At a prayer event a number of years ago, while joyful music streamed from the band declaring the triumphant coming of Jesus and His kingdom, I sat numb, wounded, and silent. Weak with sorrow, I chirped out an occasional line with little more than simple will. It was day three of a night & day worship event, a minor sampling of the coming kingdom where worship would continue without ceasing. But despite the excitement of the moment, my mind and heart were arrested by the implications of a relational fallout between two dear friends.
Though I agreed with all of our prayers that day, my primary prayer was focused on my friends to overcome their relational challenges, to seek one another out, to listen, confess sin, and make things right. I wrestled through the implications of how life and community would change if they couldn’t come to terms. I knew it was possible, but in that moment, it felt like it would take a miracle. Yes, that was it. I realized in this moment that reconciliation was a miracle of the kingdom, the evidence of its coming that we should have included in our prayers.
The Kingdom Has Come
Healing, prophecy, raising the dead — these are the things we typically think of when we hear “The Kingdom of God.” However, the appearance of His kingdom on earth comprises more than the appearance of these kinds of supernatural events in our broken world. The kingdom is the cosmological and societal order of the universe under the lordship of Jesus Christ; it entails that everything is operating in perfect righteousness, unto the glory of God, as it was meant to be when it was created (Luke 9:1-2, 11:20). Though we won’t experience it in its fullness until the coming age, we are able to live in this reality to an extent even now because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The acts of forgiveness and reconciliation, despite their intangible nature when compared with unblinded eyes or restored hearing, are to be considered among these miracles, evidence that the kingdom of God is in our midst, because it is only in this context they can fully be expressed.
Perhaps we don’t always count forgiveness and reconciliation as kingdom miracles because they are not reserved or experienced only in a Christian context. The concepts are commonplace in society to be mistaken as normal or expected (they are far from it!). Though they are loosely experienced outside of the Christian context, unfortunately, they are also infrequently experienced within the Christian context. Additionally, we may not be fully alive to the profound reality of what reconciliation means, or understand the power involved in the healing of division. We may not realize the infusion of grace required to love someone with God’s heart and mind. We may not fully understand just how deeply division wounds the body of Christ, or conversely, how vital unity is to the healthy proliferation of the kingdom throughout the earth.
What is Reconciliation?
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed way; behold new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not noting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.”2nd Corinthians 5:17-19
We understand the idea of reconciling a checkbook – in essence, we work through a process in order to bring two disparate things into agreement. Similarly, we may think of reconciliation as bringing two things into harmony or compatibility. It’s a creative, transformative process.
Jesus’ death and resurrection provided the means to be reconciled to God Almighty; by the shedding of His blood, He paid my debt of wrongdoing, which amounted to an impassable chasm between my depravity and God’s holiness. Not only has my debt been paid so I no longer owe God anything, I have also been transformed so that I would become LIKE Him.
No wonder Paul began his passage declaring we are new creations. Talk about a creative miracle!
Paul says that we have been given this very ministry to restore others to relationship with God. I want to take it a step further to say that this ministry transcends to include the restoration our relationships with one another, as well.
The day of the prayer meeting, I prayed fervently for reconciliation as I considered, not just my friends’ connection to one another, but the relationships surrounding them, wondering how others would react to their break in connection. Both were individuals of excellent character, but then would the community think falsely about one or the other? How would I explain the situation if asked, refusing to gossip, working to honor both sides, but also honestly acknowledging the brokenness of the situation? I thought of the casualties of offense left in the wake of those who had left the church over similar quarrels. I thought of the challenge of remaining in relationship with those that surrounded both parties, striving to remain above the fray of altered opinions. Furthermore, I remembered the many, many people who had left the church altogether because we inside the church refused to endure healthy confrontation and the perpetual work of relationship building. The thought of facilitating unity in the scenario felt like trying to pull together the ropes of two ships moving in opposite directions.
This is why Jesus told His disciples that the demonstration of His love to the world would be in the way that we loved one another (John 13:35). In this representation of His love, the world would know who He was–extravagant in mercy, lavish in love, and trustworthy as a judge to make wrong things right. Healthy, thriving relationships require the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to see and love one another the way that God sees and loves.
A True Power Encounter
Out of many examples of the need for God’s power in relationships, three especially come to mind.
“Increase our faith!”Luke 17:5
The only time the disciples explicitly ask the Lord to increase their faith is when he tells them to forgive a brothers seven times in a day. Jesus asks them to “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons…” (Matthew 10:8). At one point, James and John are so seemingly confident in their ability to operate supernaturally that they are ready to call down fire on a group of Samaritans who do not receive them (Luke 9:54). Jesus gave the disciples impossible assignments and challenging spiritual direction, but this command is the only one recorded that elicits such a desperate prayer from them.
To take it a step further, though, Jesus responds that their obedience in this commandment is no more than what is expected of them, as in a slave who has done his daily labors. His comments here show us the expectation of the outer workings of the kingdom from those who have been transformed by Him.
“Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in my name, I am there in their midst.”Matthew 18:19-20
We generally reference this statement when speaking about the power of prayer in a general sense, but it’s vital to note that it is deep within the context of Jesus’ extensive teaching on how to practically deal with relationships. It begins with the parable of the lost sheep, demonstrating that God initiates reconciliation. He then gives practical, step-by-step instructions on how to work through conflict with another person. Here He gives the promise stated above. Agreement between individuals in Jesus’ name for the restoration of relationship guarantees the presence and power of God to work divinely in that situation. Finally, he ends with a teaching on the reality of God’s extravagant forgiveness, and how it should empower us to forgive one another.
The infusion of this promise into the midst of these challenging teachings shows me that in order to enact the forgiveness and reconciliation of the Kingdom, I must have the empowerment of His presence and perspective.
“Behold, how good and pleasant it isPsalm 133
For brothers to dwell together in unity…
For there the Lord commanded the blessing–Life forever.”
Psalm 133 describes a miraculous blessing that comes as a result of unity, comparing it to the anointing of the priests, those who communed with God and experienced His presence. Our unity, our forgiveness, our love of one another, makes a way for the presence of the Lord to dwell in our midst. Walking in forgiveness and reconciliation is not simply a beautiful activity, but is actually a ministry before the Lord that creates a place where He would dwell. That is ultimately what the kingdom is – the Presence of the Lord, ruling, reigning, active in our midst, and this is what we get to participate in as we love one another with His radical, miraculous love.
The Necessary Components of Reconciliation
Though it is clear that we need God’s grace to operate in true forgiveness and reconciliation, why is it so difficult to do this apart from it? We must look at the pieces that comprise reconciliation because it is so much more than simply “letting go” of something that was done wrongly to us.
Wrong-doing requires justice. Justice requires restitution. And for wholeness to take place, there must be healing. When we forgive, we release someone of the burden of their debt to pay us back, and we are freed from a great deal of injury if we do this step alone. But without these other three pieces above, reconciliation is challenging at best. If there is no justice, how will order be replaced? From whom or where will I receive justice and healing? How will my life be made right if I just release them from what they’ve done? And will they just continue, or be brought to bear for their actions?
Briefly, let us look first at what I mean by justice, restitution, healing, and also grace. Justice administers what is objectively right in a given situation, whether a punishment or reward, in order to establish or re-establish what should be. Restitution is the activity of restoring what was lost, whether that is the thing itself or something given in kind. Healing is the closure of wounds, whether emotional or physical, to the point where whole functionality is resumed. And grace is the empowerment to do something that you do not have in and of yourself to do.
In the case of relationships, how do you bring justice to such intangible things as betrayal, codependency, manipulation, anger, abuse? How do you regain trust and peace with that person? How do you mend the brokenness of the heart? How do you ever have the ability, much less the desire, to reach out, to have the patience to face pain and work through conflict, and reestablish a broken relationship?
Outside of the kingdom, we are encouraged to practice forgiveness, but there is no resource to turn to but our broken selves to accomplish this. Though I would prefer anyone to practice forgiveness to the greatest extent possible, the highest degree of fulfillment in this area is only found in relationship with Jesus, and this makes it a miracle.
He has paid the price for the sins against us. He can restore to us what was stolen, whether it was a sense of identity, peace, or acceptance; he even restores financial losses, or remind us of our eternal provision and inheritance in the next age! Only He can identify with our loss and suffering; He can heal the pain of our hearts; he can renew our minds to see another person through His perspective. He can give us not only the ability, but the desire to be in relationship once again with that person. He can enable us to try trusting them, not even necessarily because they are trustworthy — but because HE is, because our identity rests in Him. His ability to lead us and restore us is greater than any power that another person has over our lives. He can give me the skills and wisdom to speak to that person in truth and love so that their life is transformed, as well, and they are not left to continue in their sin and dysfunction. He can change the heart of the wrongdoer, so that their repentance results in changed behavior. His rule over my life ensures that I have a judge, an advocate, a mediator, a benefactor, a restorer.
Because Jesus has made a way to be connected again to the Father, we can see through His eyes, we can choose to love with His love, we can rely on His opinion of us instead of someone else’s. It truly is the way of the Kingdom and is no less a miracle than the blind seeing.
Because is it not, in one sense, the same thing?