Summary: Using John 17:20-23 as a starting point, this message presents practical steps to building unity via the powerful work of prayer.
The Place of Prayer in Unity
Pastor Eric J. Hanson
February 19, 2006
Read John 17:20-23
Unity in the Church, wholeness within the Body of Christ, cannot by emphasized enough as a foundational essential within the Kingdom of God. When Jesus Christ prayed about this matter, just before being arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, he connected genuine God-given unity among his followers with their effectiveness. He prayed that God the Father would grant us unity so that the World would believe that the Father sent Jesus.
When the Church is not in unity; when believers harbor unforgiveness & bad attitudes toward each other, the spread of the Kingdom of God is held back. On the other hand, when we are one in Him in our attitudes, words, and willingness to constructively work through tough issues which arise with people in the church, the Kingdom of God can advance both in us and through us to others.
The supreme importance that prayer has in the matter of unity also cannot be overemphasized. By means of prayer, by genuine two way communication with God, hard hearts can be softened up, barriers removed, relational closeness forged, and great power unleashed. Let’s look now at levels of unity in prayer.
Unity and Prayer in Family and Small Groups
Read Matthew 18:19-20
As for the prayer of agreement, much has been written and taught about this through the years. Some have claimed this promise to be an open ended blank check for the purpose of becoming wealthy. But note that the whole context this verse appears in is conflict resolution and restoring unity that has been lost. Verses 15-17 outlines the famous Matthew 18 process for dealing with a sinning believer. Verse 18 is also intimately connected to that process. The remainder of the chapter, all the way to verse 35, is about the essential nature of forgiveness toward others. This chapter ends with one of the sternest warnings in the entire Bible. “This is how my Heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”
Earlier, in Matthew Chapter 5, Jesus had warned his listeners that anger toward brothers, and denouncing them, calling them fools, is serious to the point of danger of Hell. Remember, Psalm 14 tells us that a fool is one who has said in his heart, “There is no God”. That is a fool. No brother in Christ, no believer is a fool. Jesus said to leave your gift at the altar and go make things right with your brother, then come back and offer your gift. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, the model prayer has gave them and us, included the potent sentence; “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Over and over, these two actions, God forgiving us, and us forgiving others, are tied together.
If we allow our hearts to be hard against brothers and sisters in Christ, we cut ourselves off from our Heavenly Father and He cannot honor our prayers. Only by going to the Cross and dying to self will as often as needed, can we win this battle to have a tender and forgiving heart, while also hating sin and not sweeping it under the rug, but confronting it redemptively with love for the person caught up in it.
Not only must we be forgiving toward others who have brought offence against us, but we must also live so as not to harm others. I Peter 3:7 is right to the point on this. (Read now.) If we men wound our wives, our prayers will be hindered. Period! For all family members, consider the following from Colossians Chapter 3. (Read verses 18-25.) When we do not obey these directives, we inevitably bring conflict and hurt. When we do live in line with these directives, we bring peace and agreement into situations.
These interpersonal dynamics are keys for those who are followers of the Lord to be effective in prayer. These are keys to being able to truly pray in agreement at the family dinner table, in the marriage bedroom, in the Home Fellowship, or in the prayer meeting. These are keys to prayers being effective, to the prayer of agreement even being possible. These are keys to reinforcing of praying together, because results are happening, and there is a new excitement to our prayer times.
Unity & Private, Personal Prayer
These same dynamics are also keys to effective personal prayer when it’s just you and God. If you are harboring hardness and unforgiveness; if you are hurting others, you simply will not have a robust private prayer life. Why is this? It is because your prayers will be ineffective and you will sense it. The Spirit of God will not carry you along in prayer and you will know it. Your private prayer life will just dry up if you let these things remain in you.