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Spirituality the Jesus Way

The Latin American Jesuit theologian Jon Sobrino described spirituality as a profound motivation; he said that it’s about instincts, intuitions, longings and desires—both within nature and in our culture—that move us, inspire us and shape us, inform and fill our decisions and actions. That definition of spirituality—“profound motivation”—connects with Jesus’ words to us to seek the kingdom of God first, and everything else will be added (see Matthew 6:33).

Our spirituality is whatever we desire most. Whatever we strive for, whatever motivates us, drives us, moves us to select one thing over another; whatever primary shaping forces are in our life, that’s our spirituality.

Following in the Jesus way is about recognizing that Jesus calls us to a particular type of spirituality, a way of life that’s shaped by seeking and finding God’s presence in our life, doing whatever is necessary to put God at the very center of our lives, to put ourselves at the very center of God’s will. When we do that, we experience deep, abiding, life-changing, life-marking joy—not because we’ve earned it or achieved it, not because of chance or circumstance, but because it already exists. God’s blessedness is already there, and we experience it when we seek God’s kingdom. Jesus promised that when we seek the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness first, everything else will be added. That adds up to a type of happiness the world can’t give or take away.

The biggest challenge for Christ followers who seek to follow Jesus side by side rather than at a distance is the implicit question of the Beatitudes: Will we yield ourselves totally to Jesus?  

Will we allow him to shape our lives and give us happiness, joy, and blessedness, or will we continue to seek happiness by following the direction of the world?

When we yield ourselves to Jesus, following in the Jesus way—up close, in the thick of things, not at a distance and in the shadows—we experience the deep joy, fulfillment, and satisfaction. We become Kingdom people.  


Following God Beyond Common Sense

It can be easy to live our lives disconnected from our passion and, as a result, from our God mission. That disconnect is often one of the things that keeps us following Jesus at a distance. But following as Jesus leads requires that we connect—or reconnect—with our passion; that we then discover our God mission, and act upon it. It requires that we be open to a little Pentecost—or a burning bush—in order to receive insight from God as to exactly how we are to follow.

The problem is that our God mission is almost always tremendously bigger than we are.  

That’s exactly what Moses discovered.

As he was tending his father-in-law’s sheep, he experienced a little Pentecost. God captured Moses’ attention in a miraculous way— through an encounter with a burning bush—and gave him an amazing mission: “I am sending you to Pharaoh. You will lead my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:10, NLT).

Moses had a hard time accepting his God mission because he, like us, had limited his destiny to what he believed he could accomplish with his own strength and resources. He was no longer an Egyptian prince; he was now a simple sheepherder. Moses tried to convince God to send someone else: “Who am I to appear before Pharaoh? How can you expect me to lead the Israelites out of Egypt? They won’t believe me! They won’t do what I tell them. I’m just not a good speaker. Lord, please! Send someone else” (Exodus 3:11; 4:1, 10, 13, NLT).

We struggle to follow Jesus closely, in sync with our God mission, because that mission is bigger than we can imagine. We are limited by our detailed lists of past failures, our internal sense of inadequacy, the unhealthy level of our self-esteem. We create a picture in our minds of what we will become, and it’s almost always smaller than what God intends.

Unfortunately, rather than picturing an unbelievable future, we often choose to place a limited picture in our mind’s eye. The picture that I held in my mind when I attended the evangelism conference was limited to the way I was doing ministry at that time. I couldn’t comprehend what God had in store for me because it was bigger than I could imagine and went far beyond common sense. That’s significant. As we seek to follow in the Jesus way, we need to recognize that more often than not, rather than being rooted in common sense, the Jesus way defies common sense.  

How many times have we limited ourselves to the pictures created by common sense? “I could never do that; I’m too old; my children are too young; I don’t have the right degree.” Jesus shakes his head and says, “Didn’t I tell you that you will see God’s glory if you believe?” (John 11:40, NLT)

We follow an awesome God! A God who can do great things with limited resources. This means that our life mission isn’t about what we can imagine about ourselves. It is about what God imagines about us. When we imagine ourselves, our response to the mission God sets before us is often: That’s impossible! I’m not smart enough! I’ve been divorced! I’m in recovery! I’m this…I’m that…I’m not this…I’m not that!

But God says that none of that matters. None of that matters because our life mission isn’t about what we can do for God. Our life mission is what God is going to do through us.  

Remember Moses? “Who am I to appear before Pharaoh?” (Exodus 3:11, NLT)

God says, “It’s not about what you can imagine about yourself. It’s what I imagine about you.” God says, “It’s not about what you can do for me; it’s what I am going to do through you.” That revelation was at the heart of Moses’ burning-bush experience. We follow an awesome God; and when we choose to follow side by side, rather than at a distance, we experience God’s power to take the ordinary and make it extraordinary. That’s what happened to Moses and to the disciples, and that’s what happens to us.

Moses tells God that he can’t speak well, that he gets tongue-tied, that he stutters (Exodus 4:10). What is God’s response? “Who makes mouths? I will be your mouth. I will give the words” (Exodus 4:11, NLT). Similarly Peter, who before Pentecost barely knew what to say or when to say it, is empowered to speak eloquently to the crowds all over Jerusalem (see Acts 2:1-42).

God takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary. God puts words in our mouths and transforms the ordinary elements of our lives into powerful tools. Moses’ biggest weapon, the source of extraordinary signs and miracles as he argued with Pharaoh to free God’s people, was an ordinary shepherd’s staff. Moses went up against Pharaoh, ruler of the most powerful kingdom on earth at that time, armed with the stick he had used for forty years herding his father-in-law’s sheep.

The reality of following in the Jesus way doesn’t consist of what you can do for God. It consists of recognizing what God can do through you. The question we must ask ourselves is not, “what can I give God?” but “what is God doing? How can I be a part of what God is doing?” 

When we follow Jesus side by side, we don’t wait until we have everything figured out. We don’t wait until our life picture has been filled in with every detail. We act on what we know and trust that God’s picture is infinitely greater than our own. We act on the glimpses we receive of the light of God’s truth, trusting that God is working through us. We follow at a distance when we hear the truth of God and wait rather than walk; but the Jesus way involves action—breaking ranks, risking the radical, attempting the impossible.

Moses’ life mission was about achieving God’s purpose for God’s people. Moses lived in sync with that mission, not by focusing on self-fulfillment or self-actualization, but by allowing God to work through him. Jesus promised that “rivers of living water will brim and spill out of the depths of anyone who believes in [him]” (John 7:37, The Message). We follow in the Jesus way in order to serve: to become a source of refreshment and healing and creativity to everyone around us.

Perspective comes when we refocus on God, who has promised to be with us, to be our mouth, to be our resource, to be our strength. Perspective comes when we refocus to see that following Jesus with integrity makes each of us a witness; and witnesses cannot hide in the shadows. Witnesses tell the truth about what they have seen and experienced.

God has placed a purpose within you, a life mission. Following Jesus is about discovering that life mission. It’s guaranteed to be bigger than you can imagine, but God has surrounded you with all the tools you need to accomplish it. God also desires to work a miracle through you for another person. We may not have it all together; we may have pain or shame. But it’s not how we imagine ourselves, it’s how God imagines us. We walk in the light—now. We don’t wait. We simply take our ordinary lives, add our experience of Jesus in real time, and allow God to create a mighty work through us.

Coming Face to Face with Jesus

Then these righteous ones will reply, “Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink?Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?” And the King will say, “I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!”

Matthew 25:37-40 (NLT)

The movie Motorcycle Diaries is the story of Ernesto (Che) Guevara’s life-shaping travels across South America as a young medical student. Toward the end of the movie, Che and his traveling companion Alberto are working at a leper colony. A river separates the sick lepers from the healthy nuns, doctors and others who provide care. In the evenings Che looks out over the river at the dim lights shining in the huts of the lepers. It is clear that the river is a metaphor for all that he has experienced on his travels – the separation between sick and well, rich and poor, landed and dispossessed, powerful and powerless, accepted and cast out. 

On the last night at the leper colony, they celebrate Che’s birthday with a party on the “healthy” side of the river. Late in the evening Che wanders out to the dock with Alberto and looks across the river. Suddenly he says, “I want to be on that side of river.”

I want to be on that side of river. That sounds like something Jesus would say. Jesus wasn’t about hanging out on the “healthy” side of the river, the side of the “haves.” Jesus was interested in what was happening on the other side, the side where sick people lived, and poor people, suffering people, outcasts and “have nots.”

There will always be times when each of us finds ourselves on that side of river – life is full of challenges, problems and suffering. But if we are honest, we will be forced to admit that most of us are likely not living life on that side of river – at least not continuously.

Following Jesus is difficult; if we are not already on that side of river because of personal circumstances, we are called to follow Jesus there. We are called to solidly stand on the other side of river, side by side with Jesus against injustice and in solidarity with everyone who is oppressed and we do it so that others can taste God’s justice and mercy.

Experiencing real, authentic faith is risky because following Jesus is all about relationships – our relationship with God and our relationships with others on God’s behalf. It’s risky because it requires that we make ourselves vulnerable so that Christ can be seen through us and Christ’s love can be reflected in our lives.

What if we think we’re standing on that side of river, but we’ve actually never left our side?


The Risk of Following Closely

As my ministry has unfolded, I have come to realize that although those of us who live in the United States enjoy the privilege of worshiping without fear of reprisal, that privilege has often times contributed to a profound complacency in our faith experience. For many of us, the very ease with which we are able to attend worship blocks us from recognizing the hard work and risks involved in being a follower of Jesus. Believing faith to be a risk-free endeavor, we shy away from the hard work of the soul, and thus we frequently miss out on the deeply joyful and life-changing experience of being in a dynamic relationship with Jesus Christ.

It’s not that we do not desire to follow Jesus. We want to follow, but we don’t always want to follow too closely. It’s safer to follow at a distance, never going deeper in our faith than surface religious activity; never stepping close to the fire where we might be recognized, where we will stand out because of the way we live and the commitments we make. We are like Peter, who on the night Jesus was arrested, stood in the courtyard awaiting news of Jesus’ fate. He lurked in the shadows away from the fire, trying to be invisible, trying to avoid too close a connection with the one who had changed him to his very core. Yet, for our faith to be real, for it to be authentic, we must risk moving out of the shadows. So the question is, how close to the fire will we get?  

When God became human in Jesus, it was with the promise of abundant life, a life of radical transformation and deep meaning. Are you challenged to move toward that promised transformation by stepping out of the shadows and into the light and heat of the fire, by choosing the place right next to Jesus, by following him not at a distance but by his side?

Following Jesus, truly following him, is never easy. There are risks, unexpected twists and turns, surprises and events that we never dreamed could happen. There are moments when following seems meaningful, full of excitement and joy. However, there are other times, times of difficulty, even danger, when we become discouraged and afraid, and things don’t seem to be turning out at all the way we thought they would.

Faith – real faith, authentic faith – involves a daily process of choosing. In the midst of all those unexpected twists and turns, in the midst of the meaningful and in the midst of the difficulty, a faith that is authentic requires a daily choice.

What kind of choices are you facing as you seek to follow Jesus? What hurdles have you encountered recently? What confirmations have you received that you are on the right track? Be confident that God will accompany you when you take the risk of exploring an authentic faith. 

The Strong But Gentle

Recently we shared about the ongoing value of the Moravian Daily Text. It is interesting to witness the faithfulness of the Holy Spirit in using this resource as a way to build up the church. Sometimes the impact of a good word has far-reaching consequences, and the reading from a year ago today is as powerful and relevant now as it was then – if not more so.

David said to his son Solomon, “The Lord God is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished.” – I Chronicles 28:20

Blessed are the strong but gentle

trained to serve a higher will,

wise to know th’ eternal purpose

which their Father shall fulfill.

Blessed are they who with true passion

strive to make the right prevail,

for the earth is God’s possession

and his purpose will not fail.

The Lord will give you understanding in all things. – 2 Timothy 2:7

O teach us all your perfect will

to understand and to fulfill:

when human insight fails, give light;

this will direct our steps aright.

Gracious Lord, you give us greater knowledge of our world. Your light and grace lead us to a place of hope and love. May we have the courage to follow. Amen.

We are called to be “strong but gentle,” called to “strive to make the right prevail,” through the light of God who is with us, who does not abandon us midday, whose purpose will not fail or crumble, who trains us to serve “a higher will.”

Today, search for this wisdom with gentle strength, and rest knowing that your work for the prevailing of the right is not lost or wasted, but woven into the unfailing purpose of God.

Cherishing the Moravian Daily Text

It’s no secret that World Methodist Evangelism deeply appreciates the life-giving work of those who put together the annual Moravian Daily TextIf you recall, it was an encounter with Moravians that left John Wesley realizing what he lacked in his spiritual journey as he witnessed the calm constancy and joy of their witness in the middle of what could have been a fatal storm while crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

What other daily devotional guide has been published for over 200 years? The unique way in which texts are chosen and placed with stanzas from hymns, concluding with a little prayer, has uplifted Christians for centuries. While you can purchase a physical copy online, you can also find the day’s readings online as well.

Here is today’s.

Wednesday, January 25 — Psalm 17:1–7

1 Chronicles 23; Acts 15:32–16:3

Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage. Psalm 33:12

Paul wrote: Joyfully give thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. Colossians 1:12

Lord our God, you have made us rejoice! Thank you for coming into our lives and choosing us to be your children. Help us to live lives worthy of your favor. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

What an important reflection. Our heritage comes from our God to whom we belong: our inheritance comes from God, who enables us to share with the saints, in the light. What powerful words in our world today. Our identity is wrapped up in our relating to God. Nothing else can surpass that – not our last name, our nationality, our genes.

What comes from this realization? Happiness, and joyful giving of thanks.

I encourage you today to make the Moravian Daily Text part of the way in which you relate to God daily. It will remind you whose you really are.