- He prays protection for the unity of His disciples, that they may be one as the Father and He were one; one in purpose, one in word, one in deed, one in life, one in community.
- He prays that his disciples that journeyed in His physical life may experience the full measure of His joy of doing God's will.
- He prays that God would not remove His disciples from the world, but rather that God would protect them from the evil one.
- He offers Himself as their sanctification so they may be sanctified to God our Father.
- He then prays for all of us that come after the original apostolic community known as the "The Way". He prays for our complete unity, our oneness to Him and to the Father through the original disciples message of their life experience with Jesus and the truth that He gave them.
So, do we really get that as Christians we have no liberty to preserve our holiness by escaping from the world, or to sacrifice our holiness by conforming to the world?
It seems that our human nature is inclined to pursue control of our lives. We do this on almost every front; Financially, Physically, Emotionally, Relationally and yes, Spiritually.
Financially: We are obsessed with money. We want to hang on to what we have. We want our investments and assets to grow. We want more. We are consumers defined by what we buy. We want to control it all.
Physically: Just turn on the TV or pick up a magazine in the line at the grocery store. Look at the way we are marketed to about our physical appearance. Longer hair, different color hair, no gray hair, smoother skin, bigger muscles, closer shave, slimmer waist, larger looking breasts, longer erections, new clothes, new shoes. We want to control and craft our look, or cover it up. We are obsessed with our physical appearance.
Emotionally: We are guarded. We are wounded and don't know how to allow ourselves to be healed, so we wear masks. Why? Ultimate control of our innermost self. It's safer.
Relationally: Divorce, affairs, backstabbing, gossip, manipulation, silence, and isolation plague us all in our house of cards we are building. This is closely tied to our emotional control we seek, however this is more tangible as we try to control others.
Spiritually: Attendance, participation, committees, tithing, boards, events, activity, programs, and buildings all seem to add up to isolation and control. We do all this so no one will question, challenge and push us deeper into God. We must be "walking with God" since we are so involved. We do all this to maintain a sense of control of our spiritual journey that is on our own terms. We do this and call it "church".
Why Do We Do All This Controlling?
I think it comes from a place of purity and desire in us as Humans. And as Christians I think this desire is driven from Jesus' prayer in John 17. I believe Jesus' prayer still echoes today in God's heart and He actively tries to answer His prayer for us today.
But like all things in our life we have hijacked our spirituality from God because we don't trust Him. We are scared to death of what He may ask us to do financially, physically, emotionally, and relationally that we can't even begin to get to connected with him spiritually. We tend to get hung up on the here and now, the things that consume our self-indulged nature. We want control.
So we take the liberty to preserve our holiness by escaping from the world and isolating ourselves in our man-made religiosity. Jesus prayed that God would NOT remove us from the world, so why have we done it ourselves?
We also cannot compromise our holiness by conforming to the world. We run the risk of doing this when we take on the attitude that we are lone rangers and the "church" we are attending is not meeting our needs so we'll "go and make disciples" and seek God on our own.
However, without oneness in community, support, purpose, spiritual disciplines, common life, and maturity, we set ourselves up for conformation to our contextual surroundings, which ultimately leads to separation from God. This is why Jesus prays for our unity and protection.
Living In The Tension
Since we don't have the liberty to preserve our holiness by escaping from the world, and we cannot sacrifice our holiness by conforming to the world, then what do we do? How do we live in the tension of wanting to escape and control or wanting to give in and conform?
I think we need to go back to Jesus' prayer. Back to scripture - always back to God's word. Sure there are practical ways that I could list here; spiritual disciplines that are a must in order to stay connected to God. But then it would seem like every other list of "things to do" we have been given by pastors, teachers, and spiritual leaders.
That is not what Jesus is praying about. He is praying for communion with us and God through himself. He is praying that we would desire relationship with God and experience his Joy of doing God's will, not out of obligation, but from a pure desire for spiritual union with him. He is sanctifying Himself in order for this relationship to be possible.
The spiritual disciplines come out of the desire to be in communion with God and they don't feel like a list of rules to follow but rather a natural expression of our relationship with Him.
Jesus knows it will be difficult for us to live our life in this way, after all it got him killed.
He knows that if we are in oneness with each other and God, through Himself, we will stand out from the rest of the world. Not by our self-righteous-pious attitude, but by how we are living, loving, serving and calling others as He did. So Jesus prays that God would protect us. He doesn't pray that we would protect ourselves or that God would protect us from ourselves (although that would be a good prayer too!). But Jesus prays that God would protect us from the evil one.
So it might be safe to say that if you are not in need of Jesus' prayer offered up in John 17, you may not be living in the tension.
Are you surrounded by the safe environment of man-made religiosity? Is all your time and energy spent controlling your context? Are all your friends like minded and of the same faith? Are you disconnected from God? You may be exercising a liberty you don't have as a Christian; to protect your holiness yourself.
Are you surrounded by an ungodly environment to the point that you don't act, look, think, and smell any different than the person next you? Is all your time spent around others that don't hold the same values and faith as you? Are you disconnected from God? You may have sacrificed your holiness; by conforming to the world and you don't even know it.
Either way you are not living in the tension Jesus prayed for.