By J.R. Miller
A writer tells of quietly opening the door of his mother's room one day in his boyhood, seeing her on her knees, and hearing her speak his own name in prayer. He quickly and quietly withdrew from the sacred place--but he never forgot that one glimpse of his mother at prayer, nor the prayer for himself, which he heard her speak to God. Well did he know that what he had seen that moment, was but a glimpse of what went on every day in that place of prayer. The consciousness of this fact, he says, strengthened him countless times in duty, in danger, in struggle.
In this seventeenth chapter of John's gospel, we hear Christ praying just once, a few sentences--but we know that this is only a sample of what is going on forever in heaven, for the Scriptures tell us that He ever lives--to make intercession for us!
Jesus knew that the end had come, the time for Him to make His great sacrifice, to offer Himself for the redemption of His people. He knew how much depended upon this hour. So He prayed that the Father would glorify Him in His sufferings, that in turn He might glorify His Father. When we are about entering any sore trial, or taking up any great duty on which much depends, it should be our prayer that God would so sustain us that we may honor Him in the experience and in the way we pass through it. We should dread nothing so much as the dishonoring of God in sorrow, in trial, or in pain--by losing faith, by complaining, or by murmuring. The deepest wish and prayer of our hearts always should be that we may be enabled to glorify God in every experience of our lives. "Love's secret," says Faber, "is to be always doing things for God, and not to mind because they are such very little things."
This means that we do nothing, say no word, let no feeling enter our heart--that would in any way dishonor God. A great preacher who was subject at times to seasons of excruciating suffering would ask when the paroxysms were over, "Did I complain? I did not want to complain." He wished to endure His anguish without yielding to any expression of pain, and he feared that he had not honored God as he had wished to do. Too many fail in glorifying God in suffering. Allowing themselves to cry out, to fret, to chafe and repine, giving way to feelings of pain, to impatience, to envy or jealousy, to anger and bitterness, to discouragement or despair--is to fail in glorifying God.
Jesus looks back over His past, too, with comfort and satisfaction. He can say to the Father, "I have brought you glory on earth--by completing the work you gave me to do." (17:4). He is the only person that ever lived who could say this. The most faithful of us, have done but a little of what God meant for us to do when He made us. The best and most complete human lives, are but little fragments in which are left undone--many things which ought to have been done.
We may take a lesson, too, from Christ's way of accomplishing His work. He did it by simply doing each day, the will of His Father. He was only a young man, thirty-three years old when He died. We think of those dying early--as dying too soon, before their work is accomplished. Yet we learn from Jesus that even a young man may leave a finished work. Years enough are given to each one--in which to do the work allotted. And the young man who dies at thirty-three, with his hands full of tasks, whom his friends mourn as having died prematurely, if only he has lived faithfully while he lived--has accomplished the work that God gave him to do. It is not the amount of years we live--but our diligence and faithfulness which count with God.
Jesus makes an earnest prayer for His disciples before He leaves them. He knows what lies before them--the persecutions, the struggles, the temptations, and then their weakness, their ignorance, their inability in themselves to meet these perils and difficulties; so He commends them to His Father, "Holy Father, keep through your own name, those whom you have given me." While He was in this world, Jesus had kept them in the Father's name, guarding them so that not one of them had perished, but the son of perdition. Now, however, He was about to leave them in the world. He was going back to God, and they would not have His protection, the shelter of His love, His divine strength, to keep them. He knows that the world will hate them and persecute them--even as it had hated and persecuted Him. But He will not leave them alone. He will so keep them that they shall not be overwhelmed in the world's enmity. In great tenderness, He commends them to His Father's keeping.
"I am not praying that You take them out of the world but that You protect them from the evil." John 17:15. Jesus does not pray that His disciples should be taken out of the world to escape the danger. This would have been the easier way for them, for with Him in heaven--they would have been safe from all persecution. But they had a work to do in this world, and therefore they must stay to do it. They were to represent their Master, carrying on His work among men. Hence, He must leave them behind Him. It was for this very work that He had called them and made them His followers.
It would be a great deal easier in one sense for Christian people, if they were taken to heaven as soon as they had become Christ's followers. Then they would have no cross-bearing, no giving of their lives for others, no struggles, no self-denials, no sacrifices. But who then would do Christ's work in the world? Who would look after the wandering ones, or rescue those who are tempted? Thus followers of Christ are left to the world after they become Christ's friends--both for their own sakes and for the sake of others. It seems hard to have to fight battles and endure trials--but these battles and trials are means of strengthening and growth. Not those who have the easiest life, are really the most favored ones--but those who endure life's trials victoriously.
They are not the most majestic trees that grow in the sheltered valley--but those that are found on hilltops and mountains, where they must encounter fierce storms. When armies return from victorious war, the loudest cheers are not for those who have fought the fewest battles and wear the fewest scars, nor for the flags that are cleanest--but for the regiments that are cut down to the fewest men, and for the colors that have been shot to tatters. So when the redeemed are welcomed home, those who have fought the hardest battles and who wear the most scars--will be received with the highest honor.
The prayer that Jesus did make for His disciples, was that they should he kept from the evil of the world. There is but one evil in the world. It is not trouble, not persecution, not suffering nor sorrow. The one and only evil--is sin. No matter what comes to us, so long as we do not sin, we have not been really harmed.
The Revised Version makes the evil personal "the evil one." We know who this "evil one" is. It is a great comfort also for us to know that Christ Our Master is stronger than Satan, and if we are faithful to Him, Satan will have no power to harm us.
"Sanctify them by the truth; Your Word is truth." Jesus prayed also for His disciples, that they might be sanctified in the truth. A man is sanctified, when he is given up to God to live for Him only, to think, to feel, to act, to do all things for the glory of God and in God's service of love for men. It means also the cleansing and purifying of the life and character.
Then the prayer of Christ reached out beyond the little group of men who stood about Him that night in the upper room--and took in all who ever would believe on Him. "I pray not only for these, but also for those who believe in Me through their message." We can think of ourselves as remembered that night by the Master, before He set out for His cross. The special prayer that He made for all His disciples, was that they might be one. Anything that separated them in heart and life, the one from the other, would destroy their unity as believers.
"May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. May they also be one in Us, so the world may believe You sent Me." The great passion of the Redeemer's heart, was that His disciples might be one. The reason He so longed for their unity--was that the world might be impressed by their oneness, and might be led to believe in Christ. It was a unity of heart and spirit which Christ had in mind--not a mere formal unity. He would have His people bound together in bonds of love. Denominationalism need not be wrong nor harmful, if the different churches live together in the spirit of love and unity. But controversy and strifes not only dishonor Christ--but greatly mar the influence of Christianity in the world!
An old legend says that when Adam and Eve were turned out of Eden, an angel broke the gates to pieces, and the fragments flying over the earth are the precious stones which men now gather. A writer makes an application of the legend--he says that the precious stones were picked up by the various religions and philosophies, each claiming that His own fragment alone reflects the light of heaven, and is the material of which the gates of paradise were made. But as all these fragments had the same origin, it is the work of Christianity to gather them all back again into one unity, thus reconstructing the gates of paradise.
Every Christian represents Christ, and all Christians combined together should represent the spirit of Christ, the love of Christ, the compassion, the patience, the mercy of Christ. We all should seek to be one in spirit, to whatever particular branch of the Church we may happen to belong.