Praying Our Way Forward
May 18, 2018
By Evelyn Lemons
A few nights ago, I was sitting with my husband at a local restaurant and we were just finishing our meal. He asked me if I was ready to go, but he did not seem to be in any hurry. So I told him, "Yes, let's go now and I will tell you why in a minute." So he paid and we walked outside. Rather than continuing a pleasant conversation at the table, as usual, I had nudged him to move our conversation outside. Why? The couple in the booth next to us looked like they were heading into a fight. Not a physical fight, but a verbal, cold battle. A man and woman were exchanging bitter remarks, cold body language, and from what I had heard in a few minutes, they may have been at the point of breaking up. All that was very quietly going on behind my husband's back where he could not see what was happening, nor hear what was being said. I could both see and hear, and it was mean and ugly, and very quietly being exchanged like verbal ice. I did not want to watch a couple fight as I was enjoying the very few moments of precious time I get to spend with my husband over a nice meal. So we left to go home and have peace the rest of the day.
I share this story because I have been thinking these days a lot about people fighting and about peace. I am not in the middle of a fight, but I see unrest in the world around me and that turmoil pushes me to the scripture to look for my role in the peace making. I have been studying John 17:20-21 and I want to include it now: "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." These verses remind us that Christ himself prays for his followers. That means Jesus is praying for his church. The knowledge that Jesus is praying for me is strengthening and comforting. It renews my hope for a better day to come tomorrow. The sweet unity that Jesus asks for his disciples to experience I believe to be two fold. The message was aimed at the first disciples, but this message has been aimed for all disciples who have come to faith in Christ after hearing the good news from the very beginning of the life of the church. Jesus is praying for a closeness between his followers and our Heavenly Father like he experienced the closeness of the very real presence of God with him daily.
The sad truth about the life of the church today is that the one thing that is one of the best things about being a Christian is to have a close fellowship with God daily and peace with God in our heart, and hope for a future forever with Christ both on the earth and in heaven seems to get very little press. This is the good news. This is the life changing, life saving, addiction healing, cancer stomping, power of God made available to each of us through Jesus Christ every day. The Holy Spirit fills our heart with love and peace and gives us the opportunity every new day to live close to our living God. Rather than putting this at the top of the page and on the front cover story, we have let other news take the lead. I opened with a sad story about a couple that may have been on the verge of breaking up. As we read that story it seems so familiar. It is not a huge leap for us to be able to imagine some kind of unpleasant conversation we have heard recently. Maybe even at church, or about church.
Today I share with you a picture of unity that is posted above this story. I don't have the answer to every problem, for every church, or for our denomination. I do have a picture to share with you that I do believe falls in line with the scripture today. When the church can stand shoulder to should to pray for the needs of the church and community like the children pictured here from our worship service last Sunday, we give a strong witness to our world that we are at peace and the Lord's business is most important to us. Whatever is the running story at your church, or within our denomination, our challenge is to hold that narrative up to the light of Christ's call from the scripture to be one so the world will know Christ. Souls are on the line. What must we do to become one so the world will truly see the Christ was sent for our salvation and for the salvation of all who will believe in him? We are starting by living into God's call to be a praying church. Just as I was quick to move on out of the restaurant to not be in the middle of a fight over supper, just think about people who do not yet believe in Christ. Our unity as a church is essential to our effective witness to draw people to Christ. Pray God will restore unity, peace, and passion to fuel the effective witness of every church to lead yet one more soul to Jesus Christ. Pray for God's hedge of protection around the unity of the witness of your church. We submit to the authority of scripture as God's holy word. We truly believe that Christ is praying for us daily. Where there is peace, there is power in our witness.
Rev. Dr. Evelyn Lemons is the pastor of Chestnut Grove UMC in King, NC