Praying for Unity and Acting for Unity

by Myron Heckman on May 15, 2018

Praying for Unity and Acting for Unity
 By Pastor Myron Heckman
 The story of Nehemiah begins with a man weeping over the condition of Jerusalem, especially represented in its broken down walls. The broken down walls meant the enemies of the city could steal or destroy anything the residents created or built. The result was a lifeless city in spiritual malaise.  The exiled Nehemiah mourned deeply when he heard the reproach that had fallen on his beloved city.
Our Glory of God on Cape Cod movement has drawn parallels between broken ancient Jerusalem and the Church today. A major way the walls of the church have been broken down is by a wrecking ball called division. It is swung by Satan and it hangs from the crane of pride. It happens with splits or splinters in congregations, or by interpersonal acrimony. It grieves the Spirit (Eph 4:30) and we can understand why – the same Spirit is in Christian A and Christian B, who are bitter toward each other.  The Holy Spirit baptized them into one body, and Christ died to break down walls of hostility in Himself, but there is a rift in His body.
Divisions take place between pastors and congregations, between church ministry team members, in families, between friends. They occur between pastors of different churches, or on the same staff. One of the agonies of the Christian life is to go into a sanctuary of worship where the tension is so thick it can be cut with a knife. The broken down walls allow our spiritual enemies - the world , the flesh, and the devil  - to come in and trample down precious things. And most devastating of all, the glory of God intended to be displayed in reconciled relationships is disfigured.
When I have preached on forgiveness and later converse with people struggling with the issue I find that almost every person’s situation is very complicated. Betrayal, family entanglements, money issues, harsh words, lies, or an absolute lack of trust can be caught together in a steel-jaw trap that won’t let go. Efforts at reconciliation go nowhere, or make the situation worse.  And so for many resolving the situation seems impossible. And from a human standpoint it is impossible. But it is an opportunity for God to work and show His glory.
Some time ago I was privileged to be part of a meeting as a witness and objective reflector for two colleagues in ministry (off-Cape). One is in front line ministry, the other a supervisor, and there was tension and distrust between them. The front line minister was angry, and his emotions were showing. A half-hour into the meeting it looked as though there would be no reconciliation. About 50 minutes into the meeting there was a turning point. The problem that manifested itself in anger was actually hurt, a feeling of neglect. From there on the rest of meeting moved toward reconciliation. It ended with joy.
What can you do?

1)     Pray for the unity Christ has provided to be displayed in the Church. In your church.
We need the broken down walls to be rebuilt to give spiritual strength and protection that Life might flourish among us. Be a “warrior for unity” meaning you are willing to endure suffering and to be strong and courageous about it.

2)      Examine yourself – do have wounds that still “bleed” and steal your joy? Do you carry any grudges you have gotten used to? In a time with the Lord, clear your heart of any bitterness, however small it may seem. If you have returned evil for evil, repent of that. Own anything you have done to contribute the situation, not waiting for the other person to reciprocate.

3)     Do what you can to attempt reconciling any broken relationship. Not all will be healed. Not all opponents will respond positively, and some might be nasty. But Paul wrote:  “As far as possible, as much as lies within you, live at peace with all men.” Sometimes it is a simple request: “We’ve got tension between us. Can we talk about it?” Or, “I think there may be some misunderstanding between us. I value our friendship and I’d like to clear it up.” Start with a first step.

4)     Some offenses can be overlooked – we bear with one another in love (Eph 4:2).  Other offenses, more serious or done repeatedly, need to be discussed starting with a private conversation.
(In abusive situations, a third party may be needed from the beginning. For alleged crimes, it is legitimate to call in authorities. For civil suits between Christians, rather than a lawsuit, submitting to a group of mature leaders for mediation or arbitration is God’s way – I Cor. 6:1-7).

5)     Some situations call for church discipline which means the leaders need to be involved and make a decision. In that case they need a congregation that believes in biblical discipline.

6)     One common block to forgiveness is a fear of being hurt again. That can be a very legitimate fear.  Forgiveness doesn’t mean you automatically restore trust and thus become a doormat to be trampled on again and again. But forgiveness does mean you will let go of a desire for vengeance, that you will no longer dwell on the offense, and you will no longer talk to others about it.

7)     The greatest joy is in a fully restored, trusting relationship where love is freely enjoyed. It is a benefit of having been forgiven by Christ that we might forgive in return. Christ’s grace shown to you is the motivation for you to show grace to others (Eph. 4:32).
An excellent book to read with many practical helps is “The Peace Maker” by Ken Sande. He recounts many stories of conflict and how they were resolved with godly principals, and stories where reconciliation didn’t happen, but was obediently attempted.  If you feel stuck in a conflict the book is well worth the price and a few hours of reading. You may feel like you are reading about your situation.
The good news is that God can redeem a bitter situation by healing it and bring new life from it – humility, harmony, joy, and new life in a congregation.  In the 1970s there was a revival that touched North America. Many churches had extended services as people testified to God’s work, confessed sin and set new priorities.  An early center of the revival was in Western Canada and then the awakening spread down to the United States, and touched Cape Cod as well.  One of the sparks of that revival occurred in the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, in 1971, with reconciled relationships. Oliver Price writes about it:

“Irma Derksen was one of the pillars of the church along with her husband, Sam, who was a deacon. She had been praying for her church, her city and her country while ignoring her own spiritually barren condition. He had a critical spirit. There were people in the church she didn't like. Furthermore, she wouldn't even speak to Sam's brother, Arnold, who was also a deacon. On that second night Irma went to the altar where she faced up to the deadly sins that were destroying her own inner life.
That night, Irma accepted the fact that Christ had died for her self-life. By faith, she claimed the power of the Holy Spirit. She left the altar radiant with joy. Rather than waiting for others to apologize to her, she went to them and asked their forgiveness. For her the Christian life was, as some say, a "whole new ballgame." (Lutzer, p.27)
Sam was not moved by his wife's decision. He had begun to doubt whether God ever answered prayer. His thirteen year old feud with Arnold was so bitter that for two years they had not even spoken to one another. They were split apart over the music program of the church. Sam had lost all hope of being reconciled to Arnold.
However, one night Arnold went to the basement with the pastor and another deacon. Sam was invited to join them and he asked his brother to forgive him. "Well, it's about time," Arnold snapped. However, God broke Arnold's arrogant spirit after the pastor and the deacon prayed. He confessed his sins and cried with a broken heart.
The brothers hugged each other as they both wept and asked for forgiveness. They returned to their waiting families who immediately shared the unity and love the brothers now possessed.
Pastor McLeod saw the inner life of his entire church transformed. The officers and teachers of his church came forward to get right with God. The man made structure of the church crumbled before his eyes. "Then I saw God take that crumbled structure and build a real church, His Church. It's beautiful to behold," McLeod explained. Love was knee deep in the congregation.
Kurt Koch wrote:
 McLeod told me in the course of a personal conversation, "The chief characteristic of this revival is love." People who previously could not stand one another have embraced each other and asked for forgiveness. Ministers have become reconciled with their co-workers. In all kinds of human relationships the sand has been removed from the works. Love has become the basis upon which all questions are settled. (Koch, p. 29)”

From Bible Prayer Fellowship
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What could God do among us if we will obey his commands in regard to unity? Psalm 133 says He will command the blessings summed up as “Life.”  He will manifest His glory. Pray and obey.