By Valerie Long
We watch it in theaters and read about it in books. It’s part of our past, our present, and undeniably our future. No other topic grips the human heart like war—where heroes arise, loyalties are declared, and the futures of kingdoms are determined. Every day brings news of nations and people groups at war with one another.
Christians, too, are in a war. This war is not one we chose, but rather something that began before we were born. Unlike others, this war affects every area of our world, and its impact will last through eternity.
As a missionary in Africa, I came face-to-face with this war like never before. My daily exposure to poverty, death, and evil tempted me to despair and hate the battle I inherited. Starving children, human slavery, and oppressed peoples confirmed that things were not as they should be.
Jesus Christ came into the world to end the war against evil and to bring the earth back under the rule of righteousness, justice, and the glory of God. Of his many amazing deeds, what was it that would ensure his kingdom’s final victory?
Jesus’ Prayer for the Church
What was Jesus doing in the final hours of his life? What pressed urgently on his heart? What was his ultimate strategy? John 17 reveals that his final assault upon the kingdom of darkness before the cross was not a miracle or a sermon to the multitudes, but a prayer for the church.
Jesus’ hope for reconciling the world to God was not based on programs or the latest technology, but on a body of people. He prayed that they would endure persecution, remain unshakable in their witness to the truth, know they were loved by the Father, and most important, be “brought to complete unity” (John 17:23).
How was this group of people faring in their “complete unity”? A look back on Jesus’ three years of ministry would indicate they had not done so well. More than once he found his disciples fighting among themselves. Who would be the greatest in the coming kingdom? Who could they rise above in order to make a more glorious name for themselves in history?
Quick to display egocentric attitudes among themselves, they also demonstrated an ethnocentric spirit toward others, as seen in one encounter with a Samaritan village. Although the people in Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth had also rejected him, James and John wanted to call down fire from Heaven to punish a Samaritan town that acted in a similar way. Jesus rebuked them, saying they did not know what spirit they were of (Luke 9:55, English Standard Version).
What spirit did he mean? Deeper than mere disunity, it is the same spirit Jesus addressed when he referred to Elijah’s ministry to the widow of Zarephath and Elisha’s healing of Naaman the Syrian. The thought that God’s call would reach other nations and ethnicities was too much for Jesus’ Jewish audience to handle. Their hearts were “filled with wrath” and they “rose up . . . so they could throw him down the cliff” (Luke 4:28, 29).
What would cause these normal, synagogue-attending people to turn to murder, especially against a righteous man many had known and respected their entire lives? The very idea of ethnic inclusiveness produced an irrational effect in them, and one might guess they became filled with the same spirit that overtook James and John. But where did such a spirit come from?
Long before ethnic and racial distinctions existed, God placed human beings in a garden to walk with him in a paradise on earth. After the fall, Satan was told his destruction would come about by the woman’s offspring. Since then he has waged war on humanity, often working through people to accomplish his will. In Cain he found a heart where he could plant seeds of insecurity, jealousy, and bitterness. As in Nazareth and Samaria, these seeds developed into wrath and eventually murder.
So it is today. Satan seeks to destroy humanity by its own hands. One of the clearest modern pictures of this is the story of Rwanda. In the early 1900s, colonizers divided the country into two ethnic groups. One group was given greater precedence and power, and in time, animosity between the two groups emerged. When tensions reached a climax in 1994, the world watched in horror as an estimated 800,000 Rwandans were killed in only 100 days.
Amazingly, the dissimilarities between the two tribes were minimal at best. In fact, the two groups co-existed peacefully for decades. It was only until the intervention of outsiders that the destruction began to mount from within.
The Seed of Dissention
Paul declared to the Romans, “You who pass judgment on someone else . . . are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things” (Romans 2:1). It’s easy to feel horrified by the heinous acts of uneducated fishermen or tribes in far-off lands, but the same spirit of dissention is often present among us. When was the last time you saw someone favored because of race or place in society? When was the last time you placed yourself in a favorable light above someone else?
James says such a dissentious and selfish spirit is of “earthly, unspiritual, [and] demonic” origin. Through the seed of dissention, the enemy attempts to destroy humanity and the church from within.
God’s Wisdom Manifested to the World
Through the years Jesus’ disciples have won many battles in the clash against darkness. When Jesus ascended to the Father, he left the earth knowing the last battle would be fought through his body, the church. Its purpose is defined in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: “[God’s] intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 3:10).
It is the wisdom of God to let the same beings who were once deceived rise up out of their own free will and become one with him and with one another, overcoming seeds of dissention, putting the kingdom of darkness to shame.
The church must never lose sight of its primary purpose. Let’s seek to be the answer to Jesus’ prayer for unity, a demonstration of the culture of God, that the world will know that God sent Jesus, and that his victory is soon to be complete (John 17:23).
Valerie Long is a freelance writer in Kansas City, Missouri.
Become a Prayer Warrior for Unity
Wikipedia lists 42 armed conflicts going on around the world today. These conflicts lead to unrest, injury, and death on nearly every continent. While the world hopes for peace, we know true unity is only possible through Christ. Like Jesus, our prayers can work powerfully.
1. Read about conflicts around the world
2. Pray for Christians and missionaries around the world, especially in the affected areas.
3. Pray for the advancement of the gospel in spite of violence.
4. Go to www.operationworld.org to find out more about the nations of the world. Use what you learn to lift up the nations in prayer.