John 17 might be the least explored peak of all the Bible’s grand vistas. And for good reason: the high priestly prayer is marvelously interwoven. Using only elementary vocabulary, Jesus staggers human capacity to articulate theology with phrases like, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (21).
I don’t pretend to grasp John 17 in all its particulars. But, perhaps we can make three observations guaranteed to underwhelm.
Observation #1: Jesus is praying.
Observation #2: Jesus is praying to God (55 times Jesus utters a “you” or “your” statement).
Observation #3: Jesus is praying to God for the glory of God.
These observations, taken together, not only spotlight our chief misunderstanding of prayer, but point to the disconnects that can create a prayerless life.
Prayer is Bigger Than My Need
God, of course, wants us to approach Him with our needs: “let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). Having said that, prayer is much more complex than need-based intercession.
If ever there was a person not in need of prayer, it was Jesus. If need were the only reason to pray, Jesus had none, and therefore, no reason to pray. Yet, Jesus never falls back on His omnipotence; this prayer displays absolute dependence on His relationship with His Father. Jesus at prayer shows us the essence of prayer.
If prayer begins with my needs, then intercession only ever rises to the level of my greatest needs, which are finite and fallen. If, however, prayer is about something bigger than my need, prayer takes on a whole new function and meaning. If prayer is chiefly about God’s glory, weight, and reputation, prayer gets above the fray. In fact, prayer’s impact in this world becomes framed by an overriding yearning for God’s glory in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6-7).
A prayerless life, therefore, is not a sin of time-management, neglect, or forgetfulness. A prayerless life is a sin of deepest dye. A prayerless life springs from a heart that fails to see our chief purpose, Jesus’s greatest joy, and God’s deepest satisfaction—His glory.
Prayer and the Glory of God
I think we can see how Jesus praying glorifies God. But how does our prayer enhance the glory of God? Consider the audience.
We pray before God, the Creator and Judge of all. As we pray to the Self-Existent One, His Son, Jesus Christ, not only paves the way for our entrance, but perpetually and continuously confirms our right to be there (Heb. 7:25). He pleads on the basis of His righteousness, His blood, His death, and His resurrection, all of which were required to purchase our station before the holy bar (1 John 4:10; Heb. 2:17).
Furthermore, God’s Holy Spirit represents us to God the Father and God the Father to us. He not only fills our minds with appropriate words and teaches us the will of God in Christ Jesus, but eagerly, passionately, and effectively delivers those very words with divine force to our Heavenly Father Himself (Rom. 8:26-27).
The same Jesus who stilled the storm and shouted “it is finished,” eagerly awaits your presence so that He can be the One to plead your cause for you. The same Spirit who moved over the face of the deep and who raised Jesus from the dead (Rom. 8:11), passionately beckons your heart and agonizes over your condition so that He can be the One to minister to you and to God the Father. The same Father who so greatly loves you that He, without any hesitation whatsoever delivered His Son to be slaughtered like a lamb, beaten like a criminal, and forsaken in death like a treacherous sinner, has forever sworn Himself to work all things for your good and His glory (Rom. 8:28-30). This God throws the door wide open for you—yes, you! Why? Because your very presence glorifies Him in the heavenly places.
Taking your station before God’s mercy seat doesn’t affirm your commitment as much as it magnifies the goodness, grace, and mercy of the God who did all the work to get you there. That you can even approach says more about God than we can comprehend. In fact, it will take eternity for God to reveal just how marvelous the opportunity to stand before Him is.
The Great Three-in-One is beckoning. And when you come, the angelic host marvels that yet another sinner has been taken from death to life; the crowd of witnesses gasp at the scandal of the cross and at the radical mercy shown. Worthy is the Lamb.
And all of that leads us back to the original idea. A prayerless life is a disconnect. It devalues the cross, the invitation, and the Person inviting you. It disregards the immensity of the opportunity and diminishes God’s special place in your heart. A prayerless life transcends prayerlessness. A prayerless life is proof-positive that we don’t really understand the gospel, the God who gave it, or the sinner who receives it.