Keeping the Right Focus
Just before Jesus would go into the most difficult 24 hours of His life, He turned to the Father to pray for His disciples. The things Jesus prays for there, directly apply to the turbulent times we live in today. We need to keep the right focus and not get distracted. Jesus prays that we would focus on 1) our relationship with God, 2) our unity with each other and 3) our presence in the world.
It was Thursday Night. The Passover meal had just finished. 24 hours from now, Jesus would die like a common criminal on Calvary by crucifixion. He knew what was coming, the disciples didn't. At this point, Jesus turns to the Father in prayer, and He prays for them. In fact, for all those who would become followers of Jesus as a result of the testimony of these original disciples – and so that includes you and me.
Jesus prays for them, knowing that their world would be turned upside down. Life as they knew it would end that very night. Their teacher, the One they had left everything behind for and they thought would lead a revolution in their nation, would be arrested as a common criminal, sentenced to death and executed the next day!
Do you recognize that it’s-the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it-feeling? Somehow, I feel like this whole crisis is going to leave a huge impact on the whole world, and the world is going to look different after this.
Keep the right focus
The heart of Jesus’ prayer here is that His disciples would keep the right focus.
The disciples were about to head into a couple of months that would completely rock their world and would be filled with uncertainty! Jesus’ petition with the Father for His disciples is that they would have the right focus during and after that time.
It would be an uncertain time for the disciples, because Jesus never unfolded His complete game-plan with them. He didn’t sit them down, to tell them in detail the exact sequence of everything that was going to happen. And so, the disciples would always have unanswered questions about what would be next. Jesus did give them updates about the future events, but only step-by-step. Before the crucifixion He told them about the resurrection. At the resurrection He told them about the Ascension. At the Ascension He told them about Pentecost and their mission. And while they were reaching the Jews, He revealed it would be for all the nations of the earth as well.
Step-by-step Jesus unfolded His game-plan.
Here we are in times of distress and uncertainty. A time filled with a ton of questions;
How long is this still going to take? How will this affect me? What will the world look like after all this? What will the church look like after this? And how in the world is God going to use this to work out His purposes?
We don’t have the answers. I even think we should have the answers, nor would we be able to deal with God’s actual answers. But the words that Jesus prayed over His disciples and anyone else who’d become His followers later, guide us to what we need to focus on.
Three things jumped out to me in Jesus’ prayer that are very relevant to us right now. They are always important and relevant. But I think that in a time when we are all under pressure, we need to re-emphasize the things that are fundamentally important.
1) Be connected to the Father
John 17:6-8 (NLT)
“I have revealed you to the ones you gave me from this world. They were always yours. You gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything I have is a gift from you, for I have passed on to them the message you gave me. They accepted it and know that I came from you, and they believe you sent me.
This part of the prayer emphasizes our connection to the Father. We are His. We have received Jesus and believe in Him. Further in the prayer it says that we were taken out of this world and set apart.
Turbulent times should draw us closer to God. But do they really? They also have the potential to push us away from Him.
Fear can really blur your focus.
Threat can spur us into action, and forget about prayer.
So, let me ask you, are you looking to God for answers? Do you seek His direction in these turbulent times, or is that only what we’d like everyone else to think? And are you using the silence of these times to listen to God’s voice, or are you numbing it with entertainment?
If your life is on pause right now, that doesn’t mean this time is wasted. No moment dedicated to God is wasted.
Embrace the silence, pause, be still, and know that He is God.
Wait on God, and give Him some time to dig deep inside your heart. Use this time to develop a deep connection with Him, because it will sustain and guide you through these times.
2) Be united with each other
Secondly, Jesus prays for unity among His followers.
John 17:20-24 (NLT)
“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.
“I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began!
Church history is a reminder that not every prayer is answered with a full YES – not even the prayer of Jesus.
I think all of us have directly or indirectly experienced the pain of church splits, denomination fights or judgmental attitudes on social media platforms.
Yet, I also see an increased sense of unity in the Body of Christ over the last decades. I see denominations gathering over what binds them together, instead of what sets them apart. As Vineyard, we also hold on to our unique identity, but not at the cost of disunity. In fact, a big part of our identity is that we want to be a blessing to the whole Body of Christ.
I think that this prayer for unity also has a strong application in our current situation. Unity does not depend on being in the same room every week. In our time in South Africa we visited some good friends we hadn’t seen in years, and we again felt such unity with them.
The unity Jesus prayed for, is a unity of heart, a unity in mission, a unity in faith and standing together even through the toughest times. Through this time, we want to stand united as a church community as well.
So, let’s do what we can to stay connected, even from a place of isolation – and even on distance. Don’t assume that everyone is doing fine. I know that for some in our community, this is a really tough time. Let’s stay connected through our home groups, church online, prayer meetings, and the upcoming week of prayer and fasting.
3) Be present in the world
We are called to be present in the world, and to represent Jesus in it.
John 17:21 (NLT) I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.
Through our connection to the Father and our unity with each other, we are a powerful testimony to this world that there is a God, there is a Saviour and there is a hope that is more powerful than any fear, threat or turmoil. We’ll focus a bit more on this in a week.
Questions for reflection:
1) This week, how am I using this time to draw closer to God?
2) This week, who can I connect to in our church, that I can encourage and pray for?
3) This week how can I represent Jesus to people who don’t know Him yet?