There was devastation in my country, Northern Ireland, when Protestants and Cathoilics were at war from 1968 to 1998.
Thirty years of Troubles. Catholics were bombed out of their homes, forced to move away from Protestant neighbours. Protestants were bombed out as well to force families into Ghettos. City centres were bombed to try to disrupt everyday life. Your life was at risk if a Catholic married a Protestant. Hearts were broken over the death of loved ones, and dreams. Men and women were kidnapped and never returned to their families. Many people were forced into exile. Why did this happen? Other nations who don’t believe in Jesus were laughing at us. We were bringing shame to the name of Jesus.
This is Christian Unity week. Around the third week in January each year, Christians are encouraged to gather together to pray. This movement has been encouraged for around ninety years. I think it a great idea. I was inspired to seek for unity many years ago when I read Jesus’ word to his disciples before he went to the crucified.
“Now I am departing from the world; they are staying in this world, but I am coming to you. Holy Father, you have given me your name; now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are. During my time here, I protected them by the power of the name you gave me.
Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth.
I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.”
John 17:11-12, 17, 21-23 NLT
It was one of Jesus’ last prayers for us before he died. This prayer is still valid today. When I first came upon this scripture there was war in Northern Ireland; war between Protestants and Catholics.
I was distressed that this situation was definitely the opposite of what Jesus prayed. I determined to look for unity among Christians.
I sought out other Christians in my town. I went along to every Church to meet the people and see what their services were like. I found they had many things in common. The bible was read and explained. They prayed to the same Father in heaven, “Our Father who art in heaven.” They all said that Jesus forgives our sins. They all said there is a heaven and a hell and one can be sure of getting there to heaven if one has faith in Jesus. They all celebrated the breaking of bread to remember Jesus death. Many people turned to God during the troubles and found solace at Church. Congregations were growing. But still I wondered why are there so many churches. Why were there so many different meeting places? Why was there such hatred and bitterness among people outside causing bloodshed in my country?
Here is another verse that inspired me at the time.
““I also tell you this: If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.” Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!”
Matthew 18:19-22 NLT
I wanted God to change my life on the earth. Jesus said “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus promises us eternal life in heaven with him and the Father if we believe and trust him. Not only that but he wants us to experience his kingdom life here on earth. There is peace, joy, unity and love in heaven. Why not on earth as well? I wanted heaven to come on earth in my life, home and community.
I wanted to pray, even if it was only one other person, all those thirty eight years ago. I read a book in the library about people in America meeting together to pray for healing and people got healed! I found a group of ladies who prayed. One was a Presbyterian, another a Church of Ireland, a Methodist, a Baptist and myself a Catholic. We met together to pray each week. I felt at home and began to pray. One lady said later, “I was the best wee evangelical prayer she had ever heard.” Yes God was in our midst, as Jesus said “I am there with them.” There may have been war outside, but we had peace in our hearts and in our meetings. Prayers were answered, especially prayers for peace in our country. We would pray that bombs would not go off. Often bombs were found by the police before they did any damage. We prayed for our families. I found these ladies loving and encouraging. I looked forward each week to seeing them.
With any step forward in one’s walk with Jesus, one’s heart gets tested. Immediately after Jesus taught his disciples to agree in prayer, Peter asked “How often have we to forgive?” It is necessary that to be in unity one has to forgive. Each of us is a sinner. If I want my own way and don’t work with the other person then there is disagreement. Our prayer is not answered.
This can be particularly relevant when a husband and wife wish to pray together. You don’t have to leave home or go to Church to pray with someone else if you are married. Statistics show that not many couples pray together. It is easier to pray with a stranger who believes in God than one’s husband. It is God’s plan that a husband and wife are in unity. He wants us to be one! How can this be? Only by God’s power. No amount of reading “Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus” will bring about the unity. I know. I have been tried in the furnace of affliction in order for me to agree with my husband. Perhaps you ladies out there can identify with me.
““But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.””
Mark 10:6-9 NIV
This is the ideal but in the working out of this truth one has to give up one’s own agenda for the sake of the other. It means giving up one’s pride, ambition, and independence for the sake of the other. Am I willing to do this for the sake of the Kingdom of God and unity to come in my marriage, my family and community of believers.
Jesus knew how difficult we would find it to agree. It is difficult for two sinners to live together. Paul fell out with Barnabas, who had been a big encourager to him before. They went their separate ways. Jesus has made provision for us. He died and shed his blood for me for my forgiveness of sins. He wants me to forgive my brother or sister who has done me wrong. Through his blood we can be reconciled and be in unity again, so we can pray. Outside of ourselves we have the evil one, the devil, with whom to contend. He hates when people agree to pray and especially when a couple pray. Satan is defeated when we overcome our disagreements.
I appeal to you, brothers, for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, to make up the differences between you, and instead of disagreeing among yourselves, to united again in your belief and practice. It is clear there are serious differences among you.”
God has taken me on a journey to seek an answer to Jesus’ prayer for unity. This has taken me back into my own home. I seek unity with my husband so we can pray and our prayers are not hindered. God has cleared away the serious differences between us. This means being humble, forgiving and not arguing.
Jesus told us to remember his death in Communion. Before we come to Communion in remembering Jesus death on the cross we are encouraged to go to our brother and and sort out any disagreement.
“Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.”
1 Corinthians 11:28-30 NIV
I am beginning to understand why there is bitterness and hatred among Christians. It is deeply rooted in their hearts. Injustices against one another in past generations had grown into devastation of lives and property in our towns. Great offences had festered for generations and grew into deep roots of malice and hatred. Can our land be healed? Can people be healed who have been deeply hurt? Is there any balm to heal the wounds of my people?
God was working. There was hope. Two “Cities of refuge”were opened. Cecil Kerr began a work of Reconciliation in Rostrever Renewal Centre. Protestants and Catholics could find a space to meet together and be accepted. Corrymeela, near Ballycastle, was opened by Ray Davey with a vision to give holidays to people who needed to get out of the war zones. Another city of refuge. Protestants and Catholics were starting on a journey of getting to know one another.
Peace talks were held with the help of other leaders from Britain, Tony Blair, and America, President Clinton. Channels of communication were opened. Political leaders from Northern Ireland, John Hume and David Trimble received the Nobel Peace Prize for their work for peace. Martin Maginess and Paisley who had been enemies, became the First Minister and Deputy Minister in Stormont. They worked together and became known as “The Chuckle Brothers.” The War ceased. The devastation stopped.
There is a Balm to heal the wounds of my people. I found him. He is Jesus. He forgives all sins of the people and their forefathers’ sins through the shedding of his blood. If we have faith that he forgives sins we can be set free. So the devastation, hurt, divorce, cancer and hatred need not continue. It starts with me forgiving another if he hurts me. If I feel wounded I ask Jesus to heal me and not let the wound fester until I want revenge. By his stripes I am healed.
When I was suffering from cancer, I had unforgiveness in my heart. I definitely wasn’t in agreement with my husband and other Christians. I had to ask Jesus to forgive me again and in return I chose to forgive others. My heart was cleansed and at the same moment my cancer disappeared. I sought reconciliation with my husband and others.
The war has ceased. But now so many of our churches, whether they are Catholic, Church of Ireland, Prespyterian, Methodist, Baptist, or new Church having falling numbers in their congregations? Why are so many people suffering from cancer. Has there been fall outs in marriages, divorces, family and church members?
I urge you as Paul says above, to make up the differences between you. Pray together again with one or two. This is how we solve our problems and our nation’s problems. When we are forgiven, healed and restored we are free to pray together and our prayers will be answered. Some people from Northern Ireland now are invited to other war torn nations to help broker peace. What God has done for us he can do for others.
There is restoration after devastation. We need not give up hope.