We’ve all had those times when we’ve heard someone pray and thought to ourselves, “Geeze…I wish I prayed like that.” I imagine the disciples felt this emotion when they heard Jesus pray His prayer in John 17.
For many of us, when we think of Jesus and prayer our minds go to Luke 11:2-4 (“Father, hallowed by your name. Your kingdom come […]”) where Jesus teaches in three short verses the content that should shape our prayers. If Luke 11 is the Reader’s Digest lesson on prayer then John 17 is Jesus’ unabridged, Magnum Opus. It is 26 theologically rich verses which are unparalleled in their ability to instruct us how to pray. Oddly enough, Jesus doesn’t do any instructing in this prayer. We receive this instruction as flies on the wall catching a glimpse of what a God-honoring prayer sounds like. As we look at Jesus’ prayer we notice it prioritizes God’s glory and that praying for God’s glory may be a bit more difficult than we envision.
Praying for the Glory of God can be Costly
In John 17:1 Jesus has a unique way of praying for God’s glory. He prays that he himself would be glorified (“glorify your Son”) so that God the Father may be glorified (“that the Son may glorify you”). On the surface, this sounds a bit self-centered of Jesus. After all, who goes around praying for their own glory? Well, Jesus’ prayer isn’t so simple. As this prayer comes to fruition in the next several chapters we realize that the Father glorifying the Son happens through Jesus being betrayed, beaten, and crucified for our sins (as well as subsequently being resurrected and ascending into Heaven). Jesus is moved to pray for the glory of God even when He knows it comes at great personal cost.
Praying for the glory of God is doable when we suppose it will not cost us too much or unsettle our version of comfortable. Sometimes though, God, for the sake of His glory, pushes us past the boundaries of our own comfort by taking our children to the mission field or by bringing about hard-to-accept consequences for sin. Understandably, we struggle with praying for the glory of God because the glory of God can be both kind and terrifying. That being said, it is always for the good of those of us in Christ because it is transforming us into the image of Christ (Romans 8:28-30).
Praying for the Glory of God is Not Passive
Sometimes we assume that our work concludes with “Amen” when praying for the glory of God. However, we are not moviegoers waiting for the show of God’s glory to start. We participate in God’s good plan in displaying His glory. As we walk through John 17 we watch the verbs unfold and find that Jesus “glorified” the Father “having accomplished the work” the Father gave Him to do (v.4). Further, Jesus “manifested” (v.6) the Father’s name to people by “[giving] them the words” given to Him by the Father (v.8). Jesus doesn’t take a backseat and He doesn’t take over. He simply takes action by being obedient to the work God gave Him to do.
Again, the glory of God in prayer has a way of uncomfortably stretching us. Becoming a participant in the glory of God recognizes that we are His instruments. It is for the glory of God that we are called to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), speak “the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) and show “hospitality to one another” (1 Peter 4:9). God’s work oftentimes includes our work.
God will be Glorified
Sometimes, we need reminding that God always accomplishes His glory. This doesn’t make us complacent or indifferent. Instead, it fastens our hearts to the solemn reality that God’s glory is in God’s hands, according to God’s plan. The ones whom Jesus was given to preach to (v.2), do indeed keep (v.6), receive (v.8), and believe (v.8) God’s Word. In other words, what happens is exactly what the Father intended to happen. Like Paul, we recognize our part as instruments in God’s hands but we never forget that although some of us may plant and some of us may water it is God who gives the growth (1 Corinthians 3:5-9).
I love this truth because it reorients my thoughts to see things like God sees things. God calls me to speak and live out the Gospel. He has not given me the ability, or responsibility, to awaken dead hearts or rid human hearts of indwelling sin. These things are the things of the Holy Spirit as He works through the living and abiding Word of God (1 Peter 1:23).
I can lay my head to rest at night because of the truth that God’s Word always accomplishes exactly what God has intended it to accomplish (Isaiah 55:11).
Praying for the glory of God may be costly and it will likely require participation on your part but there are no better words to occupy the space of your prayers. Every prayer uttered for the glory of God is a surrender to infinite wisdom and the sovereign plan of the Father who is preparing you for eternity. All that God calls you to be and do is for your joy both now and forever (John 15:11; 17:13). It is always worth it to pray for God’s glory, even when the answer to your prayer pushes you beyond the boundaries of your own comfort and leisure.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Matthew 4:19 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.