He Prayed For Us: Engage Church 5th Anniversary
There they were sitting in a small group having the weirdest, strangest, best night that they had ever shared. It was a meal, a ceremony, and a service all rolled into one. They experienced worship and laughter and wine. Then He led them in prayer. He prayed for them to know his Father, and to receive life through that knowledge. He confirmed that He had held up His end of the bargain and that he was ready for the next phase. He asked God to watch over them and to strengthen them and protect them with Truth. He prayed for them to stick together and be one. Then He did something amazing. He prayed for us. Today. He prayed that we would be one and that we would have unity.
His prayer for us held a promise as well as a plea, “… that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”
Of course, I’m referring to Jesus praying for His disciples in John 17, and then praying for us who would come after them to receive the same promise and the same plea that He prayed that night. What does it mean to have unity? What does it mean to be one? What is this promise?
Jesus pleas to His Father, “Help them be one.” I believe He prayed because He knew how hard it would be to overcome our broken past and our broken behavior. He knew the challenge of laying down our lives for each other despite our differences. He wanted us to accomplish this unity. It was Jesus’ will that we should be one.
Well, how are we doing? Dr. King, nearly 60 years ago, said, “… eleven o’clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in Christian America.” Studies by Christianity Today, Gallop, Lifeway, and other Christ-centered organizations confirm that this is still the case – over a half-century later. How are we one as Christ prayed for us? Why is this division still the modus operandi of the church? For a clue, we can look even to Doctor King himself, as he said later in the same interview on Meet the Press, “We would welcome anyone at our church.” The notion of ‘welcome’ does not communicate intent in our unity, or want in our diversity. If we are to become one as Christ prayed for us, it will not happen by waiting for oneness to come to us. We must pray for repentance in our practices and also in the secret places of our hearts. Then, we must seek out opportunities to embrace diverse cultures and ethnicities. When we seek out those who do not look like us, speak like us, or come from the same background as we do, we must also be willing to share power and prestige with those who will use it for the glory of God. After all, glory is where Jesus began His prayer.
If we desire to reach the lost, then we must embrace diverse unity – that is the essence of being one. Then, we can return to the idea of the promise in Jesus’ prayer. “If they (we) will be one the world will know that You have sent Me and that You have loved them.” For us at Engage Church in Memphis, planting a diverse church is part of fulfilling the calling that all church planters feel on our lives.
Matt 28:19-20: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
If we want people to know that Jesus was sent here by God and that He loves them, this is part of the process. We are to love all of His created children as He loves them and communicate the gospel to them. We do not have to be divided by our differences (the witnesses in Revelation seven sing in one voice but with many tongues!) We should reflect these heavenly truths in the Kingdom here on earth. It would do us some great good to remember that the things which divide us are not stronger than the things which unite us – namely, the sacrifice of Christ and the Holy Spirit living in all of us.
Then and only then will we live out the ‘Dream’ of Doctor King, and the prayer and plea of our Lord.
With a heart for people, Michael Wilkerson (lead pastor and planter of Engage Church) makes everyone he meets feel welcome. He is genuinely interested in people, and his heart for them is as big as his frame (6’6” and 200+). Engage is celebrating its 5th birthday in 2019! Congratulations, Engage!