short while? I don’t like to eat Brussels sprouts or lima beans. Why would I want to only eat those two vegetables and nothing else for all of eternity? It wouldn’t be the life I would choose, would you? We are stubborn and we want our own way, but if our own way doesn’t bring about what is best for us now and ultimately condemns us, why not start the process of changing now?
Our third W centers on the Work we have to do to learn to live by God’s will. Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts and we also have forgiven our debtors.” I don’t know that we often think of our jobs in life, our Work so to speak, as learning to do with each day what God wants us to do with that day by interacting with people in such a way as we learn to love ourselves and others properly. Jesus prayed in the Garden, “I have made you known to them.” That’s what Jesus did with each day. In John 6:1f, Jesus fed a great crowd of probably about 15,000 people with five small barley loaves and two small fish. He then told those who followed Him, “The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent” (6:29). He then told them, “I am the bread of life” (v35); and “this bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (v51). Jesus could forgive us because we “do not know what we are doing” (Luke 23:34). As we eat the bread of life and come to know Jesus more intimately and help fulfill the prayer of Jesus we are discussing, we learn more and more how important it is to ask for forgiveness and to give others the forgiveness we now realize we need. That’s the work we have to learn to do to enter our eternal reward.
Our final W refers to how we put feet to our prayers, how what we pray with our mouths we actually put into practice in our daily lives. Jesus taught us to Walk in the power of the Holy Spirit by first praying, “and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13). If, through our worship of God we learn to hear His voice clearly, and through responding to God’s voice we learn to bend our wills to the will of God, and then by working through the Spiritual disciplines to become more like Jesus as we eat the bread of life and ask for forgiveness and forgive others in the same manner we learn to ask for forgiveness for our mistakes, then through daily practice we will indeed walk away from the temptations of the evil one and walk in the “good works which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). Paul was blunt: “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). Jesus prayed for us in the Garden that “the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
We’ve come full circle back to what it takes to motivate us to lift our eyes and our hearts beyond the unpleasant tasks of life and focus on that something that is very important to us that lies beyond working through the unpleasant tasks required of us, so that it is possible for us to do almost anything with a song in our hearts. I’m not saying it is going to be easy. I would go so far as to say without divine help it is impossible. But that is precisely the point. We need divine help. Jesus went to the cross to give us the divine help we need. That’s what He was praying for in the Garden. Jesus was praying that we (1) would come to know His Father; (2) that we would come to experience the same love God the Father has for God the Son; and (3) that we would come to be one with Him. If these three things become true of us, then the cross upon which Jesus died becomes much more than something negative. When we learn to respond to the voice of Jesus in worship, bend our wills to the will of the Father, work each day being forgiven and forgiving by the strength of the Bread of Life, and walking in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, then we have truly practiced to the point of competency the skills that are needed to live above the unpleasantries of this world. It is an individual struggle, as Jesus struggled alone in the Garden. But unlike the apostles who fell asleep while Jesus was praying, we are praying to a God who “will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4). The help we need is available. All we have to do is access it constantly.