Have you ever had a prayer go unanswered?
That is with a “yes” answer, as you trusted would happen?
If not, did you question your own faith? Doubt your own trust? Wonder how much God really loved you after all?
Perhaps every pastor out there has heard some variation of “if God had really loved me, then _______” and/or “if I only would've had more faith, then _______.” It’s one of the most common laments of any skeptic. Maybe you’re one of them. Maybe you’re thinking that divine love and human faith intersect at the point of answered prayer.
If so, I’d say you’re waiting at the wrong intersection, and I’m about to explain why.
Take a look at these words from what the gospelist named John heard as being the prayer of Jesus in the last days of his own earthly life. It was a prayer of intercession; that is, for someone else other than himself. Kind of like those we’ve all prayed for others that didn’t gain healing or stay alive, stay married, employed, or any number of other heartfelt and faithful requests.
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. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—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.”
I see no evidence that we who followed those original disciples (“those who will believe in me through their message”) have led the world to believe Christ was one with God by being one with each other and “brought to complete unity.” Unless I’m missing something, this is a prayer that has waited a couple millennia to get a “yes” answer. Far as I can tell, the answer is more of a “no” today than at any time in the history of Christian discipleship. We who claim to be disciples of Jesus today have never been less united, or at-one-ed; EVER!
Why do you suppose this prayer of Jesus was or still is unanswered?
Jesus lacked faith? Didn’t trust God quite enough? God didn’t love him all that much after all?
Or might the answer be found in the three verses leading up to those printed above from John 17:20-23? Take a look and see what you think:
15 “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by[d] the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.”
The Greek word for “word” itself used by John is “logos.” And this word was not a book but a person: Jesus himself was the “logos.” God’s word of truth. And in John’s 8th chapter, we read these words by the “logos” of God himself, 31 Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. 32 And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Obviously, not everyone believed in Jesus when he spoke these words nor many of his other teachings, least of all the religious authorities who already laid claim to their own truth.
There have always been different versions of truth in our world. We see this in our own world, our own church, our own nation, our own family or our own home. We see how un-united our United States are, and in my own case even our United Methodists are. We aren’t “one” because we don’t believe the same “truths.” We don’t deny the same “lies.”
Soon we will enter into a “season” of Christian faith that some, not all, Christians call the season of Lent. Then we prepare ourselves for the task of letting go of the lie that death itself brings, which is that it ends life and separates some of us from God. And the task of holding on to the truth of eternal life that Christ teaches us by example upon Easter Sunday’s resurrection.
So will this be the year?
Will 2021 be when Jesus finally gets his prayer for our unity answered?
Well, how about a “maybe” for this one? As in “maybe so if we can first be sanctified as those who follow the teachings of God’s ‘logos,’” who is Jesus, and let go of the world’s “truths” in order to hold on to God’s own. Maybe if we give up believing the lies of the world and hold on to the truth as taught, by word and deed, by Jesus.
Oh, we may give up all sorts of symbolic things in this Lenten season, some large and others small. Some for six weeks and some for six hours. But for us to lead the world to Jesus, we’ll have to be united in giving up the lies of this world that contradict the truth of God as revealed in Jesus the “logos.” For Jesus alone is the “way, the truth, and the life” we all will have as one when we are “united” in heaven. For it is there that the prayer of Jesus will………you guessed it…….. be answered with God’s ultimate and final “yes.”