By Kendall Waller
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on Religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. Matthew 11:28-30 Message
While I generally try to avoid clichés there have been one or two that have found a foothold in my life and have become informing truths. One of those is the simple statement “you can’t share what you don’t have”. I first found that phrase in Dick Wills’ book “Waking to God’s Dream”. The context for the phrase was the awareness that one had to have a vibrant relationship with Christ in order to share that relationship with another person.
This simple truth is crucial for our times. I think of evangelism as coming to know another person well enough to introduce them to my friend Jesus. But to make that work I have to know Jesus well enough to be able to make the introduction.
Which brings me to the second cliché that I carry. The easiest place to grow far from God is in Christian service, especially in the church. That seems counter-intuitive, but let me see if I can illustrate. Recently I had the opportunity to share briefly with a lay leadership training event. I shared my morning scripture reading and what I had gleaned from it and asked them to share what they had done and heard/received. About half of the folks there were able to share their own story and several had profound insights to share. Of those who did not have devotions that morning almost half said that they had a regular routine, but that they had known they were attending the training that day. Since study and worship would be a part of it, they did not do their regular preparation that morning. For most of us in Christian service this easily becomes the pattern. Our devotional life is most focused on our ministry and our work and ourselves and less on Jesus himself. This leaves us with a stale and inward focused faith that is disconnected with the rest of the world and Jesus himself.
I was baptized at age 16 along with my brother and several friends. When the service was over we looked at each other and realized that we needed to get to know this Jesus to which we had committed our lives. We gathered together and started reading scripture with one purpose in mind – we wanted to know Jesus. That began my relationship with Christ and my daily walk in faith. It changed my life trajectory forever. It never would have occurred to me that I would ever be a pastor.
When I became a pastor I had imagined that the Christian life and my daily walk in faith would be easier. The expectations of others would be directed along more holy lines. Resistance and temptation would be less. Instead I found that my study of scripture became more about preparing to preach, or teach, or even to prepare for a leadership event than to deepen my relationship with Jesus. I found myself praying with lists instead of just spending time with an old friend. I found myself immersed in the church and not the world. I had wandered away all the while looking very “Christian”. Fortunately a good friend pointed this out and helped me change focus.
As we enter the season of Lent there are many practices we can take up and many more we can set aside to deepen our faith journey. Personally I am always looking for what can help me make my relationship with Jesus the center of my life and what has begun to replace Jesus, even in subtle ways, at that same center. I want to love what Jesus loved, abhor what Jesus abhorred, notice and reach out to those with whom Jesus connected, and be free to follow wherever Jesus leads. When Easter arrives I don’t want to only have words to share. I want to offer a life that proclaims that the living God is among us making all things new. I want to be able to turn to someone important in my life and say, “have you met my friend, Jesus?” I pray I will have something to share.