It is quite easy to do stuff for Jesus. You know, you pick your favourite cause, a little bit of what makes you tick, and you apply yourself. Whether it’s working with young people, old people, homeless people, poor people, debt-tangled people, church people, [insert your own], it is relatively easy to do something in line with a Christian sense of duty or service.
At this time of the year in particular, I am particularly mindful of many Salvation Army colleagues who will work almost without any pause for the whole month. Not that I’m saying it’s healthy, but it is the work ethic in the organisation and pretty much the expectation. Many of them will collapse at tea time on Christmas Day exhausted after amazing caring work. Hats off to you, dear friends. So, I say it’s ‘easy’, but I’m not saying it’s not challenging or tiring. It is easy in the sense that there is so much need in the world…we’re not spoiled for choice in what we get involved in.
It is also easy to be quite religious…especially at Christmas. Even the biggest atheistic heathens can summon up a bit of holy at Christmas. For Christians, it is easy to apply ourselves to the religious bits. You know the sort of thing: making sure our postage stamps are religious ones; ensuring everyone says Merry Christmas and not Merry Xmas; fortifying our facebook page with nativity scenes becuase we believe that someone out there is trying to ban us.
But then there is the other side of the religious bit – engaging in church outreach, inviting friends to carol services and all of that. And wow, I am so amazed at the dedication of good Christian folks who commit to extra ways of getting the message out there. It is great to take the opportunity that Christmas affords. There will be so many special moments, and I certainly remember the impact the Christmas outreach of The Salvation Army had in my journey towards faith.
Do you know what is the most difficult thing about discipleship? It’s not the serving, the giving, the turning up, the activities, the moral stances, the bahaviour, the daily witness for Jesus.
No, I am convinced by far that the biggest challenge we have is cultivating an intimacy of relationship with the Father, through the Son by the Spirit. There is a gazillion amount of things that will get in the way of that. You know what it’s like…you sit down to pray (because you know you should) and as soon as you do the most urgent thing that infects your head is… [enter your own distractive thought]. I’m not saying this to point the finger at anyone, because I know that battle is real. The enemy doesn’t always have to divert us with the ‘Big Sins’ when it’s much easier to distract us with whether we have flowers in a vase or in an arranged display at the church during 2019.
For me as a pastor, this is my number one priority both for myself and for the people I seek to support and minister to. No, not the flowers (although, they are very nice, folks – thank you). It is the attending to Jesus. This really is the most important thing. I know exactly how possible it is to be involved in 100 acts of Christian services but not to have given as much as a nod to Jesus in a long time.
This is the one thing that saddens me most but inspires me most. You see, I know the joy of what it is to connect with Him on that deeper level of relationship. I’ve experienced the deep peace, affirmation and security of his presence. I’ve sensed the awe and wonder at his faithful works again and again and been over-filled with praise. I am sad when I sense that people aren’t enjoying all that, but ever so hopeful because I know that he is longing for us to meet him.
In 2019 I want to focus on what it means to be with Jesus, and for everything else to be an overflow of the heart of that encounter. For some of us, me included, I’m sure that will mean learning new priorities, new practices and new opportunities…but I think it will mainly mean an unflinching resolve to see his face and learn what it means to attend to his presence. God help us.