PRAYING FOR THE WORLD

The world is also a place where we must pray, just as Jesus prayed. We are to pray for ourselves, for our faithfulness to the Father's word and his call, for all others who come to faith in Jesus through the Word, and also for the world to come to know Jesus, through our lives, through our love, through the Word and by the Spirit.

The heart of all these points is that we are to be in the world as Jesus was in the world. To express this call in another way, we might say that we are to imitate Jesus.

THE PROBLEM OF CONFORMITY

However, this calling to imitate Jesus is very challenging. As we live in the world we find two great problems. One is that, very easily, we find ourselves conforming to the world's values and lifestyle. We can look at any human culture and, unhappily, we can predict the areas where Christians are likely to be living in disobedience to God's commandments, rather than imitating Jesus. It should be no surprise to any thoughtful Christian that many young male believers struggle with addiction to Internet pornography.

Nor should it be any surprise that almost all of us Christians who live in the Western world find ourselves deeply trapped in the idolatry of money and possessions. We can also expect that we will find ourselves wanting to live for our own personal happiness and fulfillment without regard for the needs of other people. Each of these ways of thinking, seeing the world, and living are such basic parts of our cultures today that we find it difficult to walk in the ways of the Lord. We are not much like Jesus, for he was not shaped by the ungodly patterns of the culture of his day; rather, he lived in the world in perfect conformity to his Father's commandments.

THE PROBLEM OF RETREAT AND SEPARATION

But, we also experience another problem. Because it is so difficult to live faithfully in the world, we are tempted to retreat from the world of sin and unbelief, and to develop a negative and superior attitude toward our neighbors in the world. Consequently many barriers arise between us and other people whose beliefs and way of life are different from our own. These barriers might come from pride in our own convictions and our own perceived rejection of worldliness. Or, we may find ourselves being hostile to others because of their beliefs or because of their manner of life. Such barriers may lead to personal separation from them, for us, for our church members, and for our children. Believers in Christ can, all too readily, desire a kind of cultural isolation. We say, "We are to be separate," and so we have nothing to do with those around us. In this way we avoid the calling to be in the world, for we are so intent on keeping ourselves, our fellow believers, and our children "pure" and "apart" from anyone whose thinking and life is not exactly like our own.

Yet we ought not to be surprised or shaken by the false beliefs, disinterest, or even hostility of the world. Jesus' prayer, and the whole Scripture, teaches us that this is exactly what we are to expect in the world. All through this age we will be living and working among unbelieving people: people who do not know the Lord; people who do not love him; people who believe very differently from us; people who do not walk in obedience to his laws. However, it is precisely this world to which the Lord sends us; it is such people whom the Lord calls us to live among; and he calls us to reach out to them—whether we want to hear such a calling or not. Even the most surface reading of the New Testament makes it clear that this is the Church's task all through the present age.

IMITATING JESUS IN THE WORLD

Instead of retreating, isolating ourselves, and condemning unbelievers and our culture, Jesus calls us to something very different. He desires that we give ourselves to the understanding of the culture around us; he urges us to stop condemning the world and unbelievers; his passion is for us to listen to his prayer for us, that we might be in the world as he was in the world; he is eager for us to imitate him and to give our lives gladly to love and to serve non-Christians.