Can Jesus’ Prayer in John 17 Help Us?
by Barry Shafer
July 21st, 2016
What was the unity for which Jesus was praying in John 17 and can it help today? If we believers could get our unity act together in our little world, could we change our bigger world? The thing is, would we know what Jesus-grade unity is if we saw it?
We tend to focus on human-grade unity when seeking to live the unity prayed for by Jesus. This sets us on a path to unify our differences in areas such as race, worship style, biblical interpretations, theological differences and so forth. These are noble pursuits, but Jesus-grade is far deeper than anything we see on the surface. And far better. Jesus defined unity as being one as the Father is in Jesus and Jesus is in the Father. If you are in Christ and I am in Christ, there’s nothing greater you and I could have in common – not even if we’re blood relatives! What’s more, anything beyond “in Christ” – be it differences or other things we hold in common – is nonessential.
When this depth of unity is experienced it is naturally attractive. When Jesus said, “that the world may believe that you have sent me” He was saying to His disciples, “the world will want what you have.” That sounds like world-wide spiritual awakening.
Maybe you’ve heard it said that the church on Sunday is the most segregated institution in America. On paper, that may be true. But it doesn’t mean we don’t like each other. It mostly means we have worship differences—a shallow difference in comparison to the unity we have in Christ.
In the words that Jesus prayed,
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 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. (John 17:20-21, NIV)
But what can we do? How can we tap into deep John 17 unity?
First a few things we need to quit doing:
- Sanctifying our preferences:
A great percentage of differences from one church to the next is simply style. We gravitate toward a style that we prefer. However, the rub comes when we sanctify our style preferences. We manufacture a holy reason as to why hymns are better than choruses, why guitar is better than organ, or a coffee bar is better than a rack of tracks. Ask the question, “What would God prefer?” This question will help you see the difference between a personal preference you have sanctified and an actual precept that God has sanctified.
2. Seeing OUR church as the one to save the city:
We tend to see our local church as “one stop shopping” for all things spiritual. But God expects diversity in our unity, as evidenced in teaching on spiritual gifts and the concept of the Trinity used in John 17. What if we saw all the churches in our city as members of the body of Christ with each church contributing its own giftedness? If you were to survey the needs and hurts of your community and compare those with the strengths of churches in your community, you’d likely see an uncanny parallel between the needs and the ministry resources available to meet those needs. So why not match them up? It seems that an effort like this would give a city, or a county, or a township an opportunity to see why we have so many different churches. The world would finally have a positive answer to the question, “Why are there so many different denominations?”
3. Getting trapped by our epiphanies and mountain tops:
The downside of spiritual highs or “Oh Wow!” epiphanies is that we tend to shellac them and expect others to copy what we did to achieve our “Oh Wow!” results. I’m guilty of this with Bible study (“How can God speak to you if you’re not marking and highlighting and making lists?!”) And if, for whatever reason, someone doesn’t adopt our process, we judge. Or pigeon hole. Or dismiss. None of those reactions is a step in the right direction toward Jesus-grade unity.
These three points may seem a long way from the issues related to an African-American gunning down white police officers in Dallas. But there is obviously world-wide impact that results from believers being one as the Father is in Jesus and Jesus is in the Father. When the world believes “that you have sent me,” in the words of Jesus spoken to the Father, the world is acknowledging that God sent His Son to the whole world, that whoever believes—no matter which race, worship preference, theological bend—will have eternal life.
So, instead of seeing each other through differences that are noticed on this side of eternity, maybe we can see each other as fellow sojourners on our way to eternal life. That’s a destination we can all agree is a worthy reward.
Download a free small-group session on John 17 here. This post originally appeared here and is shared with the author's permission.
Barry Shafer has been communicating the truth of God’s Word since 1984 as a volunteer youth leader, youth pastor, pastor, author and speaker. Barry, with his late wife Dana, founded InWord Resources in 1996 to strengthen youth ministry with discipleship materials and experiences that meaningfully engage teens in Scripture. Barry is author of Unleashing God’s Word in Youth Ministry (Youth Specialties/Zondervan) and has written numerous teen devotionals and small-group Bible studies.
Barry holds a mass communications degree from Anderson University (Anderson, Ind.) and a master’s degree in biblical studies from Cincinnati Bible Seminary (Cincinnati, Ohio). He lives in Middletown, Ohio with his infant son Reade and his wife Jessica, who happens to be a Grammy-winning opera soprano. If you’re curious about that fascinating world you can check out Jessica’s website here! [LINK: www.jessicarivera.com]
When Barry’s not studying, writing, being a diva spouse, or “daddy-ing” Reade, you can find him reading on the porch, biking on a trail, pulling for the Packers, or playing a little golf.
More of Barry Shafer: www.inword.org