Has someone ever told you that they are praying for you? How did it make you feel? Did it bring you comfort? It is interesting how we are affected by knowing that someone was truly interested in what is going in our lives. Knowing that someone is praying for you just seems to mean more than hearing someone tell you that they are “sending good thoughts your way” or that they have “been thinking about you a lot”. Prayer suggests a certain spiritual element that an expression of human thought just doesn’t have.
When people tell you that they are praying for you, have you ever wondered exactly how they are praying? Can people really know how to pray for your situation when they are not intimately involved? What if the outcome they are praying for is the exact opposite of the outcome that you are praying for? What if the phrase “I’m praying for you” is just a Christianeze way of saying ‘it seems like you are going through something and I don’t know how to respond so I'm going to say the spiritual thing and tell you that I am praying for you?’ Have you ever thought of that? Maybe I’m alone in wondering this.
This past week I was reading and meditating on John 17 and was struck with the reality that 2000 years ago, as Jesus was praying for his disciples, he was also praying for me. How would that make you feel if you know that Jesus was praying for you? Wouldn’t that be a comfort to you? Well, it was for me. I was struck by the fact that on what would be the darkest night in human history, Jesus prays. For whom does he pray? For others. Jesus is getting ready to be betrayed, arrested, punished for crimes he did not commit, give his life on the cross for sins that were not his own, and in the moments before it all starts… what does he do? He prays, not for himself but for others. It’s is an amazingly life-changing reality to consider.
If you were to read John 17:20, the heartwarming reality that Jesus prayed for others come even closer to home. Jesus says, I'm not praying for my disciples only, “but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 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.”
Just hours before Jesus would begin his ascent to the cross, Jesus is not only praying for those who already believe, but he is praying for everyone who would one day believe. As Jesus and the disciples clean up from supper Jesus prays, not for himself, but for everyone who would one day be impacted by his life and death. The amazing reality that we need to grab hold of is that all of the prayers and petitions that Jesus has just made for his disciples in John 17 are now being transferred to each one of us. Just imagine that. 2000 years ago, in an upper room Christ Jesus, the Creator, Sustainer, and Sovereign Lord of the universe, on the eve of his crucifixion would take time to pray for us. This is an amazing reality to grasp.
When Jesus prayed for all who would believe, how does he pray? For what does the Savior of the world pray? He prays for unity based on the Word of God and rooted in the character of Christ. There are so many things that have the potential to divide. There are so many traps that we can fall into that will breed division in the church. The phrase “election year” is enough to cause Christians to divide over their preferences. Plus, this year we have the “privilege” of having Coronavirus here to help things run more smoothly, right!?!? Ha! True unity is something that is growing more and more scarce in the church today. Did you realize that it is possible for us as a church to disagree on certain things and still have unity? How is that possible? How can we disagree and still have unity? It depends upon what our unity is based. If our unity is based on our political party… then it will only run as deep as your candidates’ character. If our unity is based on preferences or social agendas… then that unity is destined to change and be torn apart by the winds of change.
Our unity as Christians must be rooted in our belief in Christ and based on the Word of God. As the Apostles wrote and taught the Word of God, people believed, the church grew, and now has reached us in 2020, and people are still being drawn to faith in Christ through the faithful preaching, teaching, and sharing of the Word of God.
Jesus actually prays that the members of his body, the church, would have the same kind of unity as Jesus has with the Father. Christ prays that we would have a supernatural unity modeled by God himself. How is that possible? I mean we are fallen and flawed human beings! It’s hard for us to come together and be unified about what color to paint the walls and what kind of carpet to order for the floors! How in the world will all of us be able to have a unity that Christ calls “perfect”? It is possible because as Christians we are united by something far greater than ourselves. As believers, we share a divine nature. We have a common bond founded on the Word of God which never changes, and we are secured in the Character of God which also never changes.
How do we grow in our unity? How can we truly draw closer to one another and live out the model of this perfect unity that exists in the Godhead? It doesn’t happen simply by getting closer to each other and by doing more activities together. If we base our unity on our activities, opinions, likes, dislikes, personalities, and personal relationships, then we’ll soon find out that while we may talk about loving each other in the Lord... we don’t really like each other all that much.
Our unity and true fellowship must be based on something greater than ourselves. It is based in God and on His Word. If we want to grow in our unity, then we have to stop focusing so much on getting closer to other people and convincing them to agree with us and pour our energy into drawing closer to Christ. The closer we get to Jesus… the closer we will be drawn to one another.
Phrases like unity and “we’re all in this together” are commonly heard today. Let’s make sure we clarify what unity means. Christ’s prayer for unity doesn’t mean that we should all be the same. Too often we make the mistake of confusing unity with uniformity. Right? Many times we feel like we should be just like other Christians… carry the same Bible, read the same books, have the same styles, listen to the same music, educate our children the same way, share all of the same exact opinions, likes, and dislikes. That is not unity… that is uniformity. When we are called to follow Christ… we are called to model our lives after him, not become a corporation of Christian clones.
Actually, the idea of uniformity, insisting that others be just like us, is one of the most dis-unifying things that can happen in the church. When uniformity is enforced it creates a judgmental and inflexible culture and actually pushes people away from the church instead of welcoming them in. One of the most beautiful truths of the gospel is that it celebrates our individuality and diversity while bringing us to true unity.
Paul teaches on unity without uniformity in 1 Cor. 12:4-6 when he says, “now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.”
Jesus’ prayer for unity expresses his desire that there would be a continuity between the church of the 1st century and the church of every other century that follows. Jesus prays that the church’s faith would not change but stay faithful to the teaching of the Word of God. Christ prayer is a unity that only comes from the indwelling Holy Spirit and draws us closer to God as we are strengthened in His Word.
What is the benefit of our unity? Jesus says it is “so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” Our unity as believers will enable the multiplication of our witness in our community. Our unity as a church will help to enable the multiplication of our witness around the world. Our unity will be a platform that when showcased before the world … some will believe the truth about who Jesus is and what He has done for them. When the church has true unity then those who are far from God will be drawn close to Christ. Real unity between Christians is a supernatural work, and it points to a supernatural explanation.... Jesus Christ in us!
Did you know that someone has prayed for you? Isn’t it comforting and empowering to know that Jesus is the someone who has prayed with you in mind? With that concept in mind, read John 17 this week and reflect on those truths and how Jesus wants you to apply them to your life.