I’ve always been an idealist. As a child, I was told I would grow out of it, but as it turns out, that wasn’t the case (at least not yet). Recently, I took the StrengthsFinder assessment from Gallup, and the results only confirm that orientation… “strategic”, “ideation”, “futurist”… No wonder I get discontent easily. My heart is always longing for things to be better, to be the best they can be.
Even so, like everyone else, my senses can be dulled and my vision of the ideal can be diluted. It’s kind of like how a pitcher in baseball will intentionally throw balls that are high for the batter, just to change the batter’s line of sight. That way, the pitcher can throw a pitch that’s lower in the strike zone to the hitter and the hitter will think it’s too low to hit. The hitter’s perspective on the strike zone has changed and he or she cannot clearly discern when a pitch is a strike or a ball.
This happens to me on a regular basis. Life throws me some high heat and I lose sight of the strike zone. When disappointments come my way consistently enough, if I am not vigilant, I will lose focus on the ideal or the goal. I think this happens to all of us from time to time. When it does, we are in need of calibration. We need our vision reset to the standard. My hope is, as you read this, our vision will become more aligned with Jesus’ vision.
On the night before Jesus was executed, he shared a meal with his disciples. In that context, he prayed for them and for all the disciples who would come after them. Now, before I mention any more about that prayer, let’s be reminded of the context. Jesus is in the middle of a very intense week. He entered Jerusalem to the praise of people who wanted him to be their political liberator and leader, people who would soon be disappointed. He wept over the fickle hearts of those people. He violently confronted the ethnocentric money-changing and animal sales practices in the Temple. More importantly, he knew where the week was taking him. He was about to be betrayed, humiliated, tortured, and executed.
It’s in the context of all these significant and emotive events, surrounded by his closest followers, that Jesus prays about a variety of things. But there is one element of his prayer I specifically want to hone in on in this moment. These words are recorded in the Gospel of John:
I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me… May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.
“I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one…” Church friends, let’s let that sink in for just a moment. Theologians and pastors will tell you that Jesus and his Father have lived eternally in perfect harmony with each other. Jesus’ words and actions, as described in the Gospels, bolster that claim. He was always about his Father’s business, seeking do only his Father’s will, speaking only what he heard from His Father. That relationship is typified by oneness.
In this moment, as Jesus is looking forward to the cross, one of the most urgent issues on his heart is unity in his church. He longs for his followers to be one, to love each other so fiercely that we would lay down our lives for each other. He longs for us to experience real harmony. And why? Based on my understanding of Jesus, I am sure at least part of that longing is based purely on his love for us. He wants us to experience real deep connection with each other as he has experienced such with his Father. In and of itself, such a connection is rewarding and a worthy end. However, there is another compelling reason: “May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me…”
“…that the world will know…” Jesus regards unity among his people as such a big deal that the world will take notice. In fact, such unity would be convincing evidence of who Jesus is to an unbelieving world. It doesn’t take much consideration to recognize why unity within the church would be such a powerful force of conviction. It’s all about those fickle hearts of ours.
Human beings will divide over anything… political persuasion, border walls, ethnic background, denominational background, gender, sports team allegiances… this list could go on and on. It’s not that we shouldn’t be able to disagree with one another. Certainly, diversity of opinion on non-essential things is good, and frankly, almost everything is non-essential. It’s not about that, it’s about letting our disagreements divide us. It’s about letting such things create “us vs. them” dynamics. Our selfish natures and fickle hearts lead us that way on a regular basis, to our shame.
I think this is why Jesus prays for unity. He knows that “perfect unity” in his church would be unique and miraculous, dare I say even holy. It would be set apart from anything the world has ever experienced. As such, this kind of oneness would be an incredible testimony of who Jesus is to those who don’t yet trust him.
In recent weeks and months, I’ve been considering these things quite a bit. I’ve come to a conclusion, one based on my own very limited human understanding, but I believe it is valid nonetheless. Here it is: Perhaps the largest barrier to people coming to Jesus is the lack of unity in the church. Ouch. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…” and yet our lack of oneness hinders the world from experiencing that love. And when it comes right down to it, we don’t have unity because we don’t really love each other very well, at least not enough to disagree without separating from each other. Just like the rest of our human compadres, we divide over any and every little thing that comes between us.
Yes, this is heavy, friends. I’m sorry… It’s heavy for me personally, because the truth is I’m part of the problem. I have let non-essential things come between me and my brothers and sisters. And I believe the reason I’ve done this is because I’ve lost sight of the strike zone. I’ve seen (and contributed to) so many dividing curveballs and sliders over the years that a fastball right down the middle is out of my scope. I haven’t seen things clearly and I’ve lost sight of Jesus’ vision for his people. I need calibration. We need calibration.
My hope for you and me, today, is that we will join with Jesus in his prayer from the night he was betrayed. Let us pray for unity along with him. May we go humbly before the Father and plead with him that we may experience the oneness he experiences with Jesus. And once we have said our “Amen”, let us then become that “Amen”. Let us live out the vision Jesus casted for real unity in his church. Let us learn how to disagree well, and love each other fiercely and self-sacrificially, honoring the One who sacrificed himself for us.