Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
-Paul, second letter to the Corinthians (5:17)
Life sometimes feels like a balancing act, doesn’t it? We are constantly in the thin places between past and future, younger and older, stressed and joyful, old and new. It’s difficult to figure out how to stay rooted.
There’s a pose in yoga called “warrior 2.” You stand with your feet spread apart. One arm extends back. The other arm reaches forward. But the lean and the gaze is important. In warrior 2, the weight is on the front leg, leaning forward, and the eyes look ahead. Yet the hand reaching backwards extends fully and remains open.
I’m not much of a yogi, but let me tell you, the balance is hard. It’s easy to look like like a sleep-deprived surfer rather than an artfully balanced sage.
The posture is intended to be a physical symbol about receiving from one’s past, yet remaining fixed on one's future.
Jesus can teach us some things about discipleship from such a position.
It’s difficult to know what to do with our past-- both recent and distant. Some of us are haunted by pain, difficult experiences, or bad decisions. We’d like to forget about our past altogether. Others of us are ambivalent or nostalgic about our past, and we either don’t think about it much, or we lean longingly back, wishing for the good old days.
That’s the temptation. We want to forget or we want to dwell. Neither helps us become like Jesus. Unfortunately, we rarely seek to reach back with an open hand to receive the gifts of the past.
As God’s people were being formed, wandering through the desert, making new mistakes, and becoming a people— they were constantly encouraged to remember the past. To remember both their own frailty and God’s faithfulness. Making note of those moments would give them strength to keep going, and give them compassion for others who were in the thick of difficulty.
But in the New Testament, Paul is quick to remind young Christians that they can get stuck in the past- and that is not where our focus should be. We have been made new in Jesus. In this new world, there is no place for shame. We leave behind old stories and pick up a new one full of grace and hope for the future.
What if we were more intentional about learning from the past so that we might be formed for the future? God can use everything to help us be formed- including painful events that we’ve walked through. And our past mistakes (the ones that we’d usually like to forget) can even become a cause for celebration.
Because now you see it.
You do realize that, right?
Seeing that it was a mistake….is growth. You have new knowledge now! You are not the same. Grasp that new insight with gratitude, and do something with it as you lean and reach forward with Jesus. Take hold of the overwhelming grace of God that was, is, and will be available to you always.
Do you dwell on the beautiful moments of your past? Be filled with gratitude at those moments and the influence of others in your life who faithfully led you there. Let it be a tool to learn how to press on and faithfully love others. Let it spur you to new depths with Jesus.
As we learn a healthy balance between our past and our future, it may be helpful today to ask these questions:
Do I invite God to teach me from my past, or do I simply dwell on mistakes or glories?
Am I waking up each day seeing myself as a new creation in Jesus and living expectantly, or has the weight of life kept me from leaning into the future with hope?
If you’re looking for a way to prayerfully look back over each day with God and you’re unfamiliar with the prayer of Examen, try it out.
Jesus, help me learn from everything in grace.
Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road. […]
“Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them.
Luke 10:30, 33-34
There are places in nature where two worlds collide. Rivers meet oceans, marshes meet forests. Two ecosystems that are quite different find themselves sharing the same space.
And that’s where the magic happens.
These places of collision are called ecotones. The name literally means a place where “two ecologies are in tension.” What’s so special about them? Ecotones are where the greatest concentrations of life in the natural world are found. They are where living things thrive the most. When the two areas meet, new characteristics emerge that are not found individually in either system, allowing new species to flourish.
The Jesus life is a life of intersecting boundaries. A few weeks ago I walked the borderlands of Mexico and the United States, hearing so many stories of people from a vastly different world than me. But when the opportunity came for our worlds to collide, even briefly, there was beautiful life. Choosing to engage with another culture opened the door to seeing God in new ways.
We live in a world badly in need of cultural ecotones. We like to stay among the people who look, think, act, and talk like us. But that isn’t working. We become isolated from those who are different from us. Even those with whom we disagree would bring forth beautiful life if we learned to serve and engage with one another.
In the famous good samaritan story that Jesus told, the radical part was that the Samaritan who served the Jewish victim was from a neighboring culture that Jews deeply disliked. A Jewish person having compassion on a Jewish person was nice. But a Samaritan showing kindness to a Jewish person? That was where life explodes. We can only imagine what may have happened had the story continued. Maybe they never saw each other again. Today, though, you can imagine that those two would be facebook friends and grab coffee when they were in town and probably FaceTime with their kids. Maybe they would help generations of families and friends break down stereotypes and judgments about Jews and Samaritans.... all because of that one collision, where someone chose to move toward the other (at least, that’s what I hope would happen today).
Perhaps the prophetic witness of our generation will look less like shouting, and more like sitting. Perhaps we will reveal the love of Jesus by listening to people different from us, and loving them. We will find that when we engage with people, cultures, and perspectives that are challenging, new forms of life will emerge. But we have to stay there long enough to let the magic happen. We have to endure the awkwardness. We have to ask good questions. And beyond it all, we have to love with an authenticity that is beyond question. Jesus can give us that if we ask.
What cultural or relational ecosystem will you be willing to enter into this week? Consider starting a conversation with someone vastly different from you, or serving someone you disagree with. Don’t be surprised if Jesus brings surprising new forms of life.
Jesus, help me find the life that comes from kindness and service to those different from me.
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.
-Paul, Romans 5:3-5
I recently re-watched the delightful and bizarre film Evan Almightywith my kids. The short recap is that God (Morgan Freeman) calls a newly elected politician (Steve Carrell) to leave his high status job to build an ark in the middle of a housing subdivision. Like a modern day Noah. I know. It’s a plot leap. You should probably watch it yourself to understand. That’s not my point. This call from God comes after Evan’s wife prays and asks God for their family to come closer together.
But it doesn’t exactly work. After Evan finally caves in and begins making the ark, acting a little bit nuts, everyone deserts him. He becomes a laughing stock at his job. Television networks mock him on the evening news. Even his own wife leaves with the kids because she can’t handle his delusions.
When Evan’s wife is away, God shows up looking like a waiter to chat with her in her distress at a restaurant (Morgan Freeman is fabulous, by the way).
He listens, and then he asks her a few questions…
(watch it here)
If someone prays for patience, do you think God gives them patience?
Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient?
If he prays for courage does He give them courage, or opportunities to be courageous?
If someone prayed for the family to be closer, do you think God zaps them with warm fuzzy feelings?
Or does he give them opportunities to love each other?
Really good point, God—er, Mr. Freeman.
I'm not suggesting that Evan Almighty is a helpful crash course in theology (though you could do worse). But I was reminded that perhaps we sometimes misunderstand the process of being shaped by God. It’s not random magic. It’s a partnership.
Opportunities are all around us. Life is hard. Things can get discouraging. But as we bow our heads and pray for God to change us- giving us more humility, more patience, more strength, more courage… we need to also lift our heads and look around, so that we see the holy moments that give opportunity to practice what we’ve been praying for. God wants to form us, but it will only happen with our movement too.
Of course, we don’t believe that God is the author of the heartache in our lives, or the source behind our struggles. But the beauty of God’s redemptive character is that in God’s economy, nothing is wasted. Even our greatest trials can be transformed by God into opportunities for us to become more like Jesus. In fact, it could be argued that those hard experiences are the most transformative times of all.
After the restaurant scene, Evan’s wife decides to return home, and the family shares quite an adventure building a 300 cubit long ark! Laughter, exhaustion, and bonding ensue. God provided the opportunity. But the response was still up to people. I’ll let you watch the movie on Netflix to see if the flood ever comes.
Today, keep an eye out for holy opportunities for you to become what you’ve been asking for. God’s Spirit will empower you… but you’ll still have to make the move. Thankfully, Jesus will be with you the whole way.
Jesus, help me notice the opportunities you give me today to be formed in your character.
Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
- Ps 139:23-24
Last week I had the opportunity to watch my wife perform on opening night of her latest theater production. It was a fun time in the city, and as I drove home late in the night, I was still lost in the bizzare world of Neil Simon’s comedic mind. I worked my way through the city stoplights and zipped onto the I-95 onramp for the short drive home. About a mile down the highway, a car behind me started beeping and flicking their lights at me. I was in the right lane, not swerving, and going the speed limit. What’s up with the annoying driver? Don’t distract me! We’re on the interstate!
It wasn’t until they had sped past me (possibly waving to me with one of their fingers!) that I did a quick examination and realized that I had never turned my headlights on. I rarely drive the city at night, and it was so well lit on those streets that I hadn’t even noticed my headlights were still dark. And when I got to the highway, that really became a problem. Others noticed, but I didn’t. Whoops.
My first thought after the beeping and the flashing was quite clear:
WHAT’S YOUR PROBLEM?
That’s what happens when we’re not self-aware. We immediately look at others when an issue arises. And often the result is that we walk around being annoyed and angry at everybody else.
How many of our offenses, our conflicts, and our judgmental moments could be alleviated by a habit of self-examination? I became unnecessarily annoyed, and caused fear (and likely anger) in another driver. All of that could have been avoided earlier by a bit more awareness of what was really happening.
Pete Scazzero is a pastor who helps people become emotionally healthy. He often says that some people who think they are spiritually mature actually have the emotional maturity of a toddler. I think he’s onto something.
Self-awareness is not "pop psychology" or self-help. It’s about being able to notice our blind spots before they hurt someone (ourselves included). So we cultivate a life of asking God and trusted friends for insight, so that we can love Jesus and love our neighbors with our full selves. Where are we at risk from selfishness? Anger? Insensitivity? Ego? Stress? What are we too busy or preoccupied to notice?
We might call this soul-searching. King David had to learn it the hard way. In his immaturity he became so blinded by pride, power, and lust that he stole someone’s wife and committed murder…. and rationalized it all. Later, full of sorrow and heartache, he had to learn to practice the prayer, “Search me, o God, and know my heart…” He needed a regular dose of God’s eye opening insight.
This is serious heart work with God. If we aren’t aware that something is off within us, it’s inevitable that we’re going to end up in an accident with long term consequences. But if we realize that our headlights are off as we’re driving down the highway, we can invite Jesus to help us get things turned back on. And hopefully, next time we can be aware enough to flip on our lights before we endanger those around us.
Take a few moments to breathe with Jesus today. Notice your stresses. Ask him to search your heart and expose anxiety, fear, and pride. And ask a family member or trusted friend if you’re missing anything lately. It’s worth the risk.
Jesus, search my heart. Help me see my blind spots, and lead me toward life.
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vineyard keeper. He removes any of my branches that don’t produce fruit, and he trims any branch that produces fruit so that it will produce even more fruit.
-Jesus (John 15:1-2)
Fall is a nice time. As comedian Jim Gaffigan puts it, people just love watching the leaves and celebrating their last moments before they FALL TO THEIR DEATH. Now you’ll never be able think about the October woods the same way again! Don’t worry, it gets worse. The word “fall” sounds more passive than the reality is. When you look into the real world of nature, you find out that the leaves are actually "pushed off” the branches. It's even more brutal than you thought, Gaffigan!
Out here in the mid-atlantic, the cooler weather triggers a hormone in trees that tell each leaf that its time is up. Thick cells quickly form a bumpy line on the place where the stem of the leaf connects with the branch, and the leaf is literally pushed off the tree.
This happens for survival. Trees lose so much water during photosynthesis in the spring and summer that they are spent when winter rolls around. If trees want to survive until the next growing season, they’ve got to cut down on all excess during the intense months.
It’s not passive. It’s intentional. And, surprisingly, it’s breathtaking.
The tree makes a thousand little deaths in itself in order to survive for the long haul. And it does this every season. What can we learn?
I find it interesting that in the same season the trees are downsizing, our schedules are often picking up. Fall can get crazy. Having a full schedule in itself is not a bad thing. But not knowing when or how to push leaves off our branches so that we can keep our spirits alive? That’s a lost art, and it's essential if we want to delight in Jesus and thrive after harsh seasons.
Jesus speaks of the Father as a wise gardener who cuts off things in us that are unnecessary, and trims things that need more time before they are ready to grow. Cutting off excess is a spiritual tool for health.
Sometimes that means wasteful time, toxic habits and relational dynamics, and things that pull us from an awareness of God.
But sometimes our leaves aren’t negative. There is much good to do in the world. There is much that your job and your family requires of you. There are so many fun activities to participate in. Yet if we can’t identify things that need to be pared down, we will find ourselves anxious, distracted, and never ready for a season of personal growth. It’s going to take a few little deaths (and maybe some big ones).
Jesus talks about dying. He says that when we learn to die to our own egos, priorities, and need to impress, we can finally take hold of God’s heart. And that, like a dying seed, brings life many times larger than we can imagine.
It’s beautiful. Like the dying leaves.
Maybe the cooler breezes this week will encourage you to consider what God is desiring to trim in you. That’s between you and God. But rest assured that when we learn how to live with the simple focus of loving Jesus and the people around us, letting other details fall as they need, our lives become a breathtaking glimpse of God’s beauty.
Jesus, help me know what to release today.
I give you a new commandment—to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
-Jesus (John 13:34)
And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.
-Paul, 2 Corinthians 3:18
It’s difficult to become the truest version of ourselves. Every one of us lives with some amount of desire to project ourselves in the best light possible. Sometimes we’re not even sure what our real selves might look like, because we’ve spent so much time sizing up the people around us.
But deep within the soul is a desire to be truly honest. To be known for who we are beneath the surface, even if it’s not always pretty. The scriptures have a word for that. Love.
The Velveteen Rabbit was written 97 years ago by Margery Williams. It is a timeless children’s tale of a stuffed toy bunny who is transformed by love.
When he arrives new in the playroom, the velveteen rabbit hears all the other toys bragging about how real they are, because they have noise makers and wind-ups and mechanical parts. The velveteen rabbit doesn’t have these things, and he thinks that’s what it must mean to be real. So he asks his friend the Skin Horse, who has been made wise by age, and had seen many many mechanical toys come and go when they broke over time. So the velveteen rabbit asks the Skin Horse one day, “What is real? Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"
'Real isn't how you are made,' said the Skin Horse. 'It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.'
'Does it hurt?' asked the Rabbit.
'Sometimes,' said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. 'When you are Real you don't mind being hurt.'
'Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,' he asked, 'or bit by bit?'
'It doesn't happen all at once,' said the Skin Horse. 'You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby.
But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.“
Go ahead and stop your multitasking and read that last line again.
It’s ok to cry.
When you are loved, you can’t be ugly. And you are, each one of you, dearly loved. Geez, that old skin horse. That brother gets it.
The power of love is the power to make things real. We so often think of being “authentic” as something we choose to do, yet it can more accurately be explained as what Jesus does to us. When we experience the true and honest love of Jesus, day by day, we find that our shiny lacquer of an impressive looking exterior fades away. It can be painful as Jesus wears away areas of selfishness, apathy, and ego from our hearts. And yet because we are being loved in the process, it’s beautiful as well, for we are being freed to be known as we are...and loved anyways. That’s what makes us real.
The gift is that as we become real, we can love others without pretense as well, and aide in their journey of becoming real too. It’s messy, and often painful as we imperfectly figure out how to care for one another. Yet it is far better than rejecting real community. To isolate ourselves is to make becoming real impossible. This is why participating in Christian community is so important.
There are many folks today, Christians and not, with sharp edges, who break easily, who have to be carefully kept. Let us instead become people who have been well loved by Jesus- not easily breakable, and softened over time. Let us become real. Even if we feel worn thin, we can rest assured that we can never be ugly in God’s eyes.
Jesus, make us unafraid of being loved.
Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to clear us of a guilty conscience….
I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full.
-Jesus (John 10:10)
Due to some study-related travel this week, I found myself sitting in an airport terminal in Chicago. As one of the busiest airports in the world, O’Hare is hopping at any hour of the day. A place to sit is hard to find. But when I finally found one, my eyes landed on one particular spot that was definitely not hopping.
As if caught in a frozen moment of time, a payphone wall was directly across from me. These phone stations created a bubble of non-activity, looking like a ghost town in an otherwise vibrant airport. The phones hung there defiantly, covering the wall with blatant disregard of the fact that they no longer served any actual purpose.
I tried to imagine a situation today today where five payphones would be needed side by side. Perhaps in the case of an absolute emergency where every iPhone battery combusts at the same time. Or maybe if a cell phone tower collapsed (but you could always send a message over wifi), or a movie director was making a low budget indie film set in 1997. That’s about it. And let’s be honest, how many phone numbers do you really have memorized? If people ask me what my wife’s phone number is, I tell them it’s #1 my favorites tab.
That wall was completely unnecessary. You know what the airport could really use there? A bench, a charging station, or better yet, some green plants to form an oasis in the middle of a busy airport! Anything purposeful or beautiful would be worth the renovation.
I’ve been thinking about what "payphone walls" exist in our lives these days. Things that just sit there doing nothing but taking up space that could be used in so many better ways. There are endless options, but for many today, guilt over past mistakes has become one payphone wall.
At some point in our lives, the mistakes we make and the gross feeling that comes afterwards has a real purpose. It upsets our equilibrium and reminds us that something is not right. It can move us to repent, to change, and to restore relationships. But as time moves on, if guilt remains, it simply takes up emotional space. It accomplishes nothing for the kingdom of God, and wastes energy that could be used for better purposes.
I’m thankful that the way of Jesus moves us toward a far better “technology” that makes guilt-dependence obsolete.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? It is, and yet it’s not.
We figure that the best way to do the right thing is to constantly beat ourselves up over the many times we do the wrong things. But the reality is that experiencing forgiveness from God releases the crushing emotional space of ever present guilt, changing us permanently and freeing us to focus again on loving those around us. It’s like the provocative lyrics from a Mumford and Sons song as they allude to the prodigal son image:
It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart //
but the welcome I receive with the re-start.
Since you may have been formed by a faith that hinged on a steady dose of guilt, learning to rest in grace means overcoming the mentality that it’s cheating. It’s not. Lean into to the person of Jesus and you will be constantly discovering that a spirit of peace and wholeness is the gift of God for the imperfect many, not the perfect few.
You are loved and given full access to God’s grace. If you’ve got a wall of guilt taking up needless space, then you are missing a better way to become a disciple. Time to invite Jesus to renovate your heart and clear out some space to rest in grace and love accordingly.
Jesus, replace our guilt with grace, so that we may live with more freedom and capacity to love than ever before.
Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do.
-Jesus (Matthew 7:13 MSG)
There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears.
-Apostle Paul (Philippians 1:6 MSG)
Recently, a good friend of mine named Rob gave me a really meaningful gift. It was a book of poetry, a collection of his work from an earlier season of life. The content of the book was special, and I continue to find meaning in its words. But what made this particular gift extra meaningful was the book itself. It was handmade.
Rob has committed himself to learning the art of making hardcover books. He uses quality paper, sews the pages together, glues them, binds them, and covers them. It’s a beautiful craft that requires time, energy, mistakes, and practice in order to master. And let me tell you, a gift that takes that kind of time to create feels like a real treasure. It’s worth something because it wasn’t easy.
The good stuff always takes time. Things that hold real meaning will always be inefficient. There will always be a quicker way, an easier way, to do them. But not necessarily a better way.
It would have been quicker to just email a digital copy of the book and leave it at that. Or for the right fee, 48hrbooks.com will print and bind as many copies as you want to pay for! Our world sure is efficient!
And yet. There’s something about taking the scenic route. Something about going about life not in order to get things done efficiently, but to find lasting meaning in our actions and interactions.
Discipleship is like that. Over the years, Christians have often fallen prey to the allure of an efficient faith. An efficient faith is concerned with the easiest way to get to heaven. The focus is on knowing the right rules and principles to be a Christian, rather than knowing Jesus in the long and meandering way that relationships often form. Efficient Christianity asks how many minutes of daily prayer it takes to be a good Christian and what good works we need to do. Inefficient faith is comfortable with "wasting" time with God and others, serving wherever the need arises, and changing our schedules all over the place if it helps the relationship to deepen.
When we understand the gift of inefficiency, we start to realize a simple truth:
We cannot love that which we do not linger on.
Perhaps we need to learn to linger, in order to learn to love. That goes for our connection with Jesus and each other.
Author and Pastor Eugene Peterson says that “A disciple is a learner, but not in the academic setting of a schoolroom, rather at the work site of a craftsman.”
We cannot zip through discipleship as if we’re binge-watching a show on Netflix. If we want to be transformed into a new person that looks more like Jesus, it’s going to take some hands on practice that will take years.
And as we go, maybe then we can grow in our capacity to love others inefficiently, whether sitting down for a long coffee, offering to help with a night of childcare, or making something by hand for someone else. This creates space for connections to deepen far beyond the surface level connection. Real friendship is frequently inefficient. True love of neighbor often takes time and energy. We simply can’t rush the process if we want to make something really meaningful.
Rob now keeps a stack of his imperfect practice books on his desk to form a makeshift computer table. It’s an artistic reminder of the slow process of growth and the value of making something worthwhile, even if it takes a little more time.
Slow down with God. Slow down with others. You’re far too important to be in a constant hurry. Jesus is already with you, so what’s your rush?
Jesus, thanks for embracing the inefficiency of humanity in order to reveal yourself to us. Help us walk the long path with you.
Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.
-Galatians 6:4-5 (MSG)
Have you ever given one of those compliments that is actually a thinly shrouded envious comparison? You can always tell by the little tagline that gets added to the end.
“What an athlete. I will never be able to do that.”
“He never let’s anything get to him. I wish I could have that kind of thick skin."
Or one that commonly comes out of my mouth...
“She’s a great administrator. I wish I could organize like that!”
We all have room for growth. But how much time do we spend looking at others and wishing that we were them? The amount of comments that I hear from people about wanting to become like someone else continues to grow. We are in a world of social media bragparisons (I made that word up— it’s a clever combination of bragging and comparisons!) that barrage us with opportunities to create a perfect version of ourselves to shoot for. The only problem is that that version is made up of everyone else but ourselves.
There’s an ancient Hasidic tale about a great rabbi that helps to shed light on our constant dilemma. He lived in the 18th century, and his name was Zusya.
Rabbi Zusya, when he was an older man, was struggling in his final years with the life that he had lived. His students reassured him by telling him that he was almost as wise as Moses and as kind as Abraham.
Rabbi Zusya replied, “In the coming world, they will not ask me: ‘Why were you not Moses?’ or ‘Why were you not Abraham?’ They will ask me: ‘Why were you not Zusya?’”
We all struggle to be us. We tend to think that God would have been a bit wiser if he made us like that bloke over there who seems better at everything. But that’s not how this all works. God desires to redeem and restore everything on this planet, and has deemed people as the partners he wants to use to make it happen. That’s a lot of redemption. And it’s going to need a lot of different types of people to make it happen.
One of my favorite quotes from the exceedingly insightful Dallas Willard was when he spoke of discipleship in light of the What Would Jesus Do (WWJD) movement of the 1990's and said,
“It’s not so much asking what would Jesus do, but rather what would Jesus do if Jesus were you?”
As we follow Jesus, we become more like him, but it happens in a way that also makes us more like the unique person we were created to be. And that will look different in each person’s situation. Perhaps it’s time to make space for that.
We have each been given a unique personality and a unique story. We each have unique abilities that will continue to mature as we bring them to God. And we each have unique experiences, including our hurts and our failures. And yet we take those gifts, often received through pain and tears, and want to trade them in for the story, skills, and personality of another. But it is our limits that create us. They teach us to rely on Jesus. They teach us humility. And they give us wisdom. Why would God want to throw that away? Nothing is wasted in God’s economy. Our greatest deficiencies can even be the opportunity for God’s greatest work through us.
Don’t be Moses. Don’t be Zusya. And you can't be Jesus. Instead, be who Jesus would be if he were you. That’s where you’ll find your truest self, and that’s where you’ll find peace.
Jesus, help me to love and live for You as only I can.
Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
- Jesus (John 13:17)
So prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world.
- the apostle Peter (1 Peter 1:13)
On a short trail run recently, I got out on the trail after several days of on and off rain. The trail wasn’t unbearably muddy, but there was one clue that no one had been out hiking or running recently. And it was the kind of clue that you couldn’t see coming until it hit you in the face. Several spider webs sprawled from one tree to another, spun unknowingly across the footpath I was using. And unfortunately, my face was the source of their destruction. Over and over again.
This was not a new experience for me. I’ve run through many of these invisible nightmares before. At one point I was driven to the brink and began carrying a long stick as I ran, swinging it in front of me as I barreled down the trail like an unhinged shirtless vigilante, fencing with an imaginary adversary.
At best, breaking through spiderwebs are awkward and uncomfortable. At worst, they are terrifying.
But they accomplish something.
They make it easier for the next person to walk the path.
When I thought about it like that (and as I passed a lady entering the trail walking her dog), I began to feel like maybe all that discomfort was worth it.
Disciples of Jesus are called to be "web breakers" in our relationships. We are the ones who, following Jesus, are willing to be uncomfortable if it means that others can walk a little more easily. It may be easier to just avoid the trail altogether, but life rarely affords us this luxury. Instead, someone has to be the one go first, or else no progress will ever be made.
There are lots of ways to break webs.
- Be the first to apologize and really listen when a relationship is in a standoff or a stalemate.
- Initiate the weird conversation with your spouse about learning how to pray together as a couple.
- Intentionally leave behind destructive habits and attitudes that have become normalized among work friends.
- Take the first step in having difficult but important conversations with loved ones.
- Admit weakness and give others permission to do the same.
- Step out in faith and love so that others see the freedom in it and follow.
On many hikes with my family, it has become my task to break webs on the trail, hopefully making it just a bit less uncomfortable for the them to continue the journey. I hope I can do the same in other areas of my life.
Web-breakers know that in a culture of comfort, living the Jesus way will always feel tough at first. But when we are willing to have the awkward conversations, love the difficult people, and take the first step in faithfulness, we make it easier for the ones beside and behind us.
Someone’s gotta go first. Don’t be afraid.
Jesus, help me take initiative in doing the good things, the hard things, that help us keep moving on the journey. May my discomfort help others move more easily.