I recently learned that January 18-25, 2012 is noted on the PC(USA) calendar as a time for prayer for unity. In digging further, I discovered that this is not just a PC(USA) observance, nor is it just a Presbyterian observance. This is a worldwide, ecumenical effort, and in my opinion a very important one. I have long been struck by Jesus’ prayer recounted for us in the book of John. Here we see Jesus praying for all of us who follow him—not just those following him in the 1st century, but all those who would ever follow him. And what I think is particularly important about this prayer is that he tells us that our unity will be instrumental in bringing others to faith.
I don’t know if it’s a byproduct of American individualism or just human nature, but it seems to me that we have a great tendency to focus on the things that divide us, rather than the things that unite us. There’s some irony to this, because on the one hand our culture encourages homogeneity in our appearance, and we do tend to be like sheep following the fashion trends, but I think this comes more out of our need to have what we see others having, keeping up with the Joneses. On the other hand, in a culture where belief in God is still basically expected, we get caught up in differentiating ourselves from other believers in God.
We talk often about inward focus versus outward focus, and in the area of individual spiritual development, it’s important to have individual time with God to develop the inward aspects of our relationships with him so that this life with God can inform and feed our outward expressions of his will. As a church, inward focus needs to be similarly purpose driven—to feed and inform our efforts to follow Christ out into the world to tell others about him and to share his love. Everything we do needs to keep this in perspective, including our prayers for unity this week.
We have deep divisions within our denominations, and between our denominations. In some cases, even individual churches are struggling with divisions. It might seem like this prayer for unity is the unanswerable impossible request. But God promises to hear our prayer (John 16:24 et al). And indeed with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible (Matt 19:26 et al). So I hope that you will join me in praying for unity, and not just for this week, but always.
May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 15:5-6