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If you could pray for one thing for yourself and others in the Church today, what would it be?
This is the one thing that Jesus chose to pray:
I do not ask for these only [i.e., Peter, James, John, etc.], but also for those who will believe in me through their word [= the Church, including us], that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them. (John 17:20-26)
This prayer shows us that there is nothing more dear to the Lord’s heart than unity. Though the New Testament tells us that Jesus currently intercedes on our behalf (Rom 8:34; Heb 7:25), the only recorded prayer we have from Jesus for ourselves is John 17:20-26. If that were not enough to underscore unity’s importance, we should also remember that this prayer comprises some of Jesus’s last words: he offered this prayer the night before he was crucified. Unity thus represents the final plea of a man on death row. We all want to know God’s will for our lives. Here you have it. If for no other reason, we must seek to be unified because it is the longing of God’s heart.
John 17:20-26 is of the highest caliber of prayers, extravagant in the boldness of its request. Jesus asks that our bond with each other would be the same as his bond with his Father: fully and perfectly known, fully and perfectly loved, in total accord (17:21, 22). Have you ever experienced even a shadow of this type of relationship? It may have been a friendship, a marriage, with a parent(s) or sibling(s), or even a church small group. Is it not the greatest joy to be understood and accepted and valued for who you are? Imagine if your small group were like that. Imagine if our entire church were like that.
Jesus tells us that it is not by miracles or persuasive logic that people will come to recognize the existence of God, but rather by our unity (17:21, 23; cf. Phil 1:27-28). It is by our love for each other that people will know that Jesus is real (17:23) and that we are his disciples (John 13:35). People are longing to see the church be what it is supposed to be. We live in a land that is marred by the fault lines of division, whether it be related to race, class, gender, politics, ideology, etc., and in this coming election year, it would appear that these wounds will only grow more enflamed. In our nation, and even in the Church, unity has become an endangered species. Imagine therefore the radiant witness that TDC would be if it were a community where we were all one in Christ Jesus even though we represent different races and cultures and ages and genders and denominational backgrounds and political beliefs (Gal 3:28).
Unity does not mean homogeneity. It instead requires that we keep our focus on our common love for God and our common and fundamental identity as beloved children of God, sinners who are saved solely by God’s grace in Christ (Rom 3:22-26; cf. Gal 3:26-27; Eph 2:8-9). Unity is not without cost and sacrifice. Jesus achieved the reconciliation that brought about unity by his blood (Eph 2:14), and we also must die to our pride if we are to be a unified church (John 13:34-35; Matt 16:24).
Paul teaches us that unity starts in the heart and in the mind:
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil 2:1-8)
When you pray for the unity of our church family during the fast, ask God to give us all the mind of Christ. Ask Him also to show you how you measure up to this passage. You might ponder your thoughts and actions with the Holy Spirit’s guidance. For example, Do you primarily see others in our church according to their political affiliation or as brothers and sisters in Christ? Do you blast other Christians on social media, pointing out how they are wrong and you are right? Do you compare yourself to others in our church or tear them down in your mind? If you are doing the modified Daniel’s fast (no alcohol, sweets, or meat), do you look down on someone else in our church who is eating meat? Or, how do you react when people in our church annoy you or say something you don’t agree with? Do you have grace for them?
Unity is the fruit of self-sacrificial love. Ask the Spirit to fill our hearts with God’s love so that we might love others in the same manner.