Praying for the Glory of God
"Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you" (Jn. 17:2).
When Jesus prayed for the glory of His Father, what was He really saying? He had spent His life ministering to human needs in ways that brought much glory to His Father. But at this point in Jesus' life, glorifying God would mean something that most of us wouldn't call "glory." This pathway would lead through the agony of the cross. Jesus would have to suffer—not only in His body, but also in letting go of everything He had a "right" to as God's beloved Son. It was not until Jesus submitted Himself to the shameful sufferings of Gethsemane and Calvary that God's glory would achieve its full dimensions.
Two thousand years later, most of us find it easy to pray God, be glorified in me. But unlike Jesus, we rarely envision suffering as a part of that equation. More often, we expect to enjoy serving God, painlessly exercising the gifts and talents He has given us. Lord, glorify Yourself through my teaching. . . my writing.. . my evangelism . .. my compassion... my leadership. In other words, Glorify Yourself in me. . . and do it like this.
Early in my Christian life, I prayed—and assumed—that God would glorify Himself through my teaching and singing talents.
I had an unusual contralto solo voice. My pastor called on me often to sing, and many folks told me they were blessed when I did.
One summer, I worked at a Christian campground, where staff members provided music for Sunday services. But no one ever asked me to sing! How could they ignore me? I wept through many a Sunday service that summer, feeling unjustly rejected. The final insult came when I was lumped into a "choir" with those who had no particular talent, for an end-of-season staff performance. It was hardly suffering like Jesus endured, but my ego recoiled at the idea. Didn't it make sense that I should serve God by using the gifts He had given me?
As I wrestled over this, the Lord gradually penetrated my woundedness with two simple questions: Whose voice is it, My child? Whose glory do you seek?
I had been so focused on successfully ministering for Him that I had lost sight of His command to take up my cross and follow Him (Mt. 16:24)! This was my first glimpse of the truth that Jesus prayed in John 17: God's glory is best exhibited in my life when I humbly allow His complete sovereignty over me—even if I have to give up my "right" to serve Him with my gifts.
I've had to go through many similar experiences over the years. Repeatedly, as I've continued to pray for His glory in my
life, He has redirected my ministry to some new place where I don't feel comfortable or self-assured. Often He allows me to make blunders. As a result, I never prepare to serve in any way without a strong awareness that it may not go smoothly enough to bring the adulations my human soul craves. Yet as I weep over my failures, I'm remember that He always gets the glory due to His name.
When we pray for the glory of God, we may well be opening a door to suffering, as Jesus did when He prayed in John 17. For some, it might be the pain of persecution, injustice, deprivation, or criticism. For others, it may not be outwardly visible: parental disappointment, broken relationships, a walkthrough the pitch-black valley of shadows, the reshaping of a ministry. But whatever form it takes, we should be aware that God's glory often comes through the painful sacrifice of self-sufficiency that Jesus modeled for us on the cross.
A lifetime of ministry and seeking God has taught me that my service to Him is rarely as pure as it should be. But Jesus has shown me through His own life that suffering refines my offering, restores my focus on Him, and ensures that it's all to His glory, not mine.
By Ethel Herr, who is author of Show Me Your Glory, and many other books and articles.
22 November/December 2005