The basic idea though behind being the church is that the whole thing is going to take time. It’s a slow, incremental thing. We are patiently impatient. Ready for what’s next, but acknowledging that authenticity takes time, and it’ll never be perfect. God is best revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. Having a relationship is the best way to help someone follow Jesus.
That approach doesn’t guarantee results, it’s costly and time-consuming, but I think it’s what will result in the most lasting kind of connections.
Following Jesus takes time, it can hurt, and is initially not as alluring as many other things. I think it’s real, I think it’s worth it, and I’m ready to recommend it, but with reservations. Don’t follow him if you aren’t ready to take initiative, own your dignity, or make commitments. It’s a hard place to be in.
For many of us, the moment of conversion might come at a moment when we experience ecstasy in worship, ready to follow Jesus will all of our heart, as tears streamed down our face and we knew, right there, in that arena that we had acquired the fire. I love arena rock and I love it when it glorifies Jesus. I think it’s really effective to try and help people who are easily influenced to get influenced by Jesus. Maybe my now-one-year-old will end up on an inspiring youth retreat and find Jesus and follow him for the rest of her days.
I was inspired this week to listen to some of the music that might be played for teenagers at an arena, so I listened to the top twenty Contemporary Christian songs of 2013. I was trying to find out what new music was out there and maybe have our PM teams play some of it. I think we found some good ones, but for the most part, I couldn’t get through the songs.
CCM is easy to deconstruct. And I think I’m just kind of over only reacting—I love Jon Stewart, but Christians have to be more than deconstructionists (but to be fair deconstruction is a construction of its own). But if that’s what we’re doing, just reacting to what we think isn’t good enough, then I think people should be skeptical.
But I hope we’re doing something more.
Just like any relationship, we might get into one with Jesus because of chemistry, temporary fulfillment, pressure, infatuation—whatever—but when that stuff fails, we need to build something that will last. It isn’t likely that something built on an instant’s work will last. It might take some more thought and patience to build something that weather the storm. I want us to start thinking of our major commitments like a starting point, not a conclusion. It’s a commitment to stick it out. To work it out. So use your best judgment when you are doing this kind of thing and trust God. It might not be immediately gratifying, but that’s OK. And just because it is gratifying, doesn’t mean it’ll work.
Our deliberate attempts to make disciples are “incarnational,” friend to friend, so we accept that what we do will almost never be instant.
You might not come out of your depression right away. You might not find your spouse (you might never). You might lose your faith. You might suffer losses. You might feel like a second-class citizen sometimes. You might grieve longer than you wanted. You might keep doing the same old thing, falling into the same old traps. You might be dissatisfied at the hypocrisy of your neighbors, with no strategy to comfort them or confront them.
Finding Jesus and following Him is the foundation on which our lives are built. We think that discovering that foundation is best done relationally and in community. The basic idea that we are going with is Jesus is best revealed in relationships and relationships take time to form. Relationships that are real and authentic take time, including our relationship with Jesus. Having an “infatuation” might occur, and it might not (depending on how long you wait until it happens), it might feel like a slow boil, where before you know it your water’s boiling. Let people warm up to Jesus, don’t let your intuition ruin their journey.
But that’s all just the start of the journey. How do we keep following Jesus? How do we make sure that our faith can weather storms? How do we let the Spirit influence us over time instead of all of the other things that surround us?
Three thoughts on how to keep following Jesus for more than an instant.
Create opportunities for patience.
The basic idea here is to practice. Practice patience. In my recollection the most famous way of doing this is to go on fast. A food fast is traditional. Being filled with the Spirit instead of food is a fascinating way to appreciate the abundance we have, but more importantly rely on God. Giving up food might be the healthiest choice for you, so going without Hulu or something can really help us practice patience.
I’ve had some of the most moving moments in my faith journey by practicing these disciplines. The harder something is to give up, the more likely it will benefit us. I usually forgo food on the prayer retreats that I quarterly go on, that puts me in a special place to respond to God.
One practical benefit of training myself and my metabolism to go without food is actually letting my short ribs braise for four hours and then get the succulent result. You might just want to try making your food for a week and not eating out. How about getting up to make your coffee instead of buying it?
When the stakes are low, we can practice patience so that when we must be patient—with our loneliness with our mental health with traffic, even—it can be more tolerable and even approachable. If we never try to be patient, if we don’t ever hold out, what will we do when a tempting opportunity arrives?
Confront your challenges.
And of course, when the opportunity arrives, confront it. I remember being in a Trader Joe’s line recently. Actually there was one to get in the store and of course there was one to get in line. Lots of line waiting.
I reveled in the moment mainly because it was a a good common experience. I talked to the people in line and said, “Now we share this in common!” Awesome.
But more than just getting into a line, try to do more than just practice. Don’t avoid the things that require patience of you, try to deal with them head on. If you have doubt, confront it and let Jesus work it out for you.
If we avoid the big questions that might challenge our faith until they are inevitable, we’ll be in trouble. Just try to ask the questions before your faith falls apart. Be OK with your thoughts and honest about your feelings. The more we are, the more likely our infatuation will be rekindled. Talking about our negative feelings is helpful. It creates intimacy.
If we suffer a disappointment with God, why not try to relate and not cut off? This is basic human advice too. Express yourself and don’t’ let your anxiety lead you.
Commit to Jesus, and commit less to yourself.
The basic to any discipline is doing it when we don’t feel like doing it. I think following Jesus is the same way. Make a commitment to Jesus so that when you don’t feel like following him, we can rely on the choices we made.
This is the basic element to being in any sort of covenant, an agreement that is made so it supersedes are emotions. We are trying to follow Jesus and not our own pursuit of gratification. The difficulty with this is that we often think that a covenant is a trap—I wonder why we don’t think of ourselves as the ones who might be traps?
When we train ourselves to do more than just quench our desires, we might be able to tolerate that our connection to a community might not happen as fast as a Tweet might.