There was a point early on in developing this ministry that I worried about trying to come up with articles of varying topics indefinitely without one day running out of ideas. The thought didn’t necessarily consume me, per se, but I did fret once or twice in my mind at the seemingly impossible task of putting forth fresh ideas time after time. Over this past year, all those fears have pretty much subsided. I can name a handful of times (maybe 6-10) when God has put a verse, or story, or character, or even just a single word sometimes into my mind and heart, and I begin to study what God has been bugging me about. In every instance, I not only have learned something, but I have had the opportunity to say, “WOW” because these articles have been that much fun to research and write.
This article is no exception. I had thought about really studying carefully the episode of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. This thought came to me several months ago. It’s the REAL Lord’s Prayer. It’s found in John 17:1-26. The whole chapter is devoted to the Lord’s second-to-last prayer here on this earth. His final prayer was recorded in Luke 24:46, “And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.” What makes the Garden Prayer so special is that Jesus was crucified not long after this episode in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Several years ago, a country music artist recorded a song called Live Like You Were Dying. It was about a man who had gotten bad health news and found out he was going to die soon. Not being around anymore one day shouldn’t shock us. Unless the rapture occurs in our lifetime, we will all die. But listen. This man in the song put together a “bucket list” (things to do before you “kick the bucket”…hence the name). He said this…
An’ he said: “I went sky diving, I went rocky mountain climbing,
“I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu.
“And I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter,
“And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying.”
An’ he said: “Some day, I hope you get the chance,
“To live like you were dyin’.”
This man was consumed with thoughts of what he wanted to do before he died. This man had maybe months or very few years left to live, but that was his motivation…to get things done before the opportunity is gone forever. Jesus, in the Garden, prayed when He had less than a day left to live! Think about how you would spend your last DAY on the earth. I’m not so much amazed that Jesus spent time in prayer. If we got terrible news in the hospital that a disease was incurable and you would be dead in less than a day, I know you’d pray…I have no doubt. Maybe you would bargain with God about living differently if, in mercy, He granted you more time to live. I don’t care how strong your faith is…you’re going to go to God in prayer. Jesus knew He was about to die, but He also knew He would rise again on the third day. Even knowing the eventual positive and glorious outcome aforetime did not keep Jesus from feeling the need to pray to the Father at such a difficult time. Matthew 26:37-38 explains that Jesus was sorrowful and very heavy. Luke 22:44 says that Jesus was in agony. There was an awful lot weighing on His mind.
So even before I began studying the passage, it really occured to me that Jesus was praying knowing He was about to die. What could I learn from the most perfect example that ever lived, about what to pray when it really mattered…when on your deathbed? Would we pray for forgiveness for scores of regrets? Would we bargain for more time? Would we be angry and bitter toward God? In John’s account, the first thing Jesus wants to beseech the Father in prayer is to allow Himself to go through the upcoming events with grace, skillfully displaying strength and glorifying God in the afflictions and torments which He knew He was about to go through. He first prayed for Himself, but ultimately this was to have the strength and testimony to glorify God before others. Let it be said that going through a terminal illness and openly displaying your anger and disdain for God will do much harm to the unsaved world, and weaker Christians. Pray for strength to glorify God and the grace to suffer with dignity…bcause it will not be easy in your own strength.
In Matthew 26, it’s recorded that Jesus went to the Father three times asking if this cup could pass from Jesus, and if things could be done another way. Jesus simply asked, but He was very willing to do it the Father’s way, if that was how it had to be. We find that in Luke’s gospel, right after Jesus asked for the cup to pass from Him in Luke 22:42, God not only gives Jesus peace about going to the cross, but He sent an angel to minister to Jesus and strengthen Him (Luke 22:43). Just like Jesus’ circumstance…we have to go through what God deems necessary, and if we truly want to glorify God in those times, we will be given strength as we ask for it, the way Jesus asked for strength, and received it that night…the eve of His death.
As I begin reading any passage carefully, I like to go line by line, and almost word by word. I don’t look for “hidden” meanings. I simply read line by line, word by word, and allow God to show me what He wants. The second point about the Garden prayer that God showed me came from reading it line by line. If you go back and read John 17:2,6,9,10,11,12,14, you’ll find statements like, “as thou hast given” and “which thou gavest me” and “all mine are thine” and it struck me. All total there are about 10 references to that effect. I couldn’t help but think about Hannah (1st Samuel 1:11-28) who begged God for a son and promised that she would give him back to the Lord. Because Samuel was an answer to her prayers, she correctly recognized that her child had come from God, and was essentially given to her by God. It’s like this…two people decide when to make love, but God decides when to make life. Children, therefore, are given to us by God. Here, Jesus is praying for his disciples who have been given to Him by God. So, just as God gives us our children, Jesus prayed for the ones God gave to Him. This angle gives the prayer in the Garden a whole new direction for us to study.
At the moment of impending death, Jesus is praying for His “children” (the Apostles). Matthew, Mark, and Luke don’t touch on what Jesus prayed to God about, on behalf of His disciples, but John goes into it in great detail. As you study out the rest of the prayer, you find three topics for which Jesus lifts up His disciples in prayer to the Father. He prays for their unity (John 17:11,21,22,23,26) making at least seven references to that point. We find Jesus praying about the continued spiritual growth of His disciples after He’s gone (John 17:7,8,12,14,15,17,24,25,26) with at least twelve separate references in His prayer that night. Lastly, He prayed that the disciples would carry on His work after He was gone, making about five references in John 17:18,20,21,22,23. So, as an example to a dying parent, alone in agony with God, we are to pray for our children’s unity with each other and their brethren. We should pray for their continued spiritual growth. And all that should lead us to be able to pray for them to continue our work (whatever that may be) once we are gone. Let’s look at each of these three concerns the Lord had burdening Him on the eve of His death.
Amos 3:3 asks this question: “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” Can you truly get along and get anything done with others without being in agreement with them to some degree and on some level? The answer is a resounding “NO.” Churches and families need people to get along and get working together. Unity is of such importance that you can see Jesus Himself praying for the unity of His disciples on the very eve of His death. Of all the countless things Jesus knew were important for His disciples to have once He was gone, Jesus chose to ask the Father for…among two other things…unity among the Apostles. Now think about the prayers you offer to God on behalf of your children. Do you find yourself praying for unity among siblings? How about unity between your children and other families’ children? How about praying for unity between your children and yourself? How about praying for unity between your children and their God? Unity garners peace. Here’s Jesus’ example: “That they may all be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:21-22). And you can’t get any more in unity than the way the Father is in union with the Son.
Continued Spiritual Growth
Getting back to the idea that Jesus was praying for His “children,” He prayed for their spiritual growth. I’ve often prayed for my two girls to be kept spiritually healthy and spiritually safe and sound. But that’s not the same as praying for their spiritual growth. While being a Christian family and raising our children in a Christian home and being as active as God allows us to be in our church, as well as sacrificing to send them to Christian school, there is a danger can emerge from that. The danger is this…that we will just take their spiritual growth for granted. They’ll learn at church. They’ll learn at home. They’ll learn at school. Soon, complacency can arise, usually followed by a level of apathy. You just assume “they’ll be OK” and you don’t put the effort needed to grow them spiritually…let alone pray for them to develop spiritually. The Bible says to “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). If we’re going to train, that’s an active endeavor and not a passive one. As Jesus knelt in prayer that night, He was able to make statements to God like “For I have given unto them the words which thou hast given me…” (John 17:8). Have we taught our children all we know about what God has taught to us? Verse 8 continues, “…and they have received them…” Not only did Jesus know He had done His job teaching them, but He also had a grasp on what they knew! That takes effort with your children…knowing them enough to grasp what they know and don’t know…what they understand and what they don’t understand…and thereby continue teaching effectively.
Carry on His Work
So we should pray for our children’s unity and spiritual strength so that they can carry on the Lord’s work long after we are gone. Jesus wanted them to carry on His work…the work that the disciples witnessed first-hand during His time with them. If your children were asked about your work that they would be expected to carry on, would they have any idea what that was? Do you invest any time in the service of God? Are you involved in your church? Are you involved in the spiritual affairs of your family? What legacy are you leaving behind that your children will recognize as theirs to continue? Do you have a torch to pass on? Again, we get lazy and believe that raising our children in a Christian environment will automatically instill in them a realization that they must minister as much, or more, than we did in our lifetime. But Jesus prayed for this in His disciples! “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through THEIR word” (John 17:20). Jesus fully expected them to continue to win souls after He was gone…and He prayed for the ones they were yet to win. Understand that your children will someday be partway responsible for the eternal destiny of others long after you’re gone…and we owe it to those people to pray for our children today.
In Jesus’ final hours, He prayed for His “children’s” unity, spiritual growth, and their future ministries. In His agony, He lifted up that three-pointed petition to the Father. I still feel there’s a powerful lesson to be found in how and what Jesus prayed for in His final days. If it was important enough for Jesus to pray for their unity, spiritual growth, and future ministries, then it has to be important enough for us to pray for our own that way. No longer should we pray, “Dear God, please be with my children today…Amen.” That should no longer satisfy us. A superficial prayer like that, on behalf of my girls, will not satisfy me any longer. As far as I know, I’m not dying. Hopefully, you’re not dying either. But let’s pray like we were dying!
Incidentally, God answers prayer. With respect to unity, the answer to Jesus’ Garden prayer can be found in Acts 1:14 & 2:1 & 2:46. In regards to answered prayer for spiritual growth, look at the fact that the Bible records the disciples’ growth in boldness (Acts 4:13,31), and growth in discernment (Acts 5 in knowing the lies of Ananias and Sapphira). They performed many signs and wonders (Acts 2:43; 5:12; 6:8). They grew so much spiritually that they were willing to be martyred for their faith (Acts 7:59-60). Lastly, Jesus’ prayer that the disciples would carry on His work after He left them was answered in the conversion of the 3000 in Acts 2:41 and the conversion of the 5,ooo in Acts 4:4. The Samaritans in Acts 8 were converted through the work of the Apostles, along with the Ethiopian Eunuch in the latter portion of Acts 8. Also, we find Cornelius converting through the ministry of Peter in Acts 10:1-11:18.
So, God answers prayer…we should begin to utilize such a resource more and more.