Day One - Relationship
This week we are going to deviate slightly from Ruth Haley Barton’s disciplines in Sacred Rhythms to pick up on an undertone that runs through all our practices – relationship. Every spiritual discipline we have practiced – self-examination, prayer, and silence and solitude -- develop our relationship with God, but they also develop our relationships to ourselves and each other.
These relationships – to God, ourselves, and each other – are essential to our Christian journey. We were intentionally created as relational beings because we were made in the image of God, and He is a relational being. God is a relationship within Himself – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But He also chose to be in eternal relationship with us by sending His Son to live, die, and be resurrected.
If we are made by God and in the image of God, then we cannot fully know ourselves apart from Him. Furthermore, we cannot pour out God’s love to one another if we are not poured into by God.
So, we’re called to invest in and maintain these three relationships, but it all starts with our relationship to the Triune God. And this is Jesus’ heart for us, to be united with the Father and each other.
“The glory that you have given me I have given them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and love them even as you loved me.” (John 17:22-23)
Unity – this is the crux of it all. Jesus’ last earthly prayer to His Father was a plea for unity on earth. Jesus told His disciples several times that the world would know them through their love for one another.
Love and unity hold the Trinity together as One. Love and unity will hold the Church together as one. And let’s remember that the Church is Plan A, and there is no Plan B.
Practice: Jesus spent His last breath praying that we would be unified. Take time to reflect on these last few weeks of practices and how they have unified you to God and people in your life. Have you felt more unified with God? Have you felt more unified with the people in your life? If not, what’s standing in the way?
Yesterday we meditated on the importance of unity. Jesus calls us to be unified with God and each other so that the world might know who God is. And we learned that what cements us in unity is love.
Day Two – A Church Divided
When Jesus talked about unity, I do think He envisioned the world being unified in His name. We can look at Genesis 1 and 2, along with Revelation 21 and 22 to see that God intended for His people to be unified, glorifying His name.
But Jesus’ hope in John 17 was that the world could look to the Church as a symbol of loving unity. Unfortunately, we know that’s not that case today. Churches across the world are divided based on theology, politics, traditions, etc.
We know that divisiveness is not conducive to spreading the Gospel. How can we share a message based on love and unity when Christians are not living out their own mission? It seems like Jesus knew the Church would eventually face divisiveness, which is likely why He chose to pray most fervently at the end of His life for unity.
“I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known that the love with which you have loved me may be in them and I in them.” (John 17:26)
Jesus set His disciples up for success when He left them. He taught them how to pray; He modeled how to love and care for the marginalized; He even sent the Holy Spirit to dwell within them.
And yet, we still struggle to love one another well today. Like we mentioned yesterday, this is the importance of the spiritual disciplines we’ve practiced this month. If we are not filled with God’s love first, we cannot pour out love to one another.
Practice: Consider Jesus’ prayer and mission to unify His people and glorify God’s name. How have we fallen short of that mission throughout history? And why do you think we have we fallen short?
Day Three – Radical Love
We often must assess what caused a problem before we can try to fix it. This is what we did yesterday as we considered the juxtaposition of Jesus’ call to unity with the divisiveness of not only our world today, but also the Church today. We considered what that divide looks like and why we are so divided.
It’s easy to fall into despair after considering this problem, especially because of its size, scope and sphere of influence in the Church today. How can we solve such a gargantuan problem that has built throughout history?
Let’s not fall into the pit of the problem. One person is not going to reunite the Church across the world. But you do have an impact on your personal sphere of influence.
Go back to week one – washing feet. Jesus embodied servant leadership by kneeling to wash the feet of His disciples. This was a radical act of self-denial and love. It unified His people, and He specifically called them to wash one another’s feet. He wanted His example of outrageous love and servitude to create a ripple effect among His people, and ultimately, to the whole Church.
If they could just serve one another well, wash each other’s feet, pay attention to each other’s needs, then the world would notice their holiness. They would be set apart, different, but so beautiful. The world would be drawn to these radical acts of self-giving love.
It seems like Jesus message of washing feet and His prayer to unify in love were one in the same. Jesus explicitly showed them what it meant to love, and He prayed that they would heed that message and be unified in it.
And what is it all for? To glorify the name of the Lord. Friends, we do not have a greater calling. And Jesus blatantly told us how to do it.
Practice: Jesus gave us the tools to be unified in love. He set the example by washing His disciples’ feet. How are you modeling this self-giving love in your life? If you aren’t, give yourself grace. How can you start?
We’ve recognized Jesus’ call to love, and how we have fallen short of this calling. But we can find hope in Jesus’ teachings of serving and loving one another in self-giving ways, especially when He taught them to wash one another’s feet.
Day Four – Jesus’ Prayer for Protection
Figuring out how to love people well is an arduous task, and Jesus knew this. This is why He prayed for our protection when He asked the Father that we would be unified.
In John 17:8-19, Jesus prays that His Father would protect His people, just like the Father protected Jesus throughout His ministry. He asks that the Father would keep us in His name (17:11), give us joy (17:13), keep us from the evil one (17:15), and sanctify, or set us apart, with His Word of truth (17:17-19).
Jesus understood that He gave us a steep calling. He knew it would be hard to keep us unified and loving one another in the face of adversity. So Jesus prayed for us – our protection, our joy, our sanctification.
Consider the weight of John 17 and the power and protection it gives us. Jesus, the Son of God, prayed to His Father on our behalf. Think about what else Jesus prayed for throughout His life – that the dead would be raised, demons would be expelled, diseases would be cured, the paralyzed would walk, the blind would see. And the Father answered all of Jesus’ prayers.
We can be confident that the Father answered this prayer, too. One evidence of that is the Holy Spirit. He gifted us with the Spirit, and He offers us protection, joy, sanctification, and more even to this day.
We can be confident in our capacity to live out Jesus’ mission of unity and love. Yes, it is a daunting task. But we certainly have been given the tools to make it happen. And like we mentioned yesterday, a great place to start is your personal sphere of influence.
Practice: Remember what we learned about the Holy Spirit and the gifts He offers. Think about the Spirit as the path to love and unity. Where do you think the Spirit has given you opportunities to love people? Pray that He will reveal more opportunities.
We have been learning how Jesus modeled unity and love to His followers, and how He prayed to His Father for protection in this calling. Today, let’s look at the rest of the New Testament for the evidences of unity and the importance of relationship in achieving unity.
Day Five – Accountability
Acts 2 offers one of the clearest, most beautiful pictures of Church unity the world has ever seen. Just after Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon the church in Jerusalem, Acts 2:42-47 shows the gift of unity – devoted to teaching and fellowship, miracles, meals, generosity, worship, and baptisms. Churches today often use Acts 2 as an example of what our churches today should be like.
What might an Acts 2 kind of church look like in our cultural context today? How might it be the same or different?
Even though unity was achieved in Acts 2, we know it didn’t last long as the apostles went out planting churches and spreading the Gospel. Many of the letters or epistles in the New Testament were prompted by strife within the church.
“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers.” (1 Corinthians 1:10-11)
Paul wrote to the people of Corinth because he knew they were fighting, and he knew that fighting might cause them to be divided, which flies in the face of Jesus’ mission. In 1 Corinthians 3, he gives them advice about how to address conflict in the church.
Paul acted as an accountability partner to churches, to point out the danger of fighting and guide them back into unity.
We need a community of people to do the same for us today. It’s important to allow people in to our strife and guide us back to self-giving love.
Practice: Paul held church accountable when they strayed from Jesus’ call to be loving and unified. Who in your life could be that accountability for you? What would it look like to allow someone to speak into your life in that way?
On the last day of our devotional, reflect on each spiritual discipline practice and the overarching idea that brings them all together: self-examination/servant leadership, prayer/the Holy Spirit, silence and solitude/abiding, and relationship/unity.
Day Six – Truly Changing Everything
The purpose of this devotional was to bring us closer to Jesus and prepare our hearts for the profundity of His death and resurrection. Easter is tomorrow. Does this hold new meaning for you?
Grace’s Easter service is called “This Changes Everything.” But why? Why does Jesus’ death and resurrection change everything? How does it personally change my life? And how are these disciplines we’ve practiced related to it?
Ultimately, these are questions that you must process for yourself. But consider the common threads of our lessons this month – sacrifice, confession, dependence, relationship.
There is no other image but Jesus’ death and resurrection to embody the Christian journey. Every time we examine and confess our, sin we are dying to our old self and rising to new life. Every time we commune with the Spirit, we take advantage of the gift He left us with when He ascended to His Father. Every time we commune with God, we are entering the relationship we are given because of the Ultimate Sacrifice.
Just like Jesus washed His disciples’ feet and called them to do the same for one another, He calls us to a death and resurrection every day. If daily we would remember the ultimate act of self-sacrificing love that unites us with God and respond in self-sacrificing love that unites us with one another, it would truly change everything.