The Power of a Unified Mission

Jesus-Praying-in-the-Garden Dore

November 11, 2011, was a historic night in the life of the Egyptian Church. As the Arab Spring unfolded, tensions were rising in Cairo, including the killing of many Coptic Christians in October. In the past, the Orthodox Copts, the Roman Catholics, and the Protestants had not supported one another. In fact, they had at many times stood against each other.

But this time was different. In response to this rising difficulty an invitation went out for Christians from all backgrounds – Coptic, Catholic, & Protestant – to gather for prayer. On that night, 71,000 people gathered to seek the face of God in prayer together. Held at the cave church on Cairo’s largest garbage city, the night began with confession, and continued with the gospel being proclaimed, healings happening through prayer, and one span of about 10 minutes where people merely called out the name of Jesus over and over again. Since that time, there has been an increase in conversions to Christ in Egypt at a number never before experienced in recent history.

Something happens when God’s people stand together in unity. There is power in a unified mission.

Jesus says…(read John 17:21, 23)

  • v 21 – “so that the world may believe you have sent me”
  • v 23 – “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”

Jesus says that the result – the aftereffects – of unity in His people is effectiveness for the mission and purposes of God in the world. Get this: Jesus is talking to the Father about His desire for the church to reach the world – those far from God – and His key request is for unity in the believers.

The implication here is that if we live in disunity, then we will not be effective in joining God in His purposes in the world. Our mission will be short-circuited because of unity.

Jesus Himself was the one who said, “f a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand” (Mark 3:25).

There are a couple of implications here:

  1. We cannot stand the threats of the world without unity. Jesus said, “a house divided against itself will not stand” (Matthew 12:25). If we want to endure in a culture against us then we must seek and pray for unity.
  2. If we care about the mission of God in the city and in the world, then we must both personally pray for and seek the unity of God’s people. The unity of the church and the mission of the church cannot be divorced from one another. If we think we can pursue the mission without pursuing unity, then we are deceived by the evil one.

The place where positive steps for mission – and the place where positive steps toward unity – occur best is in prayer, as Jesus models for us here in John 17.

Prayer is the pathway to unity, which strengthens the mission of the church.

[This is the fourth in a series of posts on unity through prayer from John 17, which began here.]

The Power of Proactive Prayer

Jesus-Praying-in-the-Garden Dore

There’s a common proverb that says “hindsight is 20/20.” This saying means that it’s easy to see the right thing to do after it has already happened. It also admits that it is difficult to predict the future. The reason we say this so often is that, as humans, we often understand what the right thing to do was after it’s too late.

Here are some examples of hindsight being 20/20. The worker who chose the wrong project to spend a lot of time on when another project was more important to their boss. The man who tried to go out on dates on consecutive evenings with two different women, who ended up knowing one other and talking about it. The high school student who didn’t study enough before a key test that ended up shaping their direction for college. Hindsight is 20/20. You can see clearly what you should have done in the past, but it’s harder to see clearly what to do in the future.

Unlike human beings, Jesus does not seem to suffer from this limitation. In John 17, we see Jesus taking proactive steps – doing what needs to be done ahead of time – instead of being reactive to things that are already taking place. In fact, Jesus shows us the power of proactive prayer.

Take a look at Jesus words in John 17:20 with me:

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.

John 17 is sometimes called Jesus’ high priestly prayer. This is because we find Jesus directly talking with His Father in prayer about the heart of His ministry right before going to the sacrifice upon the Cross.

He is like a high priest in the Jewish religious tradition who comes before God to bring the sacrifice on behalf of the people. For Jesus, that sacrifice is literally Himself, and His prayers are preparing the way for that glorious sacrifice.

As Jesus prays to His Father, He asks for God’s glory to be displayed through Him. This is a glory that can only come through sacrifice, which will be seen with such power and gravity at the Cross.

He also asks for God to strengthen His disciples for the trials they will face. He is asking for those immediate followers, like Peter, James, John, Mary Magdalene, and more, that they might bear up in the face great difficulties.

And He also begins to talk with God about the followers that will come through the message those disciples will speak about Him later. Now, one of the most important things we see in Jesus here is the power of proactive prayer. He is not waiting for troubles to arise or for future followers to come. He is getting ahead of that situation in prayer.

Many of us tend to be reactive in prayer. We pray for provision when our finances get tight or we lose our job. We pray for healing when we get to the hospital or experience emotional trauma. We pray for wisdom when we are already at the crossroads of decision. We respond – or react – to the situations that come. Now, this is an entirely appropriate and powerful way to pray. We see this throughout Scripture, from the early disciples’ prayers when facing arrest by the authorities to Moses’ prayer before the burning bush.

But along with this responsive prayer we need to learn from what Jesus does here in John 17. He proactively prays for things that are yet to come. This is built on the fact that Jesus had both the most realistic view of human life and the most active engagement with the divine life of any person that has ever walked the face of the earth. Jesus prays for all who will come and, in this moment, brings the future people of God – even you and me – into the Holy Presence of God. Just think about the reality that Jesus prayed for you.

I remember a time when I was on a short-term mission trip with a group of students and terrible strife broke out within the group. People were name-calling, tensions were rising, and the leaders on the trip were completely caught off-guard. Of course, we prayed in the moment and asked God to do something powerful, and He graciously righted the direction of the trip so our disunity did not distract from why we were there.

What I learned from that experience is that we should expect the threat of disunity to arise within our life as believers. It arises because of our sin, our human brokenness, our past history, and spiritual attack from the evil one. This should not surprise us.

If we want unity in our relationships – in our church – in churches around our city, nation, and world – then we must pray proactively for God to make us one, not waiting for the divisions to come upon us.

There is power in such proactive prayer. Jesus understood this and He shows us – even as He prays for us – the importance of bringing things to God ahead of time.

Prayer – particularly, here, proactive prayer – is the pathway to unity.

[This is the second in a series of posts on unity through prayer from John 17, which began here.]

The Church: An Intergenerational Family

Church Vision Series GFX_16x9 Title.pngThis past weekend at Eastbrook Church, I began a two-part reflection on the nature of the church. My working title for this series is “The Multi-Everything Church,” which is an outworking of our vision to become a Revelation 7:9-10 type of church with attention to some other aspects beyond multi-ethnicity. This weekend’s message looks at the image of the church as an intergenerational family, where we are all equally children of God by simple faith, yet also embracing the entire church, young and old, as having a place of belonging and value. I spent a bit of time talking about the problems with the frameworks of generational thinking, calling us to a deeper grasp of Jesus’ prayer for unity and call to love.

You can view the message video and sermon outline below. You can follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.

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Praying Proactively for Unity [30 Days of Prayer]

Summer of Prayer Ads_Banner“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.” (John 17:20-21)

Many of us tend to be reactive in prayer. We pray for provision when our finances get tight or we lose our job. We pray for healing when we arrive at the hospital or experience emotional trauma. We pray for wisdom when we find ourselves at the crossroads of decisions. We respond – or react – to the situations that come our way. This is an entirely appropriate and powerful way to pray. Throughout Scripture, from the early disciples’ prayers when facing arrest to Moses’ prayer before the burning bush, we see people respond to their circumstances with prayer.

But along with this reactive style of prayer we need to learn from Jesus’ approach to prayer in John 17. There, Jesus proactively prays for things that are yet to come. This forward-thinking approach to prayer arises from the fact that Jesus had both the most realistic view of human life and the most active engagement with the divine life of any person that has ever walked the face of the earth. Jesus prays for all who will come and, in this moment, brings the future people of God – even you and me – into God’s holy presence through prayer. Just pause for a moment to consider the reality that Jesus prayed for us. It is amazing.

The focus of Jesus’ prayer was unity among believers. I remember a time when I was on a short-term trip with a group of students and conflict broke out within the group. People were name-calling, tensions were rising, and the leaders on the trip were completely caught off-guard. Of course, our response in the moment was to pray and ask God to heal the rifts and bring us to unity. God did graciously answer our prayer, redirecting the team so that our disunity did not distract from our purpose for being there.

What I learned from that experience is that we should expect the threat of disunity to arise within our life and ministry as believers. Disunity descends because of our sin, human brokenness, past history, and spiritual attack from the evil one. The threat of disunity should not surprise us. Jesus knows this, and so He prays for unity before disunity even has the opportunity to exist.

If we want unity in our relationships – in our church – in churches around our city,  nation and world – then we must pray proactively for God to make us one. We should not wait for divisions to come upon us. Instead, knowing that the possibility of division is always around the corner, we should pray for unity ahead of time.

There is power in such proactive prayer. Jesus understood this and He shows us – even as He prays for us – the importance of bringing things to God ahead of time.

Lord, please make us one
as You are one.
Protect us from the divisions
that the evil one sows into our midst.
Save us from the walls we often raise up
between us and others.
We admit that divisions often come,
and have already come,
and may come in future days.
Forgive us, Lord, for the ways
we contribute to disunity.
Make us more like You:
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
  who reign in glorious, Triune unity.

[This post is part of the “30 Days of Prayer” devotional. Read other posts here.]