Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.
I am fortunate to have a great connection with my Uncle Dan in Indiana. He served as a pastor for many decades, and we've always had a shared heart in the area of shepherding our communities toward Jesus. We get together regularly on zoom to talk about pastoring, church life, stress, family, and anything else that comes up.
A few days ago we were talking about the different elements that churches use during their gatherings. And I mentioned how at LifePath we do "common prayer." During our musical worship space, people can walk to a table and write down prayers on little slips of paper. Then someone reads them later on and everyone says aloud, "Lord, Hear our prayer." We get so many unique voices every week writing prayers. It's inspiring.
It's also a little risky, because you've got a lot of different people and a lot of different life experiences. People's understandings of what is appropriate to pray for (and how!) can differ greatly. Even their very understandings of God can differ! You never know what might pop up on one of those papers (especially from the kids!). And what do you do if what someone writes seems a little....off base?
I told him that over the years, our culture has held up pretty well, but every now and then a prayer comes up that I might not particularly resonate with, and that can be a little awkward.
"Oh, yes," my uncle said, clearly understanding. "Those are the sorts of moments where you just kind of cover your mouth and whisper, "Lord, hear HIS prayer."
We both laughed pretty good. But it got me thinking about something important for true Christian community. Sometimes the best we can do is just be thankful that God is hearing someone's prayer, and that God gets to sort out what to do with it all. We can really confuse what unity means. We mix it up with uniformity. We think our goal is to fix everyone and get them on our side... whatever "our side" happens to be in any given area!
As our church keeps growing with new faces and perspectives, I'm learning that it's both impossible and unnecessary for the goal to be that everyone thinks about everything the same way. We've now got people with Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Mennonite backgrounds. We've got skeptics, "don't-put-me-in-a-box"ers, and more. We've got deeply churched folks and people who are new to this whole Jesus thing. We've got people who come from traditional backgrounds and those who are the opposite of that. And they all look at the world in wonderful, challenging, unique ways.
When Paul encouraged the young church in Ephesus to be "like-minded," he was encouraging them to use their different gifts and stories in a cooperative way rather than a destructive way. He wasn't actually requiring them to have all the same opinions or perspectives. The goal of having "one mind" for them (and for us) was that they were all moving toward having the "mind of Christ" (1 Cor 2). If Jesus is what we're moving toward, that center will be more defining than sharing all the same opinions and approaches to everything. It's an important distinction.
Now of course, if your understanding of following Jesus is in direct opposition to others, then you are probably not going to thrive in that community and it's not a good fit for you. But there are many shades between that, and part of the journey of discipleship is making space for one another. This is radically countercultural, and requires a shared commitment on everyone's part, or else it doesn't work. But it's a beautiful vision.
I want to be able to say with a smile... "Lord, hear his prayer. It may not be mine, Lord, but I know you understand his heart." Because the Lord knows he's probably thinking the exact same thing about me! Love and unity are still possible.
Let's be learners. Let's have healthy and robust conversations in love. But let's absolutely make space for one another's unique faith journeys as we look to Jesus together.
Jesus, be our center.