Unity Matters

by Ellen Foell, International Program SpecialistUnityMatters
Heartbeat International

If there is one word to describe the world today it might be divided. Actually, we might even be divided about that! Some people might use the words fractured, broken, or disintegrating. The reality is, we see evidence of division all around us, politically, racially, nationally, even within individuals.

None of that sounds like good news.

But in the midst of the bad news, and the division, we see good news.

The night before Jesus was betrayed, he had a meal and a very long conversation with the disciples. The meal was familiar and traditional, a Passover meal. A meal that each of the disciples had eaten many times in their lives, filled with history, song, and prayer.

But the conversation was not so familiar. Jesus did things that disrupted the evening with hard sayings about leaving, about vines and branches, betrayal. He even said one of the friends sitting at the Passover meal would betray him. He washed everyone’s feet which shocked them and then said they would learn to wash one another’s feet as well.  

In the middle of that last conversation and meal Jesus shared with his disciples, he stopped to enter into a conversation with the Father. He did not preface the interruption with “everyone please bow your heads.” No dramatic pause for effect. He simply started praying to the Father as if the Father was a participant in the rest of the conversation, had been there all along. And, of course, He was. But the prayer Jesus prayed was not the overthrow of the Roman oppressors, nor was it for the disciples’ prosperity, or for methods to spread the message.

His prayer was pointed and focused: the unity of the disciples, both the ones present in the room, and the ones who would one day also believe because of the message carried by the ones in the room. He asked the Father, in the presence of the disciples:

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 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. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—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. (John 17:20-23)

This was the last major discourse with the disciples, and the last major prayer time between the Father and the Son to which they would be witnesses. Because, as we know, they slept through the next prayer time on the Mount of Olives. In this little passage, the disciples overheard Jesus talk to the Father about the who, what, how, and why of unity. We need to pay attention to the matters of unity because unity matters.

The Who

When Jesus talked to the Father about unity for the disciples, he was inclusive. He prayed beyond the eleven disciples present in the room (Judas had already left). It was a prayer for those who would believe in Jesus through the testimony and witness of the ones in the room. And any single one of us reading this as well as the billions who follow Jesus around the world, are part of the “those who will believe in me through their message.” Jesus’ prayer to the Father reached down through generations and across the globe. He prayed across time and space.

The What

Jesus interceded to the Father that all of them, all of us may be one: “Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” He wanted more than all of us being in the same room, more than gathering around the worldwide campfire and singing the same song. He prayed for oneness.

Oneness goes beyond togetherness, friendship, partnership, or collaboration.  Oneness carries with it the same meaning as used in marriage-that the two become one. Total intimacy of two still distinct individuals. As the Father and the Son and Spirit are one, Jesus asked God to make us, as Jesus followers, one, in the same way that the Father and the Son are one. The concept is already beyond our human comprehension, so he gave us an example of oneness and intimacy in relationship: just as you are in me and I am in you.

The Father and Son are so united that Jesus told Philip, “if you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” Jesus wanted for us the unity the Son and the Father enjoy. That seems like an impossibility. How can we, as flawed human beings, from different races, ethnicities, geopolitical borders, with individual interests, needs, levels of income and desires enter into that kind of oneness?

The How

How on earth could Jesus pray for the impossible? As he said in another time to the disciples, with men and women, in the flesh, this is impossible, but all things are possible with God (MT 19:26). We cannot strive for unity as the world strives for it. Our unity is in the Father, Son and Spirit. Jesus asked the Father, “may they also be in us.” Our unity as Christians, and by extension, as the pregnancy help movement, must be found in, and founded in, the way of Jesus.

Thousands of years earlier, there was another great movement toward unity. It was a monumental effort of the entire world that was united by speech. In Genesis 11, people came together as one and determined to build a name for themselves by building a tower that reached to heaven. The effort failed because of pride and arrogance against God. But in that same passage we see that there is no limit to what could happen if people are united.

The problem was not that the people were united with one another. The problem was that the people were not united with God. Their unity was for the purpose of being like God (sounds like the Garden all over again).

The Why

Unity is not the end goal. Unity with the triune God has a beauty, joy and wonder all its own. But unity also has a purpose. “Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” We work for unity so that the whole rest of the world will know that the Father sent the Son out of love. It is so that all those generations since the eleven in the room with Jesus would know the lifesaving truth that Christ came into the world for sinners, to restore relationship, and for unity with the Father, even as the Father and the Son are one.

Psalm 131 says that where the brothers dwell together in unity, it is good and pleasant. Even more than that, God commands a blessing (Psalm 131:1-4). I have four children and honestly, when I see our children getting along, dwelling together in unity, I want to bless them because their unity blesses me. We want to bless our heavenly Father with our unity in the same way.

The pregnancy help movement is spread across the globe. Heartbeat International is currently serving affiliates in 90 nations. We do so in partnership and collaboration with nine different networks. Yet, approximately 30% of Heartbeat's international affiliates are not in networks. They labor sometimes as the only pregnancy help center in the nation. Some centers may be the only place for a woman in an unexpected pregnancy in a radius encompassing 2 or 3 or 4 million people.

Each center looks different. The languages are different. Some centers are urban, some rural, some are Catholic, some evangelical, some Orthodox. Pregnancy help centers hold out the word of life in peace and in war, in famine and in feasting, in sickness, through the pandemic, and in health. We are united with one another, and with the triune God.

Unity is hard. The culture of individualism and personal rights can stand against unity. Our “me” gets in the way of “we.” But if we can pray toward, work toward, and move toward unity, as the pregnancy help movement, the world will know, even as it sees us as a movement, that the Father sent the Son, that the Father loves them, even as He loves the Son. And then, the world might believe.