The last few months living in a world controlled by a pandemic have been difficult to say the least. Due to the quarantined world we are living in, there have been many times where the urge to model unity, love and peace has not exactly been a top priority. Cautious hope has sometimes drifted toward frustration, complaining, and discord.
Beloved pastor Dr. Tony Evans believes that unity is the key for the times we are in and will fuel the advancement of God’s kingdom. In his latest book, Stronger Together, Weaker Apart, Dr. Evans emphasizes that all who follow Christ are called to be unified. Furthermore, he believes we are to live in love and unity to make a positive impact in the lives of others.
I recently spoke with Dr. Evans about the first step in living a life of unity, the importance of prayer as a means to build strength in relationships, and some solid advice for those who find themselves in a divisive relationship.
First off, how are you and your family making out during the COVID-19 pandemic ordeal? At home?
Well, we’re trying to adjust with the rest of the nation on a whole lot of levels. On a personal level, we’re trying to keep ourselves quarantined, at least up until this point Things are starting to open up a little bit but we are just kind of connected as a family but not going out much beyond that. And from my church’s standpoint, we’re doing online services, so we’re having to adjust and re-adjust. It’s quite an adjustment. We want to do what’s wise and best for ourselves as well as for others.
First off, what was the inspiration or catalyst for writing Stronger Together, Weaker Apart?
My greatest concern has been the division of our nation. We are divided politically, socially, racially, economically, and religiously. So, in all the major categories of society, we are greatly divided. The most important part of that is spiritually for me because of the nature of God and how God works in history. Wherever there is illegitimate division, meaning division that God condemns, then what you’ve done is you’ve removed God from the process, whether it’s in the family or it’s in culture. God is removed because of His nature of being a unified being. I wanted to emphasize based on Jesus’s prayer in John 17 that we need to get right as a church first. Legitimate Biblical unity is a purpose not the same as a person. It’s a call for prayer and participation in God’s pattern of unity. And so, I would emphasize that this pandemic has showed us that when you get a big enough issue, a negative enough issue, it has everybody talking about one thing. And that’s the pandemic and Covid-19. If you can have unity around a negative, you can also have legitimate unity around a positive, that being God and his Word.
A goal for everyone in this world should be to try to live a life of unity with those around us. What is the first step in leading a life of unity?
From a spiritual perspective, you have to have a purpose. God’s purpose in history is His glory through the advancement of His kingdom. That’s His purpose in history. That purpose must loom large. It must transcend your race, color, and gender. It must transcend your (church) denomination. He must be glorified, and His kingdom must be advanced. That’s why much of our ministry is centered on the kingdom because that’s God’s purpose in history. It’s having a big enough vision and the kingdom is certainly a big enough vision. How does this advance God’s kingdom and is the issue we are dealing with condemned or congratulated in Scripture? When you have a big enough vision, and I think we’re lacking that. We’re lacking comprehensive kingdom vision. So, we stay in our little silos and don’t pursue something bigger than ourselves. We also have to make a distinction between His membership and fellowship. You can have fellowship with people and processes where you can’t have membership with them. If there is a difference in church polity, difference of doctrinal nuances … I’m not talking about the core doctrines of the faith, of course, but doctrinal nuances. For the purposes of a kingdom vision, the goal must be kingdom fellowship, not kingdom membership.
A key thread in building unity for anybody and especially Christians is to pray. Why is prayer so significant in building strength in relationships?
Prayer is inviting heaven into history and eternity into time. God’s goal is to reflect heaven on earth. The Lord’s prayer says, ‘… thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ His goal is to put a template of heaven into history. Prayer is an invitation for Him to do that. But in order for Him to respond to the invite, it has to be on His terms. We often want to pray with our terms while we give Him an invite. God doesn’t roll like that. That’s why there must be a standard. That’s why there must be unity in prayer. That’s why there must be the repentance as part of prayer. He wants to respond to the invitation, but just on His terms. However, if you don’t pray, that is, if you don’t invite Him in, then He assumes He’s not welcome. It is a necessary invitation, but based on His conditions. That’s why all these calls to prayer, when we’re not meeting His conditions, don’t go anywhere.
How has prayer transformed your life?
What it has done is it lets me live in a heavenly consciousness. One of the things the Bible says is to pray without ceasing, which means bring God into everything. And so, when I’m operating in that consciousness, I’m staying in contact with heaven about anything, whether large or small. It’s critical that we do that if we want God involved in everything large and small, because things small become large when they go left. So, you want Him on the front end and not on the back end of all issues of life.
As we have been discussing, the opposite of unity is division. What encouragement do you have for people who find themselves divided or taking a side in their relationships?
First of all, we have to understand the root cause of the division so that we know where we’re dealing with. All division is not wrong. It’s illegitimate division that is wrong. We need to divide over truth. We need to divide over sin. There are some things that God wants us to divide over. We have to establish the legitimacy of the division and the cause of the division. Then we have to ask the question, ‘Now that we’ve clarified the cause, what does God say about how this ought to be addressed? You always start with God based on his Word. Once you answer those two questions, now we’re headed to a third question. What steps must we take to apply what God says to the problem that we have? Usually, one or all three of those steps are missing, which keeps division going. Either we haven’t identified the root cause. Secondly, we haven’t brought God’s approach into the mechanism to address it. And when we do, we don’t operate on it consistently. So, when even of those things are missing, division stays and unity leaves.
As you were writing this book, was there something that you learned about unity that perhaps you never realized before? Was there anything that caught your eye during the writing process?
I always knew unity was important, always that unity was valued. But it upped the ante because I was writing it against the backdrop of a nation that is unraveling because of disunity. I was seeing it everywhere, in every area, in everything. People are even just unified with themselves. They can’t get along with themselves. If you can’t get along with you, how are you going to get along with other folks. You multiply that thousands and millions of times and you have chaos. It is this sense of heightened importance that became more real to me.
Why is it important for believers in Christ to be unified during the uncertain times we are living in more than any other?
It’s absolutely critical for believers to be unified because the world needs to see a model of what unity looks like. The job of the Church is to model the kingdom. If there is no model of what it looks like cross-racially, cross-culturally, and cross-religiously, then the world does not have what it needs to be improved. The best the world can do is borrow from our faith. Even if they’re not Christians, if they can borrow from our faith, they can have a better ordered life, family and world. But we need to give them something to borrow from. So, our unity is important for the world, but our unity is important for us because only with that legitimate unity will we see God’s involvement in our lives, in our prayers, our need for revival and our brokenness. We won’t see it either. We’ll be no different than the broader society.
After people have read Stronger Together, Weaker Apart, what would you like readers to take away from the experience? What is your greatest hope for the book?
I want my readers to develop a passion for unity. I want them to engage in a prayer for unity. I want them to become participants in unity. So, a passion, a prayer and a participation. If we can get those three things prioritized through the influence of material, then we take them one step closer to seeing more of God.