In John 17:4 Jesus refers to the work He has already accomplished.
I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.
Suffering a sacrificial death and rising in power were not the only assignments given to Jesus. In John 17:6-13 He lists out the work He accomplished before going to the cross. These verses serve as an outline of the pastoral ministry of Jesus Christ. These verses set before us the four essential practices of pastoral ministry. What Jesus exampled in His ministry and reviews in prayer here before His Father are the essence of being a shepherd to the flock of God.
The first essential work of pastoral ministry is given in 17:6 – I manifested Your name to the men You gave Me out of the world. The second essential work of pastoral ministry is given in 17:7-8 – I gave them Your words…
The third essential work of pastoral ministry is given in 17:9-11 – I ask on their behalf…keep them in Your name.
Pastors, you are to pray for those God has given you to care for. For all of what Jesus says in vv9-11, He asks just one thing: …keep them in Your name… The word ‘keep’ means ‘to guard carefully…to keep one in the state in which he is’. Paul tells us that we don’t always know what to pray for, but here’s something that’s on target every time. You’ll never have to wonder if this is God’s will because it always is. “Father, keep them in Your name”. We pray so many things for so many people – things that can very well be peripheral to what God desires to do in someone’s life. But when you pray this, “Father keep them in Your name”, you are always praying in the direct center of the will of God. For when you pray this, you are asking that the ones you pray for be held at the place of power and promise and joy and peace and grace and mercy. The name of God means all these things – and so much more.
Without the Name of God there is no ministry of God. Jesus said that He revealed the Name of His Father to the disciples and now He prays that they be kept in that Name.
The Name of God is the first thing and the continuing thing in the ministry.
Jesus doesn’t ask the Father that His disciples be good preachers and expositors of the Word. As previously discussed, you can be a whiz kid with the Word of God and a bust with the Name of God. You may have a ministry and it may flourish – for a time. But a man’s character always catches up with him and is something that can’t be hidden. Remember Balaam!
Jesus doesn’t ask for their success – buildings, budgets, and bodies. He is more concerned with the character of the church than the size of the church. He prays that their hearts would always be focused on the heart of God. How easy it is to have your attention moved from the heart of God and begin to be dominated by thoughts of ministry success and personal reputation. When the pastors and spiritual leaders of a church are no longer concerned with the Name of God they will begin to compromise the Word of God and any success they have had in ministry will begin to be reversed. The dramatic plummet in numbers of the mainline denominational churches in America is an attestation to this truth. A disregard for truth and of life lived in the Name will undercut your prayer life. If you are not kept in His name, you won’t pray for others to be kept in His name.
Pray your vision
Please note that what Jesus valued gave shape and form to His prayer life. His vision was for the name of God and His vision gave birth to His praying – Jesus prayed His vision. What do you pray for? What is the vision you have for your life and ministry? Do an inventory of the things that you ask for in prayer. Be aware of what it is you say and do during your time of devotion. What you ask for in prayer defines your vision. In a very real way, prayer gives expression to and the awareness of the will of God for you and those for whom you are praying.
Your prayers will rise no higher than your vision.
When we hear someone pray and they are asking that God use them in powerful ways to reach their city for Christ; that God would fill them with His Spirit and flow through them with His love; that He would heal the sick and save sinners; that the church would be strong in the name of Jesus – we know that we are listening to someone with a big vision and someone who understands and realizes what it is that God is seeking to do.
Many pastors say, “That is my vision, too”. But to listen to them pray, you wouldn’t know this. They pray for their Aunt Sally in Minnesota and they ask God to bless this missionary in Brazil. They ask that the church potluck be successful and that this week’s offering be large enough to take care of the bills that are currently due. There is a difference between this kind of prayer and the prayer that Jesus modeled for us in John 17.
This man prayed his needs; Jesus prayed His vision.
Let me restate that: the pastor prayed his needs and Jesus prayed His vision. Do you pray your needs and the needs of those around you or do you pray your vision? Do your needs or your vision dominate your prayer life? Obviously, there is a time to pray for needs – and there is a time to press your vision in prayer before the Lord. Your prayers will rise no higher than your vision.
Paul prays his vision
The high priest bore on His breastplate the names of the children of Israel – they were upon his heart whenever he went into the holy place. He also wore the names of the children of Israel on the shoulders of the ephod, engraved in stones, and worn as he went about his priestly ministry in the tabernacle (cf. Ex. 28:12, 29). They were upon his heart as indicating the affection of God for them, and upon his shoulders, the place of strength, to illustrate his power in the support of them. Like the high priest, the pastor bears upon his heart and his shoulders the people he pastors. Paul gives us a pattern of how to pray for those we bear upon our hearts and shoulders. We have clear insight into how Paul prayed in the book of Ephesians, chapters one and three.
For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. Eph. 1:15-23
What is he praying for? What does he want to see come to pass in the life of those for whom he prays? Note the ‘so that’ in v18 – So that…
#1 You will know what is the hope of His calling
#2 You will know what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints
#3 You will know what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe
His vision for the church is that we be dialed in to God’s dream for us and the power available to bring to pass His purposes. His vision for the church is not just that we go out and ‘do’ ministry, but that we would understand and recognize (know) of all the resources in God that are provision for us. That is His vision. Here is his prayer:
…that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened…
Paul prays for wisdom and revelation and enlightenment. These aren’t part of his intercession just because they sound mystical and spiritual. These dynamics of spiritual life are his prayer because they relate directly to his vision of what the church should be. Even as the high priest bore upon his chest and shoulders the names of the children of Israel, even as Jesus is praying for us – bringing us before His Father – so we have the great privilege and responsibility of bearing on our chests and shoulders those for whom the Lord has given us responsibility for. The church is in our hearts and weighs upon our shoulders – we are to bring these before the Lord in intercession and seek that God be glorified in them. Whatever else we pray, let’s pray that they may be kept in the name of God.