Crystal shares about some of her experience at Refuel this past July. It is a slightly longer post than our usual but it is a topic we feel is timely and important and therefore worth a bit more space.
We had the immense privilege of serving at Refuel again this year and we are already looking forward to next year!
If you haven’t heard of Refuel, it is essentially a Highland gathering of people from across Scotland (and beyond!) who love Jesus and desire to gather with others to worship, pray, learn, discuss, relax, eat and hang out together in an atmosphere that facilitates deeper unity. Refuel is non-denominational, completely volunteer run and is an all family, week-long event held within the beautiful grounds of Gordon Castle Estate in Fochabers. If you haven’t been along yet, join us next year. It really is great fun!
This summer we were given the opportunity to do some seminars which is always a joy as we see people discover new things about God, themselves, and their relationship with Him as well as about prayer. If even a few people walked away with greater freedom, excitement and inspiration for their own prayer lives, and encouragement and fresh ideas for their church community’s prayer life, then we feel like all the work and effort to be there was more than worth it!
This summer at Refuel the focus was unity. When I first heard this I got excited. God seems to be doing something around unity in His Church right now across the globe and so the timeliness of such a focus made me expectant for what God might do in our hearts towards one another at Refuel.
I had been asked by Muddy Pearl to talk a bit about prayer and a favourite book at one of their book-themed evening events at Refuel, so I decided to work the week’s theme of unity into the talk as I am increasingly convinced that prayer is the starting place for unity in the Church.
Unity in the Church is something that I have long carried in my heart. I can remember even as a youth watching documentaries, stories and the news about the Troubles in Northern Ireland and longing to go there to somehow help to bring not just peace, but reconciliation and restoration. Young and naive? Maybe. Without proper knowledge and understanding of all that has contributed to the tumult over the years? Most definitely. But I know that desire and the grief I felt within mirrored the heart of God.
And in recent months this longing to see unity amongst the people of God has become more “like fire shut up in my bones and I can not help but speak“, to quote Jeremiah.
Therefore it was easy to choose the book I would talk about. I chose Heart Fire by Johannes Hartl as the words contained in this book around prayer and unity have gripped my heart from the moment I first read them:
‘…when you pray, what Jesus prayed for become important to you. And this was his prayer request the night before he died:”that all of them may be one” (John 17:21). If God increasingly calls his church back to prayer, it will also be a call that we pray in unity: in a unity that does not trivialise differences, rather one that respects differences whilst meeting in that which unites us all.’
‘Where, if not in praying together, can fraternal reconciliation begin? …anyone who really prays will pray for that which Jesus prays. In the night before his death Jesus asks the Father for unity among his disciples. He’s still praying for that today. May his prayer be echoed in ours, day and night. The question of Christian unity is too serious, its history too blood-drenched, to leave it to those who simply debate it at conference tables. Only in praying together will we find the power to overcome the divisions in our hearts.’
‘Jesus is monogamous, and he has only one bride. Although her visible unity is broken, all who believe in Jesus belong to this bride. Loving the bridegroom should be accompanied by an ever-increasing respect for the bride whom he only chose once.‘
I think that last line can be the most challenging. How do we have an “ever-increasing respect for the bride“? Especially when we see such brokenness, mess, scars, bruises, flaws and it is difficult at times to see the beauty that Jesus sees?
That’s where prayer is key. As Johannes says, when we really pray, what matters to Jesus matters to us. True prayer takes us beyond our limited vision, our biases and prejudices, the emotions we struggle with; it removes us from the seat of judgment where we can so quickly enthrone ourselves and dislodges the pride within us, bringing us to a place of humility and openness before God, his heart weaving with our hearts, giving us his perspective, the ability to see and love more like him.
Johannes tells the story of time he spent sitting at the feet of an elderly nun named Barbara who was filled with a simple yet profound love and adoration for her Saviour that had been cultivated by hours spent in his presence in prayer. Above her dining table hung the words she had penned: “Lord, make me worthy to serve your Church when she is down.”
It is easy to love and respect the church when she looks good. But what about when she doesn’t look good, when she has stumbled and even fallen?
What I am more and more convinced of, especially when looking at the lives of those like Barbara, unity is ultimately about Jesus. If we try to have unity for the sake of unity alone it will never happen. It will only happen when we love Jesus so deeply that what matters to him, what hurts his heart, seeing him receive all that he desires, matters more to us than our own opinions, preferences and comfort.
I feel like we caught a glimpse of this unity at Refuel. Not only through the teaching on unity brought throughout the week through various speakers, but in conversations over coffee, shared meals, burdens and struggles shared, prayers spoken together, worship declared side by side – differences not ignored or trivialised, but discussed with open hearts, unifying around the one thing we all had in common – a love for Jesus.
Then on the Friday afternoon we gathered in the centre field to witness those choosing to make public statements of their love for Jesus through baptism. There we all we were, representing various beliefs around baptism, yet we were all rejoicing and celebrating together the visible, transforming work of the Jesus we all love in the lives of those being baptised. It was a powerfully beautiful moment.