There’s a common proverb that says “hindsight is 20/20.” This saying means that it’s easy to see the right thing to do after it has already happened. It also admits that it is difficult to predict the future. The reason we say this so often is that, as humans, we often understand what the right thing to do was after it’s too late.
Here are some examples of hindsight being 20/20. The worker who chose the wrong project to spend a lot of time on when another project was more important to their boss. The man who tried to go out on dates on consecutive evenings with two different women, who ended up knowing one other and talking about it. The high school student who didn’t study enough before a key test that ended up shaping their direction for college. Hindsight is 20/20. You can see clearly what you should have done in the past, but it’s harder to see clearly what to do in the future.
Unlike human beings, Jesus does not seem to suffer from this limitation. In John 17, we see Jesus taking proactive steps – doing what needs to be done ahead of time – instead of being reactive to things that are already taking place. In fact, Jesus shows us the power of proactive prayer.
Take a look at Jesus words in John 17:20 with me:
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.
John 17 is sometimes called Jesus’ high priestly prayer. This is because we find Jesus directly talking with His Father in prayer about the heart of His ministry right before going to the sacrifice upon the Cross.
He is like a high priest in the Jewish religious tradition who comes before God to bring the sacrifice on behalf of the people. For Jesus, that sacrifice is literally Himself, and His prayers are preparing the way for that glorious sacrifice.
As Jesus prays to His Father, He asks for God’s glory to be displayed through Him. This is a glory that can only come through sacrifice, which will be seen with such power and gravity at the Cross.
He also asks for God to strengthen His disciples for the trials they will face. He is asking for those immediate followers, like Peter, James, John, Mary Magdalene, and more, that they might bear up in the face great difficulties.
And He also begins to talk with God about the followers that will come through the message those disciples will speak about Him later. Now, one of the most important things we see in Jesus here is the power of proactive prayer. He is not waiting for troubles to arise or for future followers to come. He is getting ahead of that situation in prayer.
Many of us tend to be reactive in prayer. We pray for provision when our finances get tight or we lose our job. We pray for healing when we get to the hospital or experience emotional trauma. We pray for wisdom when we are already at the crossroads of decision. We respond – or react – to the situations that come. Now, this is an entirely appropriate and powerful way to pray. We see this throughout Scripture, from the early disciples’ prayers when facing arrest by the authorities to Moses’ prayer before the burning bush.
But along with this responsive prayer we need to learn from what Jesus does here in John 17. He proactively prays for things that are yet to come. This is built on the fact that Jesus had both the most realistic view of human life and the most active engagement with the divine life of any person that has ever walked the face of the earth. Jesus prays for all who will come and, in this moment, brings the future people of God – even you and me – into the Holy Presence of God. Just think about the reality that Jesus prayed for you.
I remember a time when I was on a short-term mission trip with a group of students and terrible strife broke out within the group. People were name-calling, tensions were rising, and the leaders on the trip were completely caught off-guard. Of course, we prayed in the moment and asked God to do something powerful, and He graciously righted the direction of the trip so our disunity did not distract from why we were there.
What I learned from that experience is that we should expect the threat of disunity to arise within our life as believers. It arises because of our sin, our human brokenness, our past history, and spiritual attack from the evil one. This should not surprise us.
If we want unity in our relationships – in our church – in churches around our city, nation, and world – then we must pray proactively for God to make us one, not waiting for the divisions to come upon us.
There is power in such proactive prayer. Jesus understood this and He shows us – even as He prays for us – the importance of bringing things to God ahead of time.
Prayer – particularly, here, proactive prayer – is the pathway to unity.
[This is the second in a series of posts on unity through prayer from John 17, which began here.]