Graham Cray on John 17 'Praying as Jesus prayed'.
Bishop Graham Cray is the leader of the national Fresh Expressions team.
Bishop Graham gave this exposition of John 17 at the national Hope Forum for church and agency leaders, which met at Jesus House on Wednesday 2nd November 2012.
PRAYING AS JESUS PRAYED
Each of the four gospels tells us that Jesus prayed, but it is John’s gospel which reveals, most fully, how he prayed. This reaches a climax in the great prayer recorded in John 17.
‘After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father” (v1)
Jesus looks up and says ‘Abba’, the unique word expressing his intimate and reverent relationship with God. This is also the heart of all Christian prayer. By grace we share Jesus’ relationship with the Father. It is also the heart of mission, as we long for women and men across our nations to come to the Father through him and learn to say the same.
But this is also the classic passage linking mission and unity. “I ask … 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.’ (v20-21) The inseparable connection between mission and unity is expressed in prayer. How then should those committed to mission in unity pray? How can our prayer be shaped by his prayer?
This prayer has seven petitions – two for Jesus himself, three for his disciples, and two for those who will become disciples through them.
The first petition is ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you.’ (v1)
Can we pray to be glorified? Only if we understand that, for him, to be glorified means to be empowered to go to the cross. In John’s gospel Jesus’ glorification is his crucifixion, resurrection and ascension all rolled into one. He prays this prayer on the eve of his crucifixion. His only motive is the Father’s glory; ‘that the Son may glorify you’. The only authentic motive for us to ask for God’s glory, is so that we may glorify him. ‘Let you glory fall’ is a prayer that we may give ourselves up in his service. ‘Glorify me’ has nothing to do with my glory, but God’s.
Note also that ‘glory’ is demonstrated in the way the Father and the Son continually honour, or give glory to, one another. Jesus’ only concern is the Father and the Father’s will. All the Father’s delight is in Jesus and he has given all authority to his Son. Lesslie Newbigin wrote that ‘The glory of God is a reciprocal relationship: it is something forever freely given . Reciprocal honour and respect is the mark of good church, and inter church, relationships too.
1. So we pray that we, also, will glorify the Father
The second petition is, ‘Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.’ (v5)
In effect he prays, ‘Father, I can come home now. I have finished the work you gave me to do.’ (v4)
It is his desire to reproduce in us the same faithfulness and perseverance, which sees the work he has given us through to the end. This is wonderfully demonstrated in the ministry of St, Paul. In his last will and testament (sometimes known as 2Timothy) he says ‘As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.’ (2Tim. 4:6-8)
But Jesus has no wish to come home ‘alone. Later in the prayer he says ‘Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.’ (v24) As missioners and evangelists, that has to be our prayer also,, not to come home to the Father alone.
2. We pray for the grace and strength to finish the work.
Then Jesus prays for the disciples.
‘Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.’ (v11)
My colleague in York, Canon David Watson, wrote ‘The true basis for all fellowship is when two or more persons kneel at the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ, trusting wholly in his mercy and love.’ Unity is a gift of God through the cross, but it needs divine protection. The unity of believers is a prime target for spiritual assault. And when Christians fall out the Devil had had a victory. The preservation of unity is a priority for prayer. And unity isn’t simply the absence of discord. Jesus prays to the Father that we will be one as he and the Father are one. We have been given a costly gift, bought for us on the cross: the possibility of a life of mutual trust, mutual honour, and mutual sacrifice, in the service of Christ We need to guard it, and, like the divine hospitality of the Father and the Son, keep it wide open for others to join.
3. We pray for divine protection of our unity
The fourth petition is: ‘I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.’ (v15-16)
The prayer is that the Church is to be in the world but protected, not out of the world as a way of protecting ourselves. We are to be n the world, but outclassing the world. I sometimes think that many Christians believe the Bible says ‘He who is in the world is greater than he who is in you,’ rather than the other way round! Many Christians are fearful that the world will rub off on us, when we are meant to rub off on it! I must have read 1Corinthians dozens of times, before some verse in chapter five struck home. Paul says ‘I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral persons, not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since you would then need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one.’ (1Cor. 5:9-11) In other words we are to withdraw from Christians who live a double standard, but we are to associate with those whose way of life grieves or angers God, to offer then a better way! Just like the one called ‘a friend of sinners’ who said. ‘“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
4. We pray for the grace to permeate society with lives of Christian integrity
The fifth petition is ‘Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth’ (v17-19)
Jesus prays, set them apart to serve your truth, equip them to live your truth, wherever I send them. We are a sent people. As the impact of Christendom fades, so the days of ‘come to us’ mission are largely over. The majority of the population of these nations no longer responds to the invitation. A third have never been connected to church. It is an alien culture to them. Another third used to have a connection and have chosen to break it; or at least to stop coming.
We need to go to them, not as a raiding party bringing them back, but to stay; and to plant culturally appropriate churches which engage God’s holy truth with their lives as they are now. In my work we call these new congregations and fellowships ‘fresh expressions of church’.
We are a sent people, an apostolic people, hearing the call to go.
5. We pray for the grace to live, share and embody God’s truth, wherever he sends us.
Then Jesus prays for those who will come to faith through the witness of his disciples.
Do we ever pray for those whom we do not yet know, but whom we will lead to Christ, or who will be led to Christ by those we lead to Christ. I realized I had never done so!
The sixth petition is “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.’ (v20-21)
Jesus knows that the good news will be fruitful in his disciples’ ministries. He prays that their witness will create communities of love which draw even more people to faith, and which validate the claims Christians make, by the lives Christians live. We are to do the same. Our prayer is not just for a chain of witness where each leads others to faith. It is for communities of faith whose way of life demonstrates the love of God and the truth of the gospel
We are seeing the emergence of a new relationship between mission and unity. While it is always right to work towards unity so that our mission may have integrity, the more significant insight is that we deepen unity through sharing in mission together. Act together and so grow together.
6. We pray for the planting of churches which demonstrate the love of God
The final petition is ‘Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.’ (v24)
He longs for us, and all who believe in him, to be with him. Jesus longs for our company!
That is why he is about to go to the cross. He thinks we’re worth it His next prayer will be in Gethsemane.
7. We pray that we will share his love of lost men and women, so much, that we will sacrifice ourselves to have them in his presence with us.
We pray that we will glorify the Father
We pray for the grace and strength to finish the work.
We pray for divine protection of our unity
We pray for the grace to permeate society with lives of Christian integrity
We pray for the grace to live, share and embody God’s truth wherever he sends us
We pray for the planting of churches which demonstrate the love of God
We pray that we will share his love of lost men and women so much, that we will sacrifice ourselves to have them in his presence with us.
May the prayer of Jesus shape our prayer, and our lives in his service. Amen
+Graham Cray – November 2011
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