Tracing back to a prayer Jesus prayed on the worst night of his life, “That they”—that we—“would be one,” Holder takes his readers on a winding journey from that glorious prayer to the practical realities of everyday life. For those who cling to the hope that God is still at work, this book will both stir a deeper longing for a better way and provide practical steps toward that way.
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THE WORST NIGHT OF SOMEONE ELSE'S LIFE
The Prayer Prayed for Us
What I know about loving and living with others has taken too long to find its way into my stubborn, struggling heart. The lessons learned from friendships and ex-friendships, from fellow pastors and those in our church, from leading and following, from forgetting and regretting, from trusting and then watching the timeless God work in real time in the real world — these lessons have little by little taken hold. For this does not happen all at once, this new way, this not-of-this-world way.
And yet, in this frustrating slowness, some truths shoulder their way in suddenly, demanding to be noticed. Not so much in, as one man in my church puts it, "a fork in the brain" moment (which you simply must not try at home) but more in an "ah, of course" moment. Something so right, so perfectly true, that it seems to have been there all along (it probably was), and you wonder how you'd missed it for so long (the reasons are many). But now that it has crashed into the crowded room of your thoughts, it must be faced. It must be dealt with.
For me, this sudden, almost blinding awareness of the obvious happened on the worst night of someone else's life.
THICKENING LAYERS OF SADNESS
There is so much swirling in the room this evening that no one can keep up with his own emotions, much less have the margin to deal with another's. No one except the host. He has welcomed his friends warmly.
That part isn't new. But something is different. By the end of the evening, even the slowest to notice has finally caught up. Thickening layers of sadness weigh on his soul. Something very personal lurks in the shadows of the near future.
Have you ever been near such a thing? Maybe it was a surgery for which the odds were so poor that you couldn't say them out loud. Maybe it was a solitary sentencing before the judge. Or an appointment with the attorney. Or the boss. Or the funeral home. Stand with someone at the edge of a singular storm like that and you'll hear: "Dear God, I don't want to walk through that door ... but I have to." And he or she does. By God's grace, that person does.
This night is that kind of night.
The days leading up were a whirlwind of controversy. It is the week of Passover, the great feast of Israel, which always draws huge crowds to Jerusalem. On Sunday, Jesus symbolically declared his Messiahship by riding into the city on a donkey. The impromptu parade had been laced with celebration and danger. The religious leaders opposing Jesus looked on with disgust and fear, but they did nothing. When later he cleared the Temple and called out their corruption, they made up their minds: They began looking for a way to kill him. But how would this happen?
It wasn't long before they had their answer: Judas, one of the Twelve, would deliver Jesus to his enemies away from the crowds and any danger of a riot. As the others would soon learn, on this night, evil would have its moment. But first, one last night for Jesus with his beloved friends.
By the time we get to John 17, so much has already happened that evening. So much has been said. An already important supper, the Passover, was now drenched with new meaning by this one who spoke as if death were waiting outside the door. Of course it was. There was always a cross at the end of this last visit to Jerusalem, but this night it is closer than ever before, this death beyond all deaths.
Then a confrontation with Judas brings awkward closure: blunt words, a gesture, and perhaps one final look from Jesus that broke the heart of heaven, if not the hardened Judas. The betrayer leaves the table for the last time. It has begun.
The unholy kiss, the unjust arrest, the scattering of these overmatched friends, the travesty of his trials, blasphemy in the air, and blood on a cross. It's all coming and soon.
The supper is over. Peter, thinking too highly of himself, receives a haunting prediction of his threefold denial. The glorious truths of John 14 are shared. And then Jesus says, "Come now; let us leave."
A conversation that began around the table appears to have spilled over into another walk with Jesus through the streets of Jerusalem. Something is happening; a darkness is gathering — you can see its shadow on Jesus' face. You can almost feel it creeping its way through the city, trying to find them. After the safety of being together in that upper room, even stepping into the street seems dangerous. They stay close to Jesus.
In those fleeting moments now flying past them all, before all hell is going to break loose, what does Jesus do? When there is nothing else to say to them or at least nothing else their hearts could stand to hear, what does Jesus do?
He prays. Somewhere before crossing the brook of Kidron and making his way up that hill to a grove of olive trees called Gethsemane, he looks toward heaven.
The relationship between God the Father and God the Son is best seen in these moments of prayer. Often, others did not even hear those prayers — they just observed from a distance. Who knows, perhaps this communion between Jesus and his Abba was more than we mortals could handle. But this time, for our sake, we hear the prayer and catch a glimpse of the inner workings of eternity.
FATHER, THE TIME HAS COME
In the sovereign mind of God, this sliver of time to which all of eternity is tethered has finally come. This night Jesus faced, and the darkness that would follow, were not some shocking developments. This was no surprise. Instead, all the details and storylines, all the prophecies and longings, are rushing together, arriving on time, just as God intended.
For quite a while, these disciples had heard Jesus talk about his mission. Why he had come to them. Why he was sent by his Father. But never have the words seemed more urgent. Every breath matters. Every second, one tick closer. All of eternity has been counting down to a moment in time on which everything will turn, and now, on this night, the time has come. So Jesus prays. He prays for himself. He prays for his followers — those with him and those yet to come. And ever present is this grand and glorious mission to rescue humanity and restore creation. It is front and center on this horrible, holy night. But woven into that very big plan is the most intimate of threads holding it all together: the love between this Son and his Father.
So often we talk of this tender term and think of how Jesus taught us to pray. But let's not forget that Jesus and his Abba enjoyed this intimacy before the foundations of the earth were laid. Before we look to how much God loves us, we must begin with the love going on within the Trinity — the love between Father, Son, and Spirit.
Everything flows out of this love. So close are they, so unified in, well, everything.
Though Father and Son are different persons, there is such a sameness to their nature that Jesus had just told the disciples around the supper table, "When you see me, you've seen the Father." The connection between them was so strong, so vital, so safe and wholly pure, that Jesus would pray, "All I have is yours and all you have is mine." Different persons and yet so together that it defies description. We are on the edge of an eternal truth that the writers of Scripture could only begin to imagine.
"Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you."
The disciples are overhearing Jesus as he reaches into eternity past, speaking of wonders too great for their mortal minds. This is the way things were "before the world began," the way things will be again when Jesus returns to his Father's side. But is it too much to think the disciples heard a longing, perhaps an ache, in Jesus' voice? Soon the prayer of Gethsemane will be on his lips. He must face a reality as darkness closes in. Do not forget: This is the worst night of his life. Only this closeness with the Father sustains him. The return to his Father's side calls him. But first, the godforsakenness of the cross awaits.
Jesus was sent here on a mission, and he's now about to take the last painful, glorious step. Looming in the background is what? Love. It was the backdrop for everything that night. It is why Jesus did what he did. It's how he did what he did. His mission was rooted in the intimate goings-on of the Trinity. Would it be too big a surprise to learn that what we do and how we do it should somehow be rooted in the same love going on between Father, Son, and Spirit?
A DIFFERENT PEOPLE
The disciples lean in, for now Jesus is praying for them: "I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world." He prays for their protection from the one who hates everything that God is doing to redeem people and restore his creation. This evil one would use whatever means possible to disrupt and destroy the work and people of God. These precious ones were a gift from the Father. Jesus knows them and loves them. He had protected and guarded them, and they belonged no longer to this world. They belonged to him. They were now set apart as different people with different motives, different ethics, a different mission, a different life. Jesus prays for their continued protection. Why? So that they may be one as Jesus and the Father are one.
Soon it would be their mission, and Jesus prays for them to be one.
Soon they would turn Rome on its ear. They were about to do what God called them to do in this world — they would get their hands dirty in this world, loving and serving this world, conversing and sharing with this world without being mistaken for this world.
Remember that for a couple of chapters, will you? The people of God are not to be mistaken for this world. Even as the story pushes deeper and deeper into the world. Even as people "from every tribe and tongue and people and nation" become a kaleidoscopic sea of faces that will now form the family of God. This family will now have its share of differing opinions, backgrounds, and perspectives. The people of God will in some ways be just like the world around them.
For Jesus now sets his gaze past that dark night to the coming day when this movement would jump the rails and enter the Gentile, non-Jewish world, speeding across the Roman Empire, moving into people groups and languages and cultures and spreading across the ages and continents. With the sovereign plan of a loving God in mind, he keeps praying.
"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message."
Have you ever heard someone pray for you?
Depending on the setting and the status of your heart, it could be unnerving or humbling or empowering or healing. Sometimes it's all of the above. But when someone starts to speak to God about you, at the very least you ought to listen in. If someone is beseeching the sovereign Lord on the worst night of his or her life and drops your name into that prayer, you'll probably want to listen carefully.
That's exactly what happens at the end of this prayer. Jesus prays for himself and his own mission. Then he prays for his disciples and the trajectory of his movement as it begins to push across the empire. But then he prays for you and me. Of course he doesn't mention us by name, but it's pretty obvious we were on his mind that night — we to whom the testimony of the crucified and risen Savior would one day come. And what is it he wants for us? When his world is crashing in around him, what does Jesus take the time to pray for us?
My prayer is not for them alone. 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. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
What is it that matters so much to Jesus in that moment? What is his dream, his longing, his prayer for us? That we will be one as he and his heavenly Father are one. This thread running through the whole prayer now wraps itself around us. He's already prayed this exact thing for those first disciples, but now he asks the Father the same for us.
WHEN SOMETHING MATTERS TO JESUS
With time running out, Jesus didn't pray for his disciples to be brave or persevering. He prayed that they would be one. He didn't pray that we would be clever or compassionate, relevant or intelligent. He didn't pray that we'd win debates or end world hunger. He prayed that we would be one. It must have mattered an awful lot to pray those words on that night. Jesus intentionally lashed this "being one" business to everything he has done and is still doing in this world.
No matter how big and beautiful and colorful and messy the people of God will become, it now comes back to something close and intimate. Jesus prayed for unity. He didn't ask his Father for a bland, homogenized unity but rather for this hodgepodge of redeemed humanity to show the world something outrageously, wonderfully different — so distinctly different that it would cause the world to take notice of God's offer of redemption.
And to do this we must be one.
If that's true, then why do we treat this so casually? Apparently, how we treat one another is directly connected to the very mission of Jesus and the goings-on within the Trinity itself. We can give the world a glimpse into what has always been and what is yet to come.
When we realize that Jesus prayed for this one thing on the worst night of his life, it's going to be awfully hard to not take it seriously.
But to take it seriously, we must first answer a key question: What does it really mean to be one?
FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION
How has prayer helped you in the midst of trial?
What jumps out at you from Jesus' prayer?
What types of behavior keep Jesus followers from living as one?
Excerpted from "The Genius of One"
Copyright © 2017 Greg Holder.
Excerpted by permission of NavPress.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Prologue: White Folding Chairs: Why This Matters and What to Expect, ix,
1. The Worst Night of Someone Else's Life: The Prayer Prayed for Us, 3,
2. When Sharks Dance: The Example Set before Us, 13,
3. Sheer Genius: The Plan Laid for Us, 27,
4. Keep One Eye on the Fish, the Other on the Bear: The Challenge Ahead of Us, 39,
THE NUTS AND BOLTS,
5. A Story about Guns: In the Presence of Humility, 57,
6. At Some Point All of Our Movies Stink: The Hard Work of Collaboration, 73,
7. The Disclaimer: The Hard Work You Do Alone, 89,
8. Life and Death: Grace and Grumbling in Our Words, 101,
9. The Color of a Cobra's Eyes: The Poison of Gossip, 119,
10. Hang On to that Red Shirt: Entering the Trouble of Another, 133,
11. The Jesus Answer: Lessons Learned in Ferguson, 149,
THE REST OF THE DREAM,
12. Answered Prayer: How the World Could Still Change, 173,
What People are Saying About This
Greg Holder has written a clear and vivid piece on how we can actually attain peace through The Genius of One. This book not only envisions the possibilities of what we are called to be as one body; it also gives us colorful pictures and the practical nuts and bolts of how we can be the answer to Jesus’ prayer of true oneness.
Perhaps the one thing that most hinders the world-changing mission of the church is its lack of unity. Jesus prayed in John 17 that his church would be “one” so that the world would believe that God had sent him. In The Genius of One, you’ll enjoy Greg’s humor and his humility, but your greatest takeaway will be how your influence and leadership in embracing our oneness in Christ is the first step toward changing the world.
A rare book and a rare author. In teaching, who combines insight into Scripture that goes beyond commentary, a flair for the narrative, humor that’s funny and not merely amusing, and illustrations that illuminate instead of reiterate? This guy—Greg Holder—that’s who. The Genius of One is a profound unpacking of a profound thesis—everything worth anything in this world is rooted in the oneness of God. Do we know this? Did we know this and then forget? I’m not sure, but I’ve never seen it as clearly as I do now. Thanks, Greg. This book is a gem.
The Genius of One is a cynic buster. For more than forty years I have been involved in Kingdom matters, and I have suffered enough fools and my own foolishness to guffaw when I consider unity in the body of Christ. I love Greg and respect him enormously, but a book on what it means to be one in the church seemed as unlikely as seventy is the new fifty. His playful, hilarious, heartfelt, theologically profound invitation to risk humbly for unity is a clarion call in a world as fractured and toxic as ours. This compelling book will help you celebrate Jesus’ call to reveal him by the way we relate.
The Genius of One is a practitioner’s handbook for how businesses, churches, and individuals can achieve more together than apart. Saturated with wisdom, humility, and lived experience, Holder offers one of the most gritty, earthy, and practical books on how believers can live out their common unity with God and one another in light of our many differences.
Greg Holder is a trusted guide to lead you on a journey to discover God’s heart for unity. His instructive encouragement is impeccable. In our divided culture, I can’t imagine a more timely and critical message.