The Bible is full of testimonies and calls to follow Jesus which to the casual reader are disturbing:
Jesus answered, ‘If you want to be perfect, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come and follow me. Matthew 19:21
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Proverbs 31:8
And as you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ Heal the sick. Raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give’. Matthew 10:7-8
I am in awe of those whose testimonies we read who lived this out day by day. They were not analysing the context, arguing the relevance, excusing the commands – they were simply living out their faith.
As we together seek God’s direction and ask his wisdom to guide us, do we unconsciously (or consciously) block ourselves from hearing a more radical call? As we read Scripture, seeking to understand the meaning for us today, do we unintentionally (or intentionally) block its meaning?
What blocks us?
1) Intellectualism: the separation of theory and practice, of intellect from emotion / passion is a real challenge. Theological analysis, in-depth study and criticism are all important tools to enable our growth, discernment and discipleship but they are not an end in themselves. We cannot simply study Scripture and not let Scripture in turn examine us and call us to act. Our events, consultations, workshops, conferences – must not only be stimulating platforms to unpack issues of concern, they must be launch pads for transformational action.
2) Professionalism: in the recent CCD Conference Jayakumar Christian challenged us all by stating “The poor deserve the best”. He went on to explain that the poor had been cheated out of so much that we had to reverse this trend by insisting they only receive the best in service, in product, in inclusion, in relationship. But whose quality standards are we to use to spur us to this “best practice”? Do we embrace important professional frameworks with objective neutrality or do we scrutinise them in light of our Biblical mandate?
3) Distance: In a conversation with Dave Andrews, he shared his testimony about reading Matthew 19:21 and obediently doing just that. He explained it was only later when he attended Bible College was he told that it was not necessary to take this “literally”. It is as if by distancing ourselves through a series of rational arguments we can shelve these challenges. For example we could say: 'this was written only for the rich man struggling with materialism; this was simply an illustration to be generous; this was a test for this one person…..'
4) Fear: deep down we all are acutely aware that the consequences of total obedience may well lead to loss of comforts and securities.
I personally find all the above to be true for myself. I have come to discover that life cannot be approached with objective neutrality. It has to be approached with passion, with real grass root engagement in the nitty gritty messiness of life on a day to day basis. But in the process we cannot lose sight of our example – Jesus Christ. Phil. 2:1-18
Lord, as we study your Word, may we let it examine our hearts and change us.
Lord as we seek your direction and guidance, may we hear your voice and follow you.
Lord as serve and respond to the needs around us, give us your Spirit to powerfully change lives.
Lord, give us the courage to not keep our distance, but to rather embrace the rawness of life and the richness of relationships.
Lord, you have promised to never leave us and to complete the work you have begun in us – help us to remove the blocks and step out of the boat.