Wednesday, November 09, 2022

The Sword

“I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

The Lord Jesus came to create division, and when he returned to his Father, he left us with the division his visit, his person and his claims created. Those who have believed in him enjoy a unity and a commonality previously unimagined, which we sometimes call fellowship. But the difference between his children and those who are not his own is the difference between light and darkness, between righteousness and lawlessness, and between Christ and Belial.

That is not always apparent. It is especially not apparent to those in darkness.

Some Species of Betrayal

I pray regularly with a small group of Christian friends. I can’t say with complete certainty that they share their most intimate concerns for others within our little prayer circle, but it sure seems that way. I know I do. And I must confess to feeling just a little conflicted from time to time when I think about how some of the unsaved people we’re praying for might feel if they could hear us talking about them together in preparation for prayer. I’m guessing most of them would be appalled. Others might feign mild amusement. Certainly it would create an emotional and communication distance that isn’t currently apparent, at least to them. And on one level they would be right; bringing up the name, personal problems and need for salvation of somebody you’ve known for a quarter of a century in front of people you’ve known for a year and a half sometimes seems vaguely like some species of betrayal.

Nevertheless, in the spirit of transparency, when they are going through times of trouble, I will occasionally mention to somebody who doesn’t know the Lord that I am praying for him or her. Most respond with a quick “Thanks” and change the subject, or don’t comment at all. Nobody has ever asked me, “What sort of things do you ask God for on my behalf?” Perhaps they don’t want to know, or perhaps they think they already do.

But that’s the sword. Our little group knows and loves Jesus Christ. My unsaved friends don’t. That’s the starkest divide that exists.

Horrified, Stricken, Appalled

It feels even stranger when it’s a relative we are praying for. I remember watching an episode of The Good Wife years ago in which the main character’s daughter, in the process of trying on the Christian faith for size, reveals she is praying for her mother. The actress who played her mother carried the exchange off perfectly. She looked absolutely stricken. I am quite sure that’s how unsaved family members would look if they could overhear us in prayer for them. And how much more horrified would they be to overhear their loved one explain what sort of prayer support he is requesting from others on their behalf?

That’s the sword. If it feels odd and unsettling, it’s because it is. The claims of Christ create the most intimate bond on earth with perfect strangers while turning family members from intimates, confidants and apparently-competent fellow human beings into … what exactly? Patients in need of a cure? Yes. Hostiles in need of surrender? Yes. Deluded people in need of a transformed view of pretty much everything about life? That too. Prisoners and slaves in need of release? Absolutely. Straying sheep? Definitely. All of that, and more besides.

The Truth Revealed

“How could you think that of me?” cries our friend, child, sibling, parent, co-worker or neighbor, mortally offended. But we do. We have to. If we don’t keep a heavenly perspective on those we love who are outside of Christ, we won’t pray for them with urgency or intensity, won’t look for every opportunity to witness, won’t play our part in the spiritual battle going on behind the scenes.

Praying for the unsaved doesn’t change our relationship to them, but it does bring out the truth of what that relationship really is. There’s a sword between us. And if that doesn’t change, one day there will be a great, uncrossable gulf fixed between us instead.

And we won’t cry about that in the presence of Christ for eternity. The time for crying about them is now.

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