A State of Being: Freedom
I was reflecting, as I often do, on what the chances are that I will be able to impart my joy to others before I die. What a tragedy it would be if I, having received so indescribable a gift, should die without having shared it. May it not be so!
And yet, how to do it? How do I even describe what its like, to know God? Even Jesus Christ Himself found that he had to resort to parables, starting with phrases like, “To what should I compare the kingdom of God?” (Luke 13:20), and similar.
Imparting it: FOOT WASHING
But to share this gift is to share my very self. No statement, or formula, or teaching will suffice. If you want what I have, you have to share in who I am. In order for you to do that, you must be served by me; you must allow me to “wash your feet”.
Jesus modeled this wisdom:
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
– John 13:6-8
I have washed many people’s feet, in the metaphorical sense (and some physically…). It happens when a person puts their heart in my hands. When they expose the shame in their life, trusting me to hear it, to honour them, and to guard their dignity. When that happens, they are doing the equivalent of offering their feet to be washed. If that doesn’t sound right to you, just slip off your shoes and ask someone to wash your feet for you. You’ll discover what it means. Seriously, just try it!
Allowing me to serve them in that way allows the person to have a “part in me”, and because I am in my Lord, and my Lord is in my God, and my God is in me, they have a part in my Lord and in my God. As Jesus said, “you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:14-15).
Teaching it: Worldview
There is simply no point trying to explain the kingdom of God, and expect people to see it. Jesus even said so! When Nicodemus came to him, this is what Jesus said:
Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.
– John 3:3
So then, teaching the kingdom of God is not a matter of describing its features and trying to get people to “see” it. That is folly.
Teaching the kingdom of God is a matter of describing the world from the point of view of the kingdom!
One of the key ways of doing this is to tell a person’s own story, but not within the worldview that they are used to. I tell it in the kingdom worldview. This frequently has a profound affect on the person, because they begin to appreciate some of the aspects of the kingdom of God without having to see it.
For a couple of examples of what that looks like in real life, see these stories:
- The Psychological Gospel
- Street Theology: Justification by Faith
- Why do innocent people suffer?
- You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (Jn 8:32)
Living it out: Being “it”
A grown man, who had presented as being quite “anti” towards Christianity, broke down in tears and begged me, “convince me there’s a God!”
He was dealing with terrible grief over the death of a loved one. He didn’t believe in God, but clearly wanted to know the peace and reassurance that might come from such a conviction. He was desperate. He just wanted some kind of proof so that he could believe.
I refused the request.
Instead of presenting him with some kind of “proof of God” (because any such proof is worthless), I told him about my prayer life. I told him what it is like for me, living in the kingdom of God. I told him what it means to me, that “God speaks to me”.
That man still comes to see me frequently, and hangs around our group in the Mall. He asks advice. He likes being around us. Who knows? Perhaps he will one day see the kingdom of God. He is, as Jesus put it, “not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34).
In the last few centuries, an emphasis has been placed on the proclamation of the Biblical message. That emphasis is fine, but in some traditions it has all but eclipsed the witness of a life of faith, as lived by the preacher. Paul was clear that Timothy should think about Paul’s way of life when considering the wisdom of Paul’s pattern of teaching.
Now you have observed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions, and my suffering the things that happened to me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. What persecutions I endured! Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. Indeed, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. … as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it“
– 2 Tim 3:10-12, 14
The one teaching spiritual truth must live according to it, must respond to life according to that faith, and must demonstrate what a life of faith actually looks like (Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, Hebrews 10:38). It doesn’t help anyone to have a preacher or pastor who is struggling with sins and temptations, trying to teach a life of faith in the living God. Such teachers need to go and get their own problems sorted out before instructing others (Matthew 7:3-5).
Only when someone can say, “it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal 2:20), and understand it, and mean it, should they presume to teach others.
For more reflection on this: “Struggling with Sin” is not “normal”. Don’t settle for it.
In the end, of course, I simply cannot hope to impart this state of being. It isn’t mine to impart! I can implore others, “we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God!” (2 Corinthians 5:20), but I cannot save a soul.
And so I am brought to prayer. I pray for my friends, the ones I know, and the ones I am yet to meet. I pray for all who would seek to know God. It pains me to accept that many, even among the faithful, will never catch hold of the exquisite joy of the fulfilled promise in quite the way I have until they are in Glory, yet I nevertheless hold out hope for each one of them that they will do so. I share Paul’s heart in this:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.
I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.
I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
– Ephesians 3:14-19
I trust the Father’s will in this. The journey he has for His children is a good one. As much as I would have everyone share my singularly blessed and rich experience of faith, I must accept His will and not my own. Many have a journey that is much more circuitous, and in many cases vague, painful, uncertain and mysterious. God is wise, though. After all, there are no “classes” of Christian. If my journey is a blessed one and someone else’s is a rocky one, it only serves to show that “God does not show favoritism” (Acts 10:34).
Therefore, when I see someone barely holding on to their faith, scraping their spiritual knees and knuckles as they grope in the darkness for clues, it humbles me. It brings be back to my knees in gratitude for what has been given to me. It therefore places me at the service of that person, in Jesus’ name, to show them the way.
Because I am not God’s favorite. I am God’s chosen vessel. The Church is not a collection of God’s favorites either. The Church is God’s chosen vessel for ministry to the world.
And so Jesus’ words are on my lips, and on the lips of the whole church:
‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’
– Matthew 11:28
Putting all these elements together is, I believe, “Evangelism”.
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