Jesus’ journey of prayer for unity continues as He unveils that there is power through transformed relationships…and that power comes through prayer.
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:20-23)
Jesus is plunging ahead in prayer – and we have the high privilege of listening in – to the deep place of God’s relational unity. He prays:
“That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you” (17:21)
“that they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me” (17:22-23)
This is one of the great and mysterious truths of the Christian life: that God is one in the unity of His substance, yet at the same time distinguished as three persons. There is a unified community of being within God that Jesus expresses here in prayer. We see God’s essential unity within diversity and diversity within unity. And this Trinity of being in God is the basis for Jesus’ prayer for the unity of His people.
Many times when we talk about unity, we begin to talk a lot about love. This is important because love is essential to unity, but not always in the way we think. Sometimes, talk of unity and love devolves into a touchy-feely moment where we hold hands and sing songs. At other times that sort of love necessary for unity gets real traction through the tough, real-life, sacrifices people make for one another.
Now, love is incredibly important, and we all must learn to love others more. But Jesus is taking this prayer for unity in a different direction. Jesus does not pray that God would give His people greater capacity or ability to love one another. He prays about something else.
He prays that His glory would flow into His future followers and lead them into transformed relationship with God and, therefore, with one another.
As biblical scholar Raymond Brown so helpfully points out, “unity is not simply human fellowship or the harmonious interaction of Christians.” There is “both a horizontal and a vertical dimension” to unity.
What we need to recognize is that our breakthroughs to unity depend upon our transformed relationship with God that leads to transformed relationship with others.
I don’t want to imply that this is simply up to us getting moved forward with our will power in prayer, because this unity is a mystical, positional reality given us through Jesus Christ and His glory that we need to live into in greater ways.
This is what sanctification is all about: living into the truths of our salvation that we have received because of the positional transformation for humanity that we appropriate by faith into our lives. It’s all grace from God.
In our earthly lives, we will at times falter in the battlefields of conflict. We may find times where we raise our voices against one another. Sometimes we do it to another’s face with harsh words and false accusations, while at other times we quietly pass the sweet morsels of gossip or shards of slander into the ears of another.
No matter how it happens, when we stumble into the lands of conflict, the way back must be infused with prayer. Yes, we must use the best of the wisdom found in the Proverbs of the Bible and the greatest advice of wise counselors, but we must never attempt to achieve unity by our human efforts alone. Brothers and sisters, fall down on your knees and beg the God of the universe, who alone can speak to the hearts of others – and also to your own heart – about the causes of conflict and remedies for unity.
If your heart is bound with bitterness or rolling in rage, now is the time to desert the battlefields of conflict and seek the sweet remedy of the glory of God released in prayer.
As we do this, we may surprisingly find that God not only changes the other person or situation, but He changes us as well. In fact, we may find that we are the one who most needs to be changed.
Prayer is the pathway to unity through transformed relationships.
[This is the third in a series of posts on unity and prayer from John 17, which began here.]
 Raymond Brown, The Gospel According to John, AB (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1970), 2: 776.