A few years ago, I was on Facebook and a friend request popped up. As soon as I saw the name, my stomach twisted in knots. It was a boy who I’d been to school with and who had made my life hell in so many ways. I felt tension, anger and hate rise inside me, still raw after two decades. But you can never have too many friends so, naturally, I clicked accept.

A few moments later, I saw three dots pop up as he began to type a message, Hey Ben, it’s been a while. How are you doing?”

Amazing!” I replied, wanting to show how good my life is, Life is great. My wife is great. Best kids in the world. My job is so successful. Everything is amazing… how are you?”

The dots came back, and I waited for his reply, You know, I’m just recovering.”

Sponsored

I read those words, and a smile came on my face. Recovering? From what? I wondered. Now, I’m not proud of this, but there was a part of me that revelled in the idea of cosmic justice and divine punishments. Maybe he has had an accident, or relationship breakdown, I thought. So, I replied with all the false sincerity I could muster, ah mate. I’m so sorry. What happened?”

The Olympics! We just won silver.” 

I hate you! Was all I could think as my fingers typed, Congratulations.”

What was funny was that in that moment everything good in my life evaporated. My family, my job, my achievements, the things that I had sweat and bled for. Nothing mattered anymore. 

The comparison trap

My wife often says that the quickest way to kill something good is to compare it, and I think that she is right. The moment we start looking at other people’s lives and comparing them to our own, whether we are better or worse, we always lose. 

Yet, I find myself caught in this trap all the time. As a leader, I find myself comparing my church to others. I look at their budgets, their staff teams, their Sunday attendance, and there is a part of me that bubbles with similar emotions. Other churches I look at with confusion or frustration or arrogant pity at their approach to ministry. The truth is that however I critique them, the fruit of comparison is always the same: it always leads to distance. 

Jesus prayed for us to be one, not number one’

I have heard this described as the problem of ER’. This is when you want whatever they have plus -ER. If someone is smart, I want to be smarter. If they are rich, I want to be richer. If they are charismatic, I want to be charismatic…er. I want whatever you have plus er. 

Except, if I am honest, what I really want is EST. I want to be the best. And that is a huge problem. It raises the question: who or what is going to define your worth? 

Which leads me to Easter. On the night before His death, with clarity and passion, Jesus looked beyond the cross and saw you and me, your church community and mine, and He prayed these words: 

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.” (John 17:20b-21)

He wasn’t worried about whose church would be the greatest. He wasn’t thinking about our discipleship pathways, systems, or structures. What moved Him to pray, in the final few moments before He walked to the cross, was that we would be one just as He and the Father are one. It’s worth taking a second to reflect on the magnitude of that prayer. Jesus’ unity with the Father was so deep and mysterious that the early church had to create a new word to describe it. The word they created was perichoresis’ and it is used to describe how the Godhead is three-in-one, and where you see one operating, you see them all. They are perfect in their unity, and this is how Jesus prayed that we would be with one another.

"Jesus’ vision was not that we would build great churches but that we would build the kingdom (Matthew 6:33)."

Which perhaps makes the divisions in the church today even more lamentable. There are thousands of networks, denominations, and factions across the world. Faith has divided families, split churches, and even sparked wars. How can so many people who all follow the same God be so incredibly divided? In his book Until Unity Francis Chan pulls no punches: There’s a serious problem if the Spirit is grieving our division yet we feel fine about it.” We find it so easy to critique, build walls and draw lines around our groups.

Getting free from the hurt, pride and fear behind it all

James, the brother of Jesus, reprimanded the early church, What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” (James 4:1) The same is true today – our greatest divisions are not because of theology, methodology or ecclesiology. The battlefield is over pride, hurt and fear.

The unity that Jesus prays for is for a purpose: so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Our mission and our unity are tied together. As my friend Patrick says, we need to major on the major and minor on the minors”. In other words, the cross reminds us that we are part of something that is so much bigger than ourselves. Jesus’ vision was not that we would build great churches but that we would build the kingdom (Matthew 6:33). Our varied communities need varied churches, working in unity.

So, this Easter, let’s refuse to walk in a different direction to Jesus’ prayer and join Him in praying for unity. Pray for blessings for those who have hurt you, respond to disappointment with generosity, and let’s see a rising tide that will bless every church in every community in our nation.

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