Note: This article is excerpted from Luminous.
There is a vast difference between living for Jesus by knowing and doing religious things, and living with Jesus by walking each day in his presence. Living for Jesus might start out looking great, but it eventually leads to a lifeless existence of going through the Christian motions. We can go to church, be nice, read the Bible, pray, give money, and create a safe home—and over time grow tired and passionless. For practicing Christians, this is an alarmingly common trap.
I know well the hollowness of this life. Even after an amazing mission trip to Haiti, like an addict I have found myself relapsing into going through the motions for Jesus. The more hectic life gets, the more I want to gobble up information for solving my most urgent problems and hunker down with my to-do list. Jesus recedes into the background. I like to think I have staked everything on my relationship with Jesus, so when I realize that I have relapsed, I'm flooded with all sorts of distressing thoughts. Maybe I shouldn't be a pastor is one of those three-o'clock-in-the-morning topics. And yet I feel that experiencing this struggle is exactly one of the reasons God called me to be a pastor.
Living with Jesus is a completely different experience. It is an intensely personal encounter with God, whoever is in front of me, and whatever is happening. It is open-hearted and multi-sensory. It is being right here, in this moment. It is a radical alternative to our growing social norm of being so saturated in multitasking that we can pay only continuous partial attention to God or people.
We are returning to the thoroughly relational heart of the Christian faith. We are pulling Jesus' Great Commandments to love God and people off the shelf of memorable teachings and implementing them as a moment-to-moment way of life. There is nothing richer. When we live with Jesus, we find his words to be true: "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10).
As we live with Jesus, we find that our relationships with people become transformed. This includes both "who" and "how." Instead of controlling our social lives or settling into comfortable circles that only reinforce the status quo, we open ourselves to let God connect us with whomever he chooses—people of other religions or political views, people who wear us out, people who make us laugh, people who encourage us, and so on. Not only do we allow God to choose our social circles for us, we also allow him to determine how we interact with those people. Instead of manipulating people and situations to get what we want, we say and do what is needed to build others up and draw them closer to God.
Against the Status Quo
Living with Jesus includes not only the way we relate to God and one another. It also gives us a common cause in this world. We become people who are gazing and reaching toward a single horizon. We become agents of God's shalom—the state in which all is made well in the world, that God has everything just the way he wants it. Shalom means justice, peace, abundance, and harmony. There is no greater life purpose than to join together in ushering in this new reality. Jesus is the Prince of Shalom. To shine is to be a shalom-maker. Shalom-makers look like ordinary people who are willing to do extraordinary things to see broken, downtrodden, and oppressed people set free to thrive in this world.
Living with Jesus
Living with Jesus is not just about us gaining a new experience of the Christian life. It includes something that happens in us, but it is a lot more than that. It is also something that happens through us.
As I walked the dirt road in Port-au-Prince, the key wasn't that I was focused on acquiring a new level of self-awareness or fulfillment—although that certainly was a powerful experience. Rather, more radically than is normal for me, I was tuned in to Jesus and the people I was serving. Everything I had to offer—physical strength, relationship with God, theological training, sense of humor, broken Creole—was in us, but in an other-focused way. I was aware of what I was thinking, doing, and feeling, but it was emphatically and refreshingly not about me. In that other-focused engagement, I found the presence of God.
To live with Jesus is to dwell in his presence, love others, and make shalom. As we follow him by obeying his leadings and taking on his character, he performs a miracle. He shines his own divine light through us. We come to fulfill Jesus' words that we are the light of the world and are here to let our light shine so others will glorify God (Matthew 5:14-16). God intends for his children to be luminous.
1. How successful am I at being fully present with the people and situations in front of me, especially in ministry settings?
2. Am I a shalom-maker, or am I content to leave the world as it is? Why?
3. How other-focused is my ministry really? How well do I love the leaders or small-group members in my care?