Knit Our Hearts- Ecclesiastes 4:9-11, 12

Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour.
For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.
And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

COMMENTARY

For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow
A threefold cord is not quickly broken
A single strand does have some strength to it. That is why when it is weaved with another it is able to increase its power. But two cords woven as one has more than double the strength of each individually. Similarly, two oxen, when pulling together, are able to carry far more than a double load.
A man alone is in danger of falling to all manner of temptation and self-harm. This is why in addiction recovery they teach individuals to make connections to one another, to be accountable to each other at low times. Once one has a companion in the hard place, the likelihood of a relapse begins to plummet.
The bonding of two souls is one of the most enchanting mysteries I know of. Somehow the two retain perfect individuality, yet also become a single unit. No matter how big a number it is, it can only become greater by addition. Similarly, no matter how strong of an individual you are, you will always be greater with a companion.

Knit Our Hearts- Personal Example

Last week the city I live in had a festival, one where the entire community pitched in to create a number of family-centric events. On Saturday they planned to have a little carnival, and each of the local church groups volunteered to run a different booth. At each one children could pay one ticket and then play a simple game and win prizes.

My church branch called me the week before to see if I would be willing to take ownership of the booth along with one other couple. They probably would have asked my wife as well, but she was had volunteered to take the women youth to a girls’ camp that week.

All of which is to say that I was assigned a task, and had as my only companionship an older couple that I did not know very well. I knew of them, I had heard them speak at various times in church meetings, but I honestly couldn’t remember ever having a direct conversation with them in the past. I felt that we simply moved in different circles.

Over the course of that week we spent hours together. We had planning meetings, we sought out additional volunteers to help run the game, we setup the booth, manned it, and finally took everything back down at the end of the day.

In all that time we spoke a great deal, but never did we have that “magical moment” where we suddenly realized that we had so much in common. Life is not a Hallmark Movie, and at the end of it all we still move in entirely different circles.

And yet…at the end of it all I did feel that I had made two friends. Because in the end we did actually share something together. An experience. It was a little something, but it was mutual. And whenever we share something, no matter how small, we start to build a kinship.

Too often I limit my friendships to those that I share personality traits with. To like you, I have to find something like me in you. And there isn’t anything wrong in seeking those relationships, but it is restricting if they are the only ones I will consider.

Sharing personality traits is good, but I can also learn to love others by sharing experiences with them. And then, if I continue to share experiences and build bridges with a wide variety of brothers and sisters, perhaps eventually I will also learn to love others just for sharing in our common humanity. For sharing in the journey of Earth life. For sharing a Father in Heaven. For sharing a divine potential.

Knit Our Hearts- James 3:2 (NIV); Proverbs 9:9, 27:17

We all stumble in many ways.

Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning.

Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.

COMMENTARY

We all stumble in many ways
Give me a list of moral dilemmas, ethical quandaries, and human behaviors to judge. I will answer each one and I will invariably feel that all of my answers are the right answers, or in other words I will feel that my opinion is the same as God’s. Every man believes that he judges rightly.
But if I ask you to answer this same list of questions, you might answer some the same as me, but you will inevitably answer others of them differently. And for all your answers you will be just as convinced of your own rightness as I am of mine, and this would mean that at least one of us must be wrong, even when we are convinced that we are right.
If we’re being perfectly honest, though, it isn’t just one of us that is wrong. Neither you nor I will be totally right in all of our judgments because we are flawed and imperfect beings. In one of our disagreements I might be the one in error, but in another disagreement it might be you.
Every man believes that he judges rightly, but every man is at least somewhat mistaken.

Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser
A man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend
Exploring the differences in our beliefs can be a painful exercise, because it is very easy to get one’s pride tangled up in it. If one is not careful, then feelings are hurt and bitterness comes out. However, if both parties are willing to shelve their pride and sincerely seek truth, then something remarkable occurs.
First we can examine our areas of disagreement objectively. By questioning our motives we may discover a bias that blocked our discernment. With time and care we can each improve, or sharpen, the other’s understanding.
There is another benefit as well. Though we may have differences of opinion, we also certainly have agreements. As I suggested yesterday, in those places where our opinions overlap our confidence in having judged rightly greatly increases. There, in our mutual agreement, we begin to see God in our midst.

Knit Our Hearts- Matthew 18:19-20, Mark 6:7

Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.
For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits;

COMMENTARY

For where two are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them
And began to send them forth by two and two
Yesterday we observed that God believes in the power of individuals united together as one. In these verses we see that Jesus shares fully in that sentiment! He didn’t send the disciples out alone, he sent them together, and further he promised them that whenever they bonded together, he would join that union.
There’s something about coming together with our fellowman that unlocks the spirit of Christ among us. Living life as a “lone wolf” doesn’t only deny us the companionship of another mortal, it denies us the full presence of our Lord.

If two of you shall agree on earth and shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father in heaven
I have always been familiar with the promise Christ gave of being in the midst of two or three gathered in his name, but I did not remember the additional promise mentioned here as well. When two of us agree in what we feel is right, we can ask it of God and He will grant it.
When I read this it gave me quite some pause, it seems a remarkably potent promise! I’ve frankly wondered why we would be trusted with such power. One thought that occurs to me is that people have a lot of differences in perspective and desire, but the parts of their beliefs that overlap tend to be the holy parts. For example we may disagree on specific political and ethical matters, but we each share a desire for the wellbeing of society. Whenever two people can find something that they don’t differ in, it is because they have found a part of God inside of them. That agreement can give them confidence, then, to pray in faith, knowing God will bless their petition.

Knit Our Hearts- Genesis 2:18, Genesis 11:6

And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.

And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.

COMMENTARY

The people is one…and now nothing will be restrained from them
If one seeks evidence that there is great power in united individuals, that person need look no further than God’s own perspective of such unions. From verses like this it is clear that God respects the awesome potential of humans coupled together. In this moment God is speaking of a time when the people had a perfect understanding of each other, and of them He said that they had the power to accomplish whatever they imagined.
Think of how different that message is from the one of the world. Consider heroes like James Bond, Indiana Jones, or Superman. These are individuals who are truly individual, men who need no one but themselves to win the day. They are tantalizing fantasies, but they are fantasies. Yes, relationships are complicated and sometimes it seems that life would simpler if we could just stand by ourselves. But the reality baked into our humanity is that “it is not good for man to be alone.”

It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him
In my last study I explored the idea of a united community, something that God is clearly in favor of. However a community is not the social unit that He created in the beginning. First He just put two together, and for then that was enough. For this study I will be looking at these more intimate ties: those of companionship, soul mates, bosom friends, and kindred spirits.

The Family of God- 1 John 4:7-8, 11

Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.
He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.

COMMENTARY

He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love
I think we all know that we are supposed to love each of God’s children…but sometimes we just don’t. How can we make ourselves feel things for those that we don’t know, or for those that irritate or even offend us? It seems an impossible requirement.
But then, when I look at my young son I realize that most of us were once able to love so freely, when we were still children. Children are able to love others as soon as they meet them, children are able to forgive and restore love instantly. But while growing up we become jaded and cynical, we start making stipulations to limit the affection we show our fellow man.
That does not have to be the end of the story though. The maker of all things is also the re-maker of the heart.
We must never forget that we did not invent love. We are not the authors of how it works. We are not the ones that set the rules for when it comes into the heart. All we have power over is whether we keep it out.
God is the gatekeeper of love, and the closer we get to Him the more love He gives us for His children, the more He restores our natural affection for all mankind, the more He binds us to them. Perhaps you cannot make yourself love another, but God can.

Service to Others- Question

Sometimes I will choose a topic of study just because I’m curious about the principle. Other times I will choose one because it is something I know I am weak at. This is a case of the latter.

Serving at home is actually pretty easy for me, probably because it is primarily self-serving. I like having the house clean, I have fun when playing games with my son, I get a lot of self-gratification by being a good provider to my wife. But when it comes to reaching outside of our house? Well, I am an introvert, so I generally just don’t.

Now that is not meant as an excuse. It’s simply a recognition of a real hurdle that I need to deal with. My hope is that in this study and practice I will find the power to do just that. This series is going to be a lot more personal than previous ones. We’ll still base each day around a scripture, but then I want to be accountable with you for how I am trying to live out the messages we find in them.

Now I know I’m not the only person to ever feel this way, and if any of you have anything to offer I would love to hear about it! Any scriptures that helped you to see others the way that God does? Any words of wisdom for how to step out of your comfort zone? I’m all ears.

How Do We Pray for Others- Summary

I really was not sure what I would find when I decided to do a study on how to pray for others. Even when I selected John 17 for my research, I wasn’t sure what I would be able to glean for it. I have honestly been amazed at the wealth of messages that are in this short chapter, though, and the promise of “ask and ye shall receive” has been abundantly filled! In the Great Intercessory Prayer I feel that Jesus lays out a perfect template for how to petition for our brothers and sisters. Let’s do a review of what we learned.

Get Yourself Connected First

First and foremost you need to consider your own connection to God. You need to know His goodness before you can pray for it in others. If we try to pray for the love of God to come into other’s lives and we have not experienced that love ourselves, then we are just praying a “wish” instead of praying in “faith.”
19- And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified.
23- … that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.

Secondly you need to be connected to those you pray for. Even if these are strangers you are praying for, you can have your heart drawn out in common humanity for your fellow brothers and sisters. Jesus knew those he prayed for clear through to their very souls. He knows their goodness, and he knows their failings. He truly was their shepherd.
8- For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me.
12- While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition;

Make this a partnership

We’re not meant to treat God like a genie and ask Him to do everything for us. Neither are we meant to treat God like a taskmaster and who demands us to do everything on our own. One of the messages that comes through clearest to me in Jesus’s prayer is the relationship he and God have as fellow workers in the same field.
8- For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them.
22- And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them;

ask for the universals

If you’re unsure of what to specifically ask for those you pray for, pray for what you know. You know that everyone needs God’s love in their lives. You know that everyone needs to feel the reality of being God’s own child. You know that everyone is their best when they see themselves the way Christ sees them. You know everyone needs forgiveness and Grace. Jesus prays for universal goodness that all of us can echo in our own prayers.
15- I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.
17- Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth

Ask for unity

And recognize that your desires for others all come back to the need for you and those you pray for to come to a common ground: God’s common ground. If there is a rift between you, each of you coming to God will close that gap. If there is a hurt or a wound, God’s presence will heal that. If there is a desire to serve and love, God’s guidance will show your hands the work to do.
21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.
26 And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.

How Do We Pray for Others- John 17:21-23, 26

That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:
I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.
And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.

COMMENTARY

That they all may be one…
…they also may be one in us
…that they may be one, even as we are one…
I in them, and thou in me…

Jesus’s intentions come across very clearly here, don’t they? He finishes his prayer with an intense focus on perfect unity. He really wants these disciples to be one with him and the Father. That’s what his gospel and his sacrifice are really all about. Jesus died so that we could be one.
And I think if we examine our sincerest prayers we’ll find that unity is all we’re really asking for as well.

“Help me to alleviate their pain…”
“Bless them to feel thy love…”
“Show me how to forgive them…”
“Give me the words to speak to them…”

Each of these are prayers to take down walls of separation, to bring in empathy, understanding, and a shift of perspective. It isn’t just unity between each other, either, that wouldn’t be enough. It has to be a unity with God, a three-way meeting of the minds between us and Him. If ever we obtain real peace, it will only be by all parties converging on Him.

How Do We Pray for Others- John 17:15-19

I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.

COMMENTARY

And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.
This continues that idea from a few days ago of how Jesus is only imparts the same as what he has received. He has to be sanctified by the truth before he gives that same sanctifying truth for others.
Once again, if we seek to bless the lives of God’s children, first we need get ourselves living in harmony with God. Remember when Peter’s faith failed and he started to slip into the sea? Jesus wouldn’t have been able to help him if he had been treading water himself.

…that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.
Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.

It struck me that Jesus is praying for universals. Everyone needs to be kept from evil and to be sanctified through the truth.
One of the confusions I mentioned at the beginning of this study was not knowing the specific life-experiences everyone else needed. Therefore I didn’t feel bold in knowing what to pray for them. From these passages I’m starting to think that that might be okay.
While I may not know whether my friend should get that job he’s applying for or not, I do know without a doubt that that friend needs to feel the love of God in his life. I know it because that’s a universal need, so I can be praying specifically for that.