Satan – Lucifer, Beelzebub, the Father of all lies – has focused his fury against the church of the living God. Perhaps in the center of Satan’s crosshairs is his attack on the prayer of Jesus in John 17 that all believers live in unity. God revealed this assault to me and many other church leaders around the world, and also millions of saints and prayer warriors who have been praying diligently for the prayer of our Lord Jesus to be answered in our day. I believe I am beginning to see the walls of division that have held many Christians captive and divided, often silencing the witnesses of those Jesus commissioned to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
I believe we are going to be blessed to see Jesus’ prayer answered. For years on LIFE Today, I have encouraged our viewers with these words: “If you want your prayers answered, seek to be an answer to someone else’s prayers.” Upon hearing that challenge, many have found great comfort and released rivers of compassion toward others.
After hip surgery five years ago when I battled staph infection and was so weak I could not lift a cup of water to my lips, God got my full attention. He spoke through Isaiah 58:6-12 and I saw the importance of living in freedom, touching the suffering, the hungry, poor, and downtrodden. I recognized the promise that our prayers would be answered quickly and we would become a free-flowing stream and a well-watered garden, restoring the foundations upon which we must build. During that time God instructed me to focus my attention on Jesus’ prayer and encouraging others to begin fulfilling it through us in our day.
I believe I am beginning to witness what Jesus prayed for. Over three years ago, many respected evangelical leaders and Spirit-filled Catholics began meeting together to pray for God’s will to be done and to bring true believers together in supernatural unity. We know it is God’s will for those who have been born from above to become bold witnesses for His glory and Kingdom purpose and to go into all the world and make disciples of Christ. We have been commanded to love God with all of our heart and our neighbors as ourselves. The enemy has kept many Christians from loving one another as Christ loves us and have failed to recognize the importance of supernatural unity even with all of the unique diversity.
I believe the prayers of earnest Christians helped lead to the choice of Pope Francis. Many were amazed that a humble man, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, filled with such love for the poor, downtrodden, and overlooked from a radically socialist country (Argentina) could be named Pope. From the moment it happened, I felt like it was an answer not only to the prayers of truly concerned believers, but even a step toward seeing Jesus’ prayer answered.
This week I was blessed to be part of perhaps an unprecedented moment between evangelicals and the Catholic Pope. On Tuesday, for nearly three hours, a few of us were blessed to meet in an intimate circle of prayerful discussion and lunch to discuss not only seeing Jesus’ prayer answered, but that every believer would become bold, joy-filled witnesses for Christ.
Consider some events leading to this supernatural gathering at the Vatican in Rome. Years ago God told me to reach out beyond the safe, comfortable walls of my Southern Baptist tradition. He wanted me to reach beyond denominational barriers and seek to bring the family together so the church would put His arms around a hurting world and pull everyone close to His heart. I reached outside my sectarian Baptist comfort zone to Pentecostals, Charismatics and Catholics, as well as those outside the church.
To the shock of many, I stood on the platform next to the very charismatic Ken Copeland and welcomed attendees of his Believers’ Convention to Tarrant County Convention Center. During that very brief welcome as I was leaving the podium, Ken Copeland grabbed me by the shoulder and said, “The Holy Spirit is all over you. Get back up there and keep sharing.” I gave testimony of the dynamic power of God to set captives free, even defeated preachers like I had been. Estimates were that over 7,000 people flooded the altar even before I could give the invitation. I have never stopped reaching out in love beyond walls that have been have built for personal comfort and which, too often, diminish the power of the Gospel message. Because of friendship, I have continued to share my heart with Ken and Gloria and he has asked me to speak into his life and to those he seeks to teach and help. They have blessed me and Betty faithfully with their love and encouragement.
Unknown to either of us, Ken’s ministry and LIFE Outreach were both supporting an evangelical Episcopal named Tony Palmer who ministered and helped the poor in Buenos Aires, Argentina. There was a Catholic bishop, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, overseeing the area who was also ministering to the poor. Tony went to him and said, “I want to let you know that I will work at your side. You are the senior minister in this area and I will submit to your loving leadership.” Immediately in that humble relationship, a bond of love and peace was formed. They knew they were brothers in Christ and over the years their relationship continued to grow. Our Missions Director, Steve Coetzee, was also very close to Tony Palmer and encouraged us to faithfully support his mission outreaches.
When Jorge Mario Bergoglio was chosen to be Pope Francis, Bishop Tony Palmer was surprised and pleased. He felt, however, he would likely never hear from him again and would certainly understand why. But suddenly, he received a call from Pope Francis asking him to come to the Vatican to visit. Tony assumed it would simply be a handshake, a moment or two together and perhaps a photo, and then he would go back home. But Pope Francis made it clear, “No, I want you to come to my private apartment and spend the day with me.” There in prayerful discussion the Pope talked about his desire to see the world evangelized for Christ. He wanted to see Catholics and Protestants become a family as faithful witnesses. He shared that he wanted us to be brothers and the importance of the prayer in John 17 being answered. He wanted to personally know Protestant and evangelical leaders.
Tony told him he would soon be going to a large ministers’ convention that Ken Copeland hosts and there would be thousands of ministers there. Tony asked, “Would you like to write them a message or send a note?” Pope Francis said, “I would like to give them a video message. Hold up your iPhone and record what I say.” That message was like a glorious shot heard around the world, not just because of the love and compassion expressed, but also the desire for God to heal His family and that everyone would know Christ and believers would be like a family and become bold witnesses. It was joyfully received by thousands of ministers and Kenneth Copeland responded by simply reading the desire of God expressed through Paul in Ephesians 4:13, “Until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.”
When the Pope received that message and others also saw the Pope’s message on LIFE Today as Pope Francis encouraged Tony to share the message on our program around the world, he then asked for Tony Palmer to invite Betty and me, Ken and Gloria, and a few other evangelicals to come meet with him in Rome.
Bishop Tony Palmer brought the group of seven together. (Gloria Copeland was unable to attend because she was speaking at a conference.) We went to the Vatican and met in the presence of the Lord. The love coming from every person was overwhelming.
During lunch everyone shared their gratitude for what God was doing. The Pope made it very clear that he wanted every believer to become Spirit-filled, joy-filled witnesses. After Ken had lovingly spoken a few words of encouragement and prayed for the Pope with meekness and humility, I asked through the translator if I could say a few personal words to Pope Francis. In those moments I talked about being an evangelist and how for 50 years we have been seeking to win people to Christ and challenging Christians to become faithful, compassion-filled witnesses. I went on to say that so many people in our Protestant churches do not really know Christ.
I shared the testimony of how I was christened in the Episcopal Church as a boy, but did not know Jesus. Later, I had a supernatural new-birth experience and Jesus became the Lord and love of my life. As a fatherless, homeless boy, I now had a father and the love of God flowed out like a river. Amazingly, God called me to be an evangelist and I have never stopped proclaiming the Gospel to the ends of the earth. I told him how Betty had been baptized through immersion in a Baptist church, but during our relationship and hearing the excitement that filled my heart, she said, “James, I don’t know Jesus like that. He’s just someone I’ve always heard about.” One glorious Sunday morning the little Baptist Sunday school teacher left her seat in the choir, came forward, put her hand in the pastor’s hand, and said, “Brother Hale, I just gave my life to Jesus.” He said, “You’re the best girl in our church!” She said, “Preacher, stop telling me how good I am. I just met Jesus and He changed my life!” That was 53 years ago and she is full of Jesus. I said to Pope Francis many Protestants have never had a personal relationship with Christ even though they are church members, and I have seen many Catholics who don’t seem to know Jesus.
Pope Francis had written recently that, “Too many Catholics look like they’ve been to Lent with no Easter… It’s a mistake for them to look like they’ve been to a funeral” as he challenged Catholics to witness and never try to control the Holy Spirit, but yield to Him. The Pope responded in our personal conversation with such a dynamic evangelical message desiring all people who have religious associations (all Protestants, all Catholics – no matter who they are) as Paul said to the Corinthians, “to examine themselves whether they be of the faith.” He said he wanted everyone to have a personal life-changing encounter with Christ and enter into a personal relationship with Jesus and become bold witnesses for the Gospel. Religion is not the way; Jesus is.
So fervent was his message that as he concluded I said, “As an evangelist, I want you to know what you just said deserves a high five!” The translator communicated what I was saying and in a moment of exuberance he raised his hand and gave his first high five ever. What a beautiful picture of love and supernatural oneness for the sake of the Gospel and those Jesus came to redeem.
We continued in such glorious fellowship that words could never begin to describe it. I am fighting back tears even as I write, so glorious was the manifest presence of Jesus. I couldn’t help but wonder in those moments if Jesus, as He did when Stephen was stoned leading to the conversion of Saul of Tarsus to become Paul the Apostle, perhaps once again stood at the right hand of the Father looking down on that scene in Rome between Evangelicals and the Pope, turn to the Father and say, “Look, I think my prayer is about to be answered. Look, Dad, maybe we can put Your arms around the world that I died to redeem and I live to fill to overflowing with Your joy, peace and love.”
Oh, how I hope and I pray that is the case and in my lifetime I cannot only see the prayers of so many answered, but above all I will live to see the prayer of the Lord Jesus answered for His glory and kingdom purpose. Dear God, please let it happen and let me gladly be a part of it.
Those who met with Pope Francis on Tuesday are, from left, Carol Arnott, the Rev. John Arnott, the Rev. Brian Stiller, the Rev. Kenneth Copeland, Pope Francis, the Rev. Thomas Schirrmacher, the Rev. Geoff Tunnicliffe, the Rev. James Robison, Betty Robison and Bishop Tony Palmer.