Summary: God’s love for his people is seen in the prayers of the Son.
Someone said, “Trusting God does not mean believing that he will do what you want. It means believing that what he does is good.” The distinction delivers us from the error of demanding that God serve our desires like a genie in a bottle.
Christians typically recognize this mistake in the atheist who lashes out at God for allowing his mother to die from cancer. Less often do we see it in ourselves when we grumble over the circumstances which steal our comforts. The daughter who refuses to appreciate restrictions on freedom provided by loving parents; the employee who slacks off when the assignments are below his standard; the angry Christian who cannot let go of past hurts and the mistakes of fellow believers; the wife who holds back from fully giving herself to her husband, since he so often fails to meet her needs – these examples touch the variety of ways in which we might act out the false assumption that trusting God means “believing that he will do what we want.”
One way God encourages victory over this error is by reminding us of his tremendous love. You pray fervently for your loved ones, especially when you know their needs are great. During his last night on earth, Jesus loves his disciples by praying fervently for them. Studying his prayer encourages us with God’s love.
Additionally, John 17 offers a unique view into the heart of God – what is of first importance in the mind of our Savior. We listen attentively to a man’s dying words because death focuses our passions on what is essential. How much more ought we to listen well to the dying words of the Lord Jesus Christ, and so hear what God deems worthy of his last breaths before the cross.
[Read John 17.1-16. Pray.]
When things go badly, we may wonder why God does not swoop down and deliver us. He could, you know! He could convert people to Christ through the preaching of angels, then immediately rescue his daughters and sons from trials, troubles and tribulations, lifting us up into heaven and away from both future sin and suffering. In fact, so attractive is the vision of the future bliss we will have in the presence of God, that the Apostle Paul said: “To die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me…. [But] My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” than suffering in the flesh (Philippians 1.21-23). Paul knows well what you also know – the hurt and heartache of life in a fallen world and would gladly exchange it for heaven!
Yet Jesus does not ask the Father to deliver Christians from the problems in this world. From the power and influence of the Devil – yes, verse 15b: “keep them from the evil one.” But note well the first half of that sentence: “I do not ask that you take them out of the world.” God’s people are left in the world, without being overtaken by worldliness (by God’s grace), in order to witness and work for the King of the world.
In her book on evangelism, Out of the Salt Shaker, 124, Rebecca Pippert (in a light-hearted way) speaks to Christian college students about how they sometimes act as if God ought to have taken them out of the world: “We must not become, as John Stott puts it, ‘a rabbit-hole Christian’—the kind who pops his head out of a hole, leaves his Christian roommate in the morning and scurries to class, only to frantically search for a Christian to sit by (an odd way to approach a mission field). Thus he proceeds from class to class. When dinner comes, he sits with the Christians in his dorm at one huge table and thinks, “What a witness!” From there he goes to his all-Christian Bible study, and he might even catch a prayer meeting where the Christians pray for the non-believers on his floor. (But what luck that he was able to live on the only floor with seventeen Christians!) Then at night he scurries back to his Christian roommate. Safe! He made it through the day and his only contacts with the world were those mad, brave dashes to and from Christian activities. What an insidious reversal of the biblical command to be salt and light to the world.”
“I do not ask that you take them out of the world.” God leaves us amongst an admittedly crooked and twisted generation, at least in part so that we might prove that trusting God means believing that what he does is good. Let me show you. Remember how Paul told the Philippians that he desired to depart and be with Christ? A few sentences later he applies the same truth to them: “Do all things without grumbling or questioning [they were tempted to this sin before God was not doing what they wanted], that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God [in other words, they were to trust God even in their troubles] without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world [you will witness to the goodness of God]” (Philippians 2.14-16).