When God falls on his knees and prays, for what does he pray? In John 17:20-21 we read of Jesus praying that his church would be “One.” Now, when we consider the Great Commission, the gospel’s advance to the Gentiles seen in Acts and the New Testament letters it is apparent that (in large measure) Jesus was praying that though his church would be ethnically divided, it would be united. Let’s dig in a bit more by looking at five things he is and is not praying for.
1. He does not Pray for Ethnic Reconciliation Among the Lost.
He does not pray that those who reject the Gospel of Jesus Christ would join hands in unity minus a unity and relationship with God. Rather, he prays for his believers who are beginning their new lives in Christ. He prays that as they draw closer to God they might likewise draw closer to one another.
2. He does not pray for ethnic-cordiality
He does not pray that Christians of various ethnicities would be cordial to one another keeping hostilities at a minimum and maintaining a “good fences make great neighbors” policy. He is praying for far more than cordiality. He is praying for a unity likened to the unity shared between the Father and the Son in the Holy Trinity. This unity is far more than the absence of violence. it is a harmony, a shalom, an interconnectedness, an affection and a devotion to one another in eternal love.
3. He does not pray for unity in uniformity
He does not pray for unity in uniformity. He is not praying that one sub-group set the parameters, the emphases, the tone and all other sub-groups then squeeze into the mold. He is not praying that each and every individual and sub-group be the same. It does not take prayer to obtain unity in uniformity. All it takes is a concert or an inspiring talk. Rather, he is praying for unity in diversity likened to the unity in diversity shared between God the Father and God the Son who though having distinct roles and being distinct persons share an essential unity.
4. He does not pray for unity in Heaven
He does not pray for unity in diversity in Heaven. Grant it, that will occur. It is a beautiful vision of what God has in store for the world when his Kingdom is fully come. In that day peoples of all nations and tribes will gather around the throne of the Lamb in perfect harmony (Rev. 7:9). But this vision is not given to us in order that we might complacently sit by and wait for it. It is given in part to compel us forward toward the goal. It is given as a target to shoot for. Jesus is praying that we might experience a foretaste of that heavenly harmony in the here and now, in the already but not yet. How do we know? Because he states. “that the World might believe.” The unity he prays for is one does among a lost world as an attractive light to the lost world, in the here and now.
5. He does not pray for a spiritualized unity
He does not pray for a sentimental or theoretical unity. He is rather praying for an observable, tangible, day to day, life on life, local congregational unity. How do we know? Because it is a unity observed by the world. As real as your warm feelings and affections are for your brothers across town and across the globe, they are not seen. I do believe that what Jesus is praying for is unity in diversity on this side of heaven, manifest in a local congregation. This is why Christ Church intentionally pursues the dream of a multi-ethnic congregation. We want to align our heart with Christ’s. We want to reach out Community for Christ. And, we want to do so in the method prescribed by Christ: tangible unity in diversity within the local church.
“Christ Church intentionally pursues the dream of becoming a multi-ethnic congregation.” We want to align our heart with Christ’s. We want to reach our Community for Christ. And, we want to do so in the method prescribed by Christ.
6. He does pray for the preposterous and the impossible.
But this seems impossible. Humanly speaking this is impossible. The pain, past, problems, politics, and power plays are immense hurdles to overcome. The wall that divides the ethnicities is great. No one should make light of it. Yet, I do believe that the Gospel empowered by the Spirit has the ability to break down all the potential walls of hostility (Eph. 2:14). I believe the Gospel has just the right truths that when faithfully fired time and time again will topple the greatest walls of the Kingdom of Satan.
“The Gospel has just the right truths that when faithfully fired time and time again will topple the greatest walls of the Kingdom of Satan.”
So, let me encourage you not to allow doubt and fear keep you complacent and satisfied with the status quo. Let me encourage you to align your heart with the heart of Christ and pray, long and work toward unity in diversity on this side of heaven in tangible, observable, local ways.