A Prayer for Us

May 17, 2015

Jesus prays for us – isn’t that a wonderful beginning to our reading for today? One might call this, “The Other Lord’s Prayer” –a prayer, not for the disciples’ education, but for their inspiration. In the Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus offers what we call “The Lord’s Prayer” as a way to teach the apostles to pray. Here in John’s gospel (ch.17), he is praying for them to the Father, to the One who sent him. This is a prayer for life with the resurrected Jesus, rather than the earthly Jesus they have known. It is a prayer for the apostles then, and it is a prayer for all who come to believe – to trust – in Jesus as Friend, Teacher and Lord of their lives.
Here are some of the things I notice about this prayer: One is, there’s a lot of giving going on! Jesus is given the disciples to shepherd and watch over; they and we belong to him. We are also given the knowledge of God’s name. What the Bible means when it talks about knowing God’s name or calling upon God’s name is knowing or calling upon the character of God. Through Jesus we know who God is; we know what God is like. Jesus is also given the words of truth to share with them and with us.
Everything that Jesus shares with the disciples is a gift from God through Jesus. Without God, there would be no Jesus – the two are inseparable in mission and purpose and in generosity.
Another thing that is happening in this prayer is that Jesus is asking for something else from the Father – knowing that he cannot ask what is not God’s will. He asks for protection for this flock about to lose its shepherd. He knows (and John knows in hindsight) that terrible times are coming for them. Their leader will be crucified, and they will be hunted and arrested and imprisoned and scattered to all the corners of the known world. Many of us hearing these words today are going through our own terrible times – or watching people we care about struggling with the trials and tragedies of their lives. These words are for us, as much as for those apostles long ago. They are meant to inspire and encourage.
Another thing I noticed about this passage is the linkage between protection and joy. Somehow, it seems, they’re connected. One might think that protection from harm turns logically into joy; but I wonder if it isn’t the other way around? Having the joy of Jesus – a gift from the divine heart living in us – is our protection. When I was writing in my mother’s card for Sunday I mentioned that one of the things I’m grateful for is the way she taught me that laughter, love and faith together can get us through pretty much anything. Laughter may not be quite the same thing as joy, but they’re intimately connected. Laughter feeds our resilience; it helps us to cope; it allows us to deal with life at its craziest. Doesn’t joy do the same?
Joy, according to Jesus, comes from unity with God and with one another. God, living in us as God lives in Jesus, draws us into holiness, into strength, into comfort. Like the tree of Psalm 1, our roots go deep into God and are nourished by the Holy Spirit. When the storm hits, we may bend, but we do not break. That is our protection.
As a third-century man was anticipating death, he penned these last words to a friend: “It’s a bad world, an incredibly bad world. But I have discovered in the midst of it a quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret. They have found a joy which is a thousand times better than any pleasure of our sinful life. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. They are masters of their souls. They have overcome the world. These people are the Christians–and I am one of them.” Today In The Word, June, 1988, p. 18
This 3rd century man got it right. The fascinating thing about this joy, this protection is that it does not put up walls between us and the world around us – that “bad, incredibly bad world” as the man describes. It allows us to live in that world but not be broken by it. Jesus sends us out to be “in the world, but not of the world”. One of the paradoxes of John’s Gospel is that “the world” is both the place that persecutes and rejects Christ and his people, but also the place and the people whom God loves and to whom God sends, first Jesus, and then us, his followers.
What is joy? You know, I have tried many times to define it for myself and others, but like love, like God, it is indescribable yet completely real. It is like delight, but more than that. It is like laughter, but deeper than that. It is like balloons rising into the air or the bubbles blown by a child in summer time, but it is more lasting. It is confidence and trust and obedience to the will of God and resistance to evil and so much more.
Here’s a quotation for you: Men [people] have pursued joy in every avenue imaginable. Some have successfully found it while others have not. Perhaps it would be easier to describe where joy cannot be found:
Not in Unbelief — Voltaire was an infidel [atheist] of the most pronounced type. He wrote: “I wish I had never been born.”
Not in Pleasure — Lord Byron lived a life of pleasure if anyone did. He wrote: “The worm, the canker, and grief are mine alone.”
Not in Money — Jay Gould, the American millionaire, had plenty of that. When dying, he said: “I suppose I am the most miserable man on earth.”
Not in Position and Fame — Lord Beaconsfield enjoyed more than his share of both. He wrote: “Youth is a mistake; manhood a struggle; old age a regret.”
Not in Military Glory — Alexander the Great conquered the known world in his day. Having done so, he wept in his tent, before he said, “There are no more worlds to conquer.”
Where then is real joy found? — the answer is simple, in Christ alone. The Bible Friend, Turning Point, May, 1993. That’s what John the evangelist wants us to know. That’s the gift Jesus prays we will have. May joy live in you, and may that joy be complete. Amen.

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