It has always been interesting to me that when we refer to the Lord’s Prayer, we are usually talking about an example prayer that Jesus taught His disciples to guide their prayer lives. It was in a response to the question, “How should we pray?”
The actual recorded prayer of Jesus is contained in John 17 and lets us in on some of His deepest and most compelling thoughts. It also shows us just how much love there is between the Father and the Son. It is truly beautiful.
Early in the chapter, Jesus was focused on the disciples who were following Him at the time of the prayer. But in verse 20, He expanded His focus to include “for all who will ever believe.” Let’s read it together.
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you 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. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:20–23).
As you can see in this moment, Jesus was praying for people like you and me—people who, generations after the first disciples put their faith in Him, would respond with that same faith. Jesus was praying for us. And His prayer is so timely for the needs of Christians today.
Have you ever wondered why unity in the church seems so difficult? At this point, churches fighting over minor issues, political stances, and personal opinions have become cliché in many circles. It’s as if the world expects us to be difficult with one another.
The need for Christian unity has never been stronger. Let’s look at the prayer itself and the valuable applications we can find from Jesus’ desires for us.
Concerned with Closeness
The word translated as “unity” in this passage carries a certain relational overtone. Unity isn’t simply agreeing with one another on doctrinal or political issues of the day. Unity, in this sense, is loving one another and being so close to one another that disagreements on doctrinal or political issues do not jeopardize our relationships.
Jesus started His prayer by using His relationship with the Father as an example of closeness. The two are portrayed rightfully in this prayer as being ‘in’ one another. They are so close that to tell them apart is challenging. The cyclical language is difficult to translate into English, but ultimately paints a picture of extreme closeness, trust, love, honor, and respect for one another.
Jesus’ desire is that we as Christ followers will reflect the closeness He has with the Father in our own relationships.
Jesus’ prayer was so focused on closeness that He even pointed out the potential our closeness has in helping others believe that God sent Jesus for the purpose of the gospel. There is no doubt that our closeness in unity is overwhelmingly valuable to the mission of Jesus.
Completed by Closeness
Jesus then prayed specifically about two surprising and valuable things. He told the Father that He had given us the same glory the Father had given Him. He also stated that we are being perfected in our unity.
Here are a few things to take away from this portion of the prayer. Although the Christian path will involve struggle, through our community and close walk with one another, we will experience glory. It is tempting to think individualistically when reading this prayer, along the lines of “Jesus has given His glory to me.” But the context suggests that the glory of God given to the Son has now been given to the church. Christ’s people. Us. We experience glory within our communal walk with God as we grow close to other Christians.
The word translated as “complete” is not so much a measurement of quality as a measurement of wholeness. We are being completed as individuals and as a group as we grow closer together in Christ.
Convinced by Closeness
The most compelling and exciting thing in this prayer to me are the final words. Jesus pointed out that when His people live in unity and closeness like His relationship with the Father, people are compelled and convicted to follow Him.
In an American culture that utilizes branding, marketing, and nifty communication tactics to convince people to do things, the biblical model is love, trust, unity, and closeness. People will be compelled by our relational connectedness. People will be tempted by our tenderness. People will see profoundness in our fondness. Let them see perfection in our passion for one another.
Dr. Brad Henson has served as a church planter in Kentucky. He is also a very thankful husband and father; he and his wife of 26 years, Stephanie, have two teenage sons, Bradon and Jackson.
Photo by Naassom Azevedo on Unsplash.