In John 17, Jesus said, “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
Ever since then, Satan has focused his fury against the church of the living God. But I believe we are going to be blessed to see Jesus’ prayer answered. Over three years ago, many respected evangelical leaders and Spirit-filled Catholics began meeting together to pray for God’s will to be done and to bring true believers together in supernatural unity. We know it is God’s will for those who have been born from above to become bold witnesses for His glory and Kingdom purpose and to go into all the world and make disciples of Christ. We have been commanded to love God with all of our heart and our neighbors as ourselves. The enemy has kept many Christians from loving one another as Christ loves us and have failed to recognize the importance of supernatural unity even with all of the unique diversity.
This week I was blessed to be part of perhaps an unprecedented moment between evangelicals and the Catholic Pope. On Tuesday, for nearly three hours, a few of us were blessed to meet in an intimate circle of prayerful discussion and lunch to discuss not only seeing Jesus’ prayer answered, but that every believer would become bold, joy-filled witnesses for Christ.
Years ago, God told me to reach out beyond the safe, comfortable walls of my Southern Baptist tradition. He wanted me to reach beyond denominational barriers and seek to bring the family together so the church would put His arms around a hurting world and pull everyone close to His heart. I reached outside my sectarian Baptist comfort zone to Pentecostals, Charismatics and Catholics, as well as those outside the church.
To the shock of many, I stood on the platform next to the very charismatic Ken Copeland and welcomed attendees of his Believers’ Convention to Tarrant County Convention Center. I testified of the dynamic power of God to set captives free, even defeated preachers like I had been. Estimates were that over 7,000 people flooded the altar even before I could give the invitation. I have never stopped reaching out in love beyond walls that have been have built for personal comfort and which, too often, diminish the power of the Gospel message.
Unknown to either of us, Ken’s ministry and LIFE Outreach were both supporting an evangelical Episcopal named Tony Palmer who ministered and helped the poor in Buenos Aires, Argentina. There was a Catholic bishop, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, overseeing the area who was also ministering to the poor. Tony went to him and said, “I want to let you know that I will work at your side. You are the senior minister in this area and I will submit to your loving leadership.” Immediately in that humble relationship, a bond of love and peace was formed. They knew they were brothers in Christ and over the years their relationship continued to grow.
When Jorge Mario Bergoglio was chosen to be Pope Francis, God began working to bring together those who truly trust in Jesus Christ. Through a series of astonishing events, a small group of evangelicals were invited to Rome to meet with the Pope. Betty and I were honored to be invited to attend. So we went to the Vatican and met in the presence of the Lord. The love coming from every person was overwhelming.
During lunch everyone shared their gratitude for what God was doing. The Pope made it clear that he wanted every believer to become Spirit-filled, joy-filled witnesses. In those moments I talked about being an evangelist and how for 50 years we have been seeking to win people to Christ and challenging Christians to become faithful, compassion-filled witnesses. I went on to say that so many people in our Protestant churches do not really know Christ.
I shared the testimony of how I was christened in the Episcopal Church as a boy, but did not know Jesus. Later, I had a supernatural new-birth experience and Jesus became the Lord and love of my life. As a fatherless, homeless boy, I now had a father and the love of God flowed out like a river. Amazingly, God called me to be an evangelist and I have never stopped proclaiming the Gospel to the ends of the earth. I told him how Betty had been baptized through immersion in a Baptist church, but during our relationship and hearing the excitement that filled my heart, she said, “James, I don’t know Jesus like that. He’s just someone I’ve always heard about.” One glorious Sunday morning the little Baptist Sunday school teacher left her seat in the choir, came forward, put her hand in the pastor’s hand, and said, “Brother Hale, I just gave my life to Jesus.” He said, “You’re the best girl in our church!” She said, “Preacher, stop telling me how good I am. I just met Jesus and He changed my life!” That was 53 years ago and she is full of Jesus. I said to Pope Francis many Protestants have never had a personal relationship with Christ even though they are church members, and I have seen many Catholics who don’t seem to know Jesus.
Pope Francis had written recently that, “Too many Catholics look like they’ve been to Lent with no Easter…. It’s a mistake for them to look like they’ve been to a funeral” He challenged Catholics to witness and never try to control the Holy Spirit, but yield to Him. The Pope responded in our personal conversation with such a dynamic evangelical message desiring all people who have religious associations (all Protestants, all Catholics – no matter who they are) as Paul said to the Corinthians, “to examine themselves whether they be of the faith.” He said he wanted everyone to have a personal life-changing encounter with Christ and enter into a personal relationship with Jesus and become bold witnesses for the Gospel. Religion is not the way; Jesus is.
So fervent was his message that as he concluded I said, “As an evangelist, I want you to know what you just said deserves a high five!” The translator communicated what I was saying and in a moment of exuberance he raised his hand and gave his first high five ever. What a beautiful picture of love and supernatural oneness for the sake of the Gospel and those Jesus came to redeem.
We continued in such glorious fellowship that words could never fully describe it. I couldn’t help but wonder in those moments if Jesus looked down on that scene in Rome between Evangelicals and the Pope and said to God the Father, “I think my prayer is about to be answered. Look, Dad, maybe we can put Your arms around the world that I died to redeem and I live to fill to overflowing with Your joy, peace and love.”
Oh, how I hope and I pray that is the case and in my lifetime I cannot only see the prayers of so many answered, but above all I will live to see the prayer of the Lord Jesus answered for His glory and kingdom purpose. Dear God, please let it happen and let me gladly be a part of it.