The words and works of Jesus Christ are essential to the Christian faith. They are also foundational for our prayer life, as we learn to pray and wait and trust Him to accomplish His good will.
I have read that during the average lifetime, a person will spend a total of three years in meetings, six years sleeping, and five years waiting—whether it is waiting in rush-hour traffic, in a line for food, or in a doctor’s office. It may be nobody’s fault we have to spend so much time waiting, but waiting can bring a sense of frustration. Nobody likes to wait, especially for something that is significant or important.
Well, the disciples are frustrated because Jesus has just told them He is leaving them for a place where they cannot go just yet. They are going to have to wait.
Now it is Philip’s turn to raise his hand and make a request here in John 14:8: “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” You could summarize his request this way: “Lord, You have said you are going somewhere we have never been, and we are going to have to wait to go there ourselves. In the meantime, could you give us something tangible? Could you give us a vision of our heavenly Father?”
In a voice I believe was gentle yet firm, pointed yet kind, Jesus responds in verse 9:
“Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father?’”
There is no stronger passage for declaring the deity of Jesus Christ than this one. Jesus is saying, “You want to see the Father? You are looking at Him.”
So, from this conversation, the Lord is going to give them several truths to hang their faith on. Look at verses 10-11:
“Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.”
Jesus says, “You hear Me speak—they are the words of God the Father. You see the works I do—they are the works of God.” The words and works of Christ are tangible hooks you can hang your shield of faith on!
I often talk to believers who doubt their salvation. For many of them the doubts arise because they do not know enough about the words and works of Jesus.
The apostle John will write in 1 John 5:13, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” He gives this record so that his believing readers can know they have eternal life. Beloved, there is a connection between what has been written and knowing you have eternal life. Our assurance comes from reading the record of Christ’s words and works. And that is what He is telling Philip.
Jesus then says something interesting here. In fact, it has caused quite a bit of confusion through misinterpretation. Jesus says in verse 12, “Whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.”
Now I believe God is performing miracles today in a myriad of ways, but I do not believe He has made any of us miracle workers. But can we do greater things than Jesus did? The answer is yes—that is what Jesus says here. That sounds like we should be able to raise the dead, walk on water, and heal anybody who is sick.
Well, the key to understanding this is discovering what Jesus meant when He said we will do “greater works.”
I believe this refers to two things. First, our works are greater in duration. The skin of a leper whom Christ healed would in time become wrinkled with age, and he would die. But if you lead a leper to salvation, though his disease might not be healed, one day he will live in heaven with a new body.
Jesus fed more than 5,000 hungry people, but they got hungry again. But when you feed people the gospel, their soul will be satisfied forever.
This does not mean the miracles of Jesus were unimportant, but Jesus is telling His disciples that the works they will do one day will last longer—they will be eternally significant.
Second, our works are not only greater in duration, but they are also greater in distance. If you study the life of Jesus, you will discover His ministry was geographically limited. He only traveled about 100 miles from north to south and some 40 miles from east to west. He never preached a sermon outside of Palestine. Faraway countries never heard His name during His earthly life.
Jesus is effectively telling His disciples they will be part of an operation that reaches around the world—a ministry that is far more extensive than His own three years of ministry. And we are included in that worldwide ministry today.
And don’t overlook the last words of verse 12, where Jesus explains why this will be possible: “Because I am going to the Father.” In other words, we are not doing greater things because we are more powerful or our faith is stronger, but because Jesus is interceding today on our behalf.
That introduces us to a sweeping promise regarding prayer in verse 13:
“Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”
Now does this mean that Jesus is going to give us anything if we ask in faith, believing? It sure sounds like it.
This reminds me of the little boy who was told that God answers prayer, and he wanted a little brother, so he started praying for one. His parents chuckled over it, and this little boy kept believing and praying. Finally, he got tired of waiting and stopped praying. However, nine months later, Mom came home from the hospital with not one baby brother but twin baby brothers. As they introduced their son to his new brothers, they said, “Now aren’t you glad you prayed?” and he said, “Yes, but aren’t you glad I quit when I did?”
Don’t we all wonder about how effective our prayers really are? Yes, many prayers are answered, but why do many others remain unanswered? Jesus seems to be telling us here that if we believed strongly enough, we would get answers to every prayer we prayed. But is that really what He is saying?
Look carefully here, and you will see there are two qualifications, or guidelines—what I call guardrails—for prayer.
First, we are to pray in Jesus’ name. That means we are praying a prayer that He is going to sign His name to—it is a request He agrees with.
Second, the main purpose of prayer is not to get our will done in heaven but God’s will done on earth. So, we pray according to His glory and His plans and His will.
When our children were first learning to color in their little coloring books, they had the same problems all children have: choosing the right color and coloring within the lines.
As children of our heavenly Father, prayer is the same way: we need to learn how to color our requests appropriately. We have to learn to pray inside the lines—within His guidelines. Prayer in the name of Christ and for the will of God is coloring the right picture the right way!
The truth is, God always answers the prayers of His children. However, the answer might be, “Yes, right away,” or “No, not ever,” or “No, not now; you’re going to have to wait.”
And so we pray and wait but with confidence, beloved, that our heavenly Father hears us, cares about us, and will always do what is right for us—both now and forever.