About four years ago, Casey and I embarked on the incredible adventure of orphan advocacy. We joined a team of believers from across the US to raise funds and advocate for the Lifesong schools in Ethiopia. Being a part of this group has been one of the greatest blessings of my life. I LOVE these people. But, yeah, it’s a little weird. Like I said, we live all over the country . . . Arkansas, California, Indiana, Oregon, Illinois, Missouri . . . and we usually only see each other once or twice a year. But I would fly anywhere in the world to meet up with these people (and I just about have), and I would pour my heart out to them on any issue (and I probably have). These folks are MY people because we have the same heart.
I didn’t even think about it until we had been working with this group for a year or two, but we’re a pretty diverse group of Christians. We span a couple generations, our home churches look very different from one another, our families have grown in different ways, we have very different backgrounds and experiences, and our political views are all over the map. But those things seem trivial to me because those differences have so little to do with our goals. We all love Jesus, we all love Ethiopia, and we all love serving those sweet kids in Ziway and Adami Tulu. And those three goals give us what we need to work together and overcome whatever differences may arise. And sometimes a conversation about our different views may occur, and we discuss it with interest and passion, but then we set it aside and get back to work.
I mention all of this because I’ve been thinking about unity in the body of Christ over the last few days. What does it mean? What does it really look like?
I think almost all believers would agree that it is vital, especially since Jesus’ final prayer before he was arrested was that we would be unified. Unity is mentioned in almost every book of the New Testament. It’s important. In Ephesians 4, Paul reminds us to make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit.
It’s pretty clear that our effectiveness in the kingdom will be severely diminished if we can’t achieve unity. We’ve got some work to do, and we can’t do that unless we can work together.
It would be easiest to feel unified if we all agreed on everything, or at least pretended to agree on everything, but I don’t think that is real unity. In fact, that sounds more like conformity to me.
Unity doesn’t mean that we agree on every issue. It also doesn’t mean that we don’t discuss those issues that we disagree on, though it might sometimes mean that.
I think real unity means that we acknowledge that loving each other is more important than agreeing, that treating each other with brotherly kindness and compassion is more important than persuasion. Real unity means that I acknowledge there’s a good chance that you’re right and I’m wrong. It means that I see you as a beloved child of our Father, created in the image of God. I think it also means that when we are offended or hurt by a brother or sister, we approach it in the spirit of Matthew 18, with humility and gentleness and the goal of restoration. It means we do the hard work of communicating honestly and openly. I believe it means we assume the best about our brother or sister, rather than jumping to conclusions. And it means we extend grace, even when we are hurt.
These things aren’t easy. And I haven’t always done them right.
There are some of us who like to dig into hard topics, analyze the specifics, and hammer out our views with others (I come by that genetically). But there are others who are severely distressed by any kind of debate or disagreement. We must be gracious to both of these persuasions.
All of these thoughts have been running through my head as I’ve been trying to spend this Lenten season by praying the hours. I came across this prayer that fits in so perfectly with the issue of unity. I especially love the first line.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not
so much seek to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
When I feel offended or misunderstood, I quickly jump to defensiveness and judgment. But those things don’t build up; they only further destroy. I’m going to make an effort to seek to understand before I’m understood and to love even when I don’t feel loved.
If you’re struggling with feeling unified with your brothers and sisters, will you join me in praying this over the next few weeks?
Here’s another great post about grace and unity: Jen Hatmaker, A Bar and a Pole