24“But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. 25Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. 26Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.” (Luke 6:24-26, NIV)
As we look to the blessings and woes in Luke 6, we are challenged with the question, “What do you really want in life?” In particular, the woes enumerated by Jesus urge us to reflect on what may be our core yearnings, since these are often endorsed by our culture and encouraged by our own human nature.
The woes mentioned by Jesus in Luke 6:24-26 reflect some of the things most commonly desired in life: wealth, pleasure, happiness, and fame. For example, the Higher Education Research Group does an annual survey of college freshmen in the U.S. In the 2019 survey, participants were asked: “Please indicate the importance to you of each of the following.” The results were telling. What received the highest positive response? “Being very well off financially” (84.3%). When today’s Baby Boomers were taking this survey decades ago, they scored only 44.6% here. By way of contrast, 73% of Boomers once rated “Developing a meaningful philosophy of life” highly, whereas only 49% of today’s freshmen would agree. Also telling is the fact that only 43% of freshmen in 2019 placed high value on “Integrating spirituality into my life.”
I am not criticizing the younger generations. I’m rather sure that today’s freshmen, designated as Generation Z, are not terribly different from their parents in core values. Perhaps the younger folk are simply more honest than their idealistic parents were in college. I think most of us would agree that our culture and our own hearts encourage us to desire wealth, pleasure, happiness, and fame.
Please do not miss the point, Scripture does not demand that we reject the good things of this world. In certain contexts, wealth, pleasure, happiness, and fame are worthy of delight (for example, Genesis 2:9; Nehemiah 8:10; Proverbs 22:1-4, 24:13; John 2:1-11). Such things can even be blessings from God. But when we desire them above all, when we live in order to maximize our money, pleasure, happiness, and fame, then we are missing the best way of God’s kingdom. The things for which we strive offer temporary delight, according to Jesus. Moreover, they can easily pull us away from primary devotion to God and God’s righteousness. They can allow us to trust in earthly goodness rather than God’s grace.
In reflecting on Luke 6:24-26, it is helpful to consider each of the values Jesus associates with woe. What are my deepest desires in life? To what extent am I living for wealth, pleasure, happiness, or fame? What might take higher place than God and God’s kingdom when it comes to my true yearnings?
As you reflect on the questions above, have an honest conversation with God about what you’re thinking. Ask for insight from the Holy Spirit and be open to what God might want to show you about yourself.
What are your deepest desires in life?
What might take higher place than God and God’s kingdom when it comes to your true yearnings?
16This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:16-18, NIV)
One of the most overused phrases during the current pandemic is “uncertain times.” Though we certainly live in uncertain times, millions of people in our world are experiencing much worse than uncertainty. According to Colossians 3:12, our calling as Christians is to feel compassion for others and to act on it. Feeling our own uncertainty isn’t wrong, of course, but it surely isn’t enough. Perhaps our uncertainty can even help us to be more compassionate with others who live with uncertain realities and feelings all the time.
A passage from the first letter of John calls us to active compassion in way similar to what we observed in Colossians 3:12. Unfortunately, our translation of 1 John 3:17 makes this hard to see. A more accurate translation would be, “How does God’s love abide in someone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and closes their heart against them?” The Greek word I’m translating as “heart” is splanchna literally means “inward parts” in Greek. This is the same word that appear in Colossians: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion [splanchna oiktirmou, a heart of compassion], kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12).
So, John underscores in a new but related way what we learn from Colossians 3:12. As Christ followers, we need to have hearts open to others. We should be people of genuine compassion. If God’s love truly dwells in us, then we will be drawn to love others. This love will be ignited by our open hearts. But, as John makes abundantly clear, our feelings of love must also be expressed in tangible action. Immediately after implying that our hearts should be open, not closed, John adds, “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (v. 18).
Enacted compassion means, in some cases, that we listen empathically to those who are feeling anxious uncertainty. But it also invites us to care for people in other ways as we attend sensitively to their circumstances and feelings.
What might this look like? I’d like to share three examples I read about of people who are expressing compassion to others during the time of the coronavirus pandemic. The first person regularly remembers those she knows who live alone. She prepares meals as a gesture of concern, being sure to sanitize everything she delivers, and then spends time talking with those she is serving from a very safe distance as she drops off their food.
The second is a woman who owns a thriving business, but one that is struggling mightily in these difficult days. Nevertheless, she is doing all she can to keep her staff employed for as long as possible, even if this means personally receiving no salary and, in fact, losing quite a bit of money.
Finally, there is a woman who, a few weeks ago, was concerned over the inaccessibility of face masks. They are required, yet were very hard to find. So this woman started sewing face masks, dozens and dozens of them, and giving them away. We wouldn’t mind if she had chosen to sell them for a fair price. But she decided instead to freely serve people through her talent and generosity.
In the foreseeable future, we will all struggle with the implications of the coronavirus. In truth, we can’t be certain about the challenges coming our way. But one thing we can be certain of: As God’s beloved people, we are to love others, both by opening our hearts to them and by acting in love as our hearts move us.
Let us ask the Lord to help us have open hearts to people in need. Not just for today, but for the many days, months, and years ahead. As we respond to the impact of the coronavirus, may we be attentive to the feelings and needs of those around us. Individually, and together as God’s people, let us show tangible love as an expression of what is in our hearts. Not just in word or speech, but in truth and action.
What helps your heart to be open to people in need?
What helps you to actively care for those in need?
1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. (Ephesians 2:1-3, NIV)
According to the Bible, we live in enemy territory, so to speak. We are caught in a world that opposes God, not just in human hearts, but in systems and institutions. Scripture helps us to see the world as it is – not so that we might abandon it, but so that we might participate in God’s work of redeeming the world and its people.
Bill Swedberg fought for the Allies in World War II. He was a member of an Army reconnaissance team in Europe that would go behind the German lines in order to report on their activities and plans. He spent a good deal of time literally behind enemy lines, not exactly a place we’d want to find ourselves.
If we stop to think about it, we live right now behind enemy lines. It’s not uncommon for Christians to think of reality as having three layers. The top layer is Heaven, the place of God and goodness. The bottom layer is Hell, the place of Satan and evil. In the middle is the world. It is neither good nor evil, but rather a kind of demilitarized zone between good and evil, a neutral battleground in which the cosmic war between good and evil is fought.
This notion of the neutral world, however, is not taught in Scripture. In Ephesians 2:1-2, for example, it says: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world . . . .” The Message paraphrases this well: “You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live.”
When Paul speaks of “this world,” he is not thinking about the physical earth: rocks, trees, water, and so forth. Instead, he is thinking about what we might call culture, worldview, or the spirit of the age. He is envisioning the world as a system of powers that pulls us in the direction of sin and death. When we were dead in our trespasses and sins, we were living according to the ways of the world, a world that entraps us and entices us to live contrary to God. We were living behind enemy lines.
It’s crucial for us to see the world from a biblical point of view. Though God’s ways can be found in it because God is present, the dominant system of the world opposes God’s values and practices. We all live in cultures, communities, and contexts that lure us into the ways of sin and death. Because we are so familiar with these ways, they don’t feel wrong or dangerous. They simply feel normal. Thus, we need to develop a divine perspective on the world so that we might see it for what it is, acknowledging the ways in which it opposes God.
Yet, this does not mean we should withdraw from the world because God is in the business of restoring it in Christ (see Eph. 1:9-10). Quite the opposite! You and I are called to participate in God’s work of restoration. We do this through how we live in the world. But, because we live in this world, we need to discern what in the world is of God and what in the world opposes God, so that we might experience and share the life of God rather than the death associated with the ways of this world. We need new vision, new values, and a new vocation. Ephesians is helping us have all three.
As you reflect on this passage, think about our world, does “living behind enemy lines” make sense to you? Where in the world do you see evidence of systemic sin and death? Where do you see evidence of God’s presence?
What helps you to be “in the world but not of it”?
1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
(Ephesians 2:1-5, NIV)
In 1969, the English rock band Led Zeppelin released their second album, which featured the song “Whole Lotta Love.” Soon this song was heard on radios and at school dances everywhere, reaching Gold (one million copies sold) in less than a few months, even though many Christians criticized it for its apparent sexual immorality. If you know the song, you can almost hear the repetitive chorus ringing in your ears: “Wanna whole lotta love, wanna whole lotta love.”
I can say with a great deal of certainty that Led Zeppelin was not thinking of Ephesians 2:4 when they sang “Whole Lotta Love.” But, in fact, this song’s title accurately captures a core truth about God’s character and activity. A more literal translation of verse 4 would be: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us . . . .” The word translated as “great” is a common Greek word that means “very many” or “very large.” God’s love, according to verse 4, is gigantic. One could even say that God has a whole, whole, whole lotta love. Not the best poetry, perhaps, but great theology and great gospel.
But God’s love is not of the Led Zeppelin variety. It is neither friendly love, nor romantic love, nor erotic love. The Greek language had words for these kinds of love. Ephesians 2:4, however, employs the word “agape,” which is self-giving, sacrificial love. Agape seeks, not selfish pleasure or the joys of friendship, but whatever is best for the other person. According to Paul, God is filled to the brim with this kind of love for you and for me.
As human beings, we were created with the capacity to love and the desire to be loved. Because of sin, our God-given yearning for love can lead us down all sorts of dead-end roads. We can seek love through promiscuity or popularity. We can be led to believe that we’ll be loved if we are beautiful or successful or wealthy. But our search for a “whole lotta love” will never be fulfilled until we turn to the One who loves, not only the whole world, but also each and every one of us. The good news of Ephesians is that God has a whole, whole, whole lotta love for you.
Think of all the ways you have experienced God’s love for you. In what ways would you like to know God’s love more deeply?
How would your life be different if you really believed and acted on the great love God has for you?
18Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. 19When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus. (Luke 5:18-19, NIV)
Two weeks ago, we examined the story in Luke 5:17-27 in which several men brought to Jesus a paralyzed man lying on a bed. When they couldn’t get close enough to Jesus, the men did a shocking thing: they got up on the roof of the building where Jesus was speaking, made a large hole in the roof, and let down the bed with their friend so that it landed right in front of Jesus. Jesus did indeed heal the paralyzed man, but only after forgiving his sins, which stirred up the Jewish teachers who were observing Jesus’s behavior.
Last time, we focused on the fact that the men who carried their friend to Jesus took many risks in order to do what they did. They risked reputation and legal repercussions. They risked angering many people, including Jesus. And they risked the disappointment that Jesus would not, after all they had done, heal their friend.
Do you ever wonder why the bed-carrying men were willing to take on such risks? First of all, there is something that is likely though not stated explicitly. We can surely infer from the story that the bed-carrying men were deeply committed to their paralyzed friend and his healing. They were willing to risk so much because of their care for him. Committed love for others will motivate us to put everything on the line. The more we love, the more we will take risks in service to others.
Luke does note another reason for their risk-taking behavior. After they tore a hole in the roof and lowered their friend down to Jesus, Luke writes that Jesus “saw their faith” and then ministered to the paralyzed man (v. 20). Surely, the men who brought their friend to Jesus had exceptional faith. They were convinced that Jesus had the power to heal and would indeed heal their friend if they could only get him into Jesus’s presence. They trusted Jesus utterly.
The more we trust Jesus, the more we will take risks for the sake of the Kingdom of God. We will be emboldened to try things we would not otherwise try, to love in ways we would not otherwise love, to build what we would not otherwise build. Why? Because we trust Jesus to guide us, empower us, and work through us. So, whether we are moving far away from home in response to God’s call, reaching out to care for a colleague at work, confronting injustice in our city, we rely on Jesus, the One we trust because He is utterly trustworthy.
Have you ever taken a risk because you cared for someone? Can you think of a time in your life when you took a risk because of your trust in Jesus? What were those experiences like for you?
What helps you to grow in your trust in Jesus?
21When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as He was praying, heaven was opened 22and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are My Son, whom I love; with You I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22, NIV)
What a spectacle the baptism of Jesus must have been! Before Jesus showed up, John the Baptist drew the crowds with his prophetic preaching and dramatic baptisms. But when Jesus appeared one day to be baptized, several astounding things happened. First of all, the heavens opened. (Perhaps like the wormhole above New York in the first Avengers film.) Then the Holy Spirit descended from heaven “in bodily form like a dove.” (I would have love to have seen that!) Finally, a voice from heaven, God’s own voice, said, “You are My Son, the Beloved; with You I am well pleased” (v. 22).
What was that experience like for Jesus? Surely, He knew, from His parents, about His unique birth and calling. They must have told Jesus what they had learned from the angel. The Bible doesn’t describe how Jesus experienced His Heavenly Father throughout His life, though we rightly suppose that this was a deeply intimate relationship. But, as far as we know, it was at His baptism that Jesus heard for the first time the words, “You are My Son, the Beloved; with You I am well pleased.” Did Jesus feel surprised? Affirmed? Overwhelmed? Special? Deeply loved? All of the above and much more?
I have no doubt that my own father loved me and was pleased with me. But he had a very difficult time expressing his love in words. I don’t remember my father ever saying the words, “I love you” to me. I know my dad was proud of me. But he rarely said it. The words “With you I am well pleased” may not have come from his mouth, though I know they were in his heart.
Perhaps, like me, when you read Luke’s account of Jesus’s baptism, you find in yourself a deep yearning for affirmation from your father. I won’t be able to get that in this life from my dad because he’s been with the Lord for almost 17 years. But I also realize that what I want most of all is to know that my Heavenly Father is pleased with me. I want to know that I am His beloved. Of course I realize that the Father’s love for Jesus was unique. But we also know that, through Jesus the Son of God, the Father loves us (John 14:21-23; John 16:27; 1 John 3:1). I need this knowledge to flow down from my head to my heart (Romans 5:5).
Honestly, I wouldn’t mind a voice from heaven affirming the Father’s love for me from time to time. Perhaps you feel similarly. But, whether or not that ever happens, we hold on tight to the Good News of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. We believe that the God who knows us through and through has adopted us to be His beloved children (Ephesians 1:5). We claim the promise of Psalm 149:4, affirming that “the LORD takes pleasure in His people,” and, through Christ, that includes you and me.
So, though you may not hear a heavenly voice today as Jesus did when He was baptized, the Good News still rings strong and clear. Through Jesus, the beloved Son, you are God’s daughter or son. God loves you more than you will ever fully comprehend. God delights in you and claims you as His own.
Reflect on the ways you have experienced God’s love. Spend a few moments reflecting and letting this truth sink in: God is well pleased in you. May you daily experience God’s love and pleasure for you in a deeper way.
18Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. 19When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.
(Luke 5:18-19, NIV)
Following Jesus isn’t safe. If we’re going to follow Jesus today, we will inevitably have to take risks. We may put at risk our comfort, reputation, safety, or financial security. Yet, the more we trust Jesus and pay attention to Him, the more we will be empowered to take risks for the sake of His kingdom and for the purpose for which He has called us.
If you grew up going to Sunday School, then you are surely familiar with the story in today’s passage. And if we are familiar with this story, we may miss one of the things it teaches us about following Jesus. I’m hoping that today we may see things in a new light.
The basic story goes like this: Jesus was teaching and healing in some sort of building, probably a home. Quite a crowd had gathered, including many Jewish teachers. Some men brought a paralyzed man on a bed so that Jesus might heal him, but the crowd kept them away. So, the men went up on the roof, removed a good portion of the roof, and lowered the paralyzed man down before Jesus. Seeing the faith of the men on the roof, Jesus forgave the sins of the paralyzed man. This enraged the Jewish teachers who believed that only God could forgive sins. Jesus explained that He, as the Son of Man, had authority to forgive sins. He proved the point by telling the paralyzed man to get up and go home, which he promptly did. The crowd marveled, glorifying God and saying, “We have seen strange things today” (Luke 5:26).
We often focus on the faith of the men who lowered their friend before Jesus. Or we talk about the significance of Jesus’s claim to have authority to forgive sins. Today, however, I want to ask you to reflect on the risk taken by the men who carried the bed. It was a big one!
Imagine for a moment, what their conversation must have been like. When they realized that there was no way they could gain access to Jesus, one of them might have said, “Oh, this won’t work. Maybe we should wait until later.” Another might have said, “Hey, why don’t we ask people to make room for us?” Still another added, “That won’t work. But we could get on the roof, make a big hole, and let the bed down right in front of
Jesus.” The first speaker might have responded, “Are you crazy? We can’t get up on the roof with this bed. And there’s no way we can make a hole in somebody’s roof. We’d get in serious trouble.” But, as they talked, they were determined to see their friend healed. They believed this really was their only chance. So they decided to climb onto the roof and break it, making a hole large enough for the bed.
Unfortunately, Luke doesn’t tell us what happened while these men were creating the hole in the roof. It’s not hard to imagine, however, what they might have been hearing from the crowd: “What are you guys doing? Are you crazy? You can’t break Levi’s house! That’s illegal . . . and stupid. You’re interrupting the teacher. You’re cutting in line. You guys are going to be in such trouble.” Still, the men opened up the roof and lowered their friend right in front of Jesus.
What did these men risk? Many things. They risked their reputation. If their scheme didn’t work, they’d become the laughingstock of their town. They risked serious legal trouble by damaging someone’s home. Would they be arrested? Would they be sued? They risked Jesus’s ire, since they interrupted His teaching in a major way. They risked the ire of the people who had gathered to be healed but we’re stuck in the back of the crowd. And, of course, they risked the possibility that, after all that they had done, their friend would not be healed.
If you and I are going to follow Jesus, we will need to take major risks as well. No, I’m not talking about us making a hole in somebody’s roof. But I am thinking about other risks you might take as you follow Jesus. You may run the risk of having people on campus or at work think you’re a religious nut. You may put yourself in places where you feel uncomfortable or unsafe. You may have a smaller nest egg for your future because of your generosity. You may put your professional reputation on the line because you believe God wants you to lead a startup. You may risk the unhappiness of your classmates or coworkers when you ask them not to make jokes that disrespect or objectify others. Or . . . you name it.
Here are a few questions for us to reflect on the story. If you had been one of the men carrying the bed, how might you have dealt with the problem of “no access” to Jesus?
Have you ever taken a risk because you are a follower of Jesus? What happened? How did it turn or is it turning out?
I pray that we will have the boldness of the nameless men described in this passage. Pray that God will give you the boldness you need to follow Jesus faithfully, even if you have to take risks.
13”You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”
14“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13-16, NIV)
Godspell is a popular musical about the life of Christ. It is a musical comedy that came to life as a masters’ thesis: John-Michael Tebelak, the author of the original libretto, was studying drama at Carnegie-Mellon University, and at least one story has it that he wrote the entire original version in two weeks! Some of the lyrics were taken from the Episcopal hymnal and others penned by Broadway songwriter Stephen Schwartz. It became a hit and has a long history of being performed by colleges and church groups. The first act of the show ends with a rollicking song drawn from the above verses in the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus instructs His followers: “You are the light of the world!/ (You are the light of the world!) But if that light is under a bushel / It's lost something kind of crucial / You got to stay bright to be the light of the world. / You are the salt of the earth (You are the salt of the earth) / But if that salt has lost its flavor, it ain't got much in its favor / You can't have that fault and be the salt of the earth!”
This weekend, we celebrate our church anniversary and we give thanks to God for all that He has done for us and through us in the past 32 years. But we also look forward to what He desires for us to do as we continue to grow together as FECC. The prophet Isaiah reminds us of the kind of worship and devotion God wants. Fasting and outward devotions and shows of humility are not good enough, God says, if they aren’t lived out in our daily lives, in our work and in our encounters with those in need (see Isaiah 58:6-9a).
Jesus, who would have known Isaiah’s words well as a Torah-observant Jew, doesn’t let us off the hook, either. The Sermon on the Mount, as a whole, commissions us to live out our life of discipleship in the world of human relationships and activities. This passage in particular, which directly follows the Beatitudes, is no exception. We are to show God’s light and love just as if we were a candle on a stand shining all over the place. We are to be the peacemakers, the meek, the merciful, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. When we are found in a place, our exercise of those virtues should be just like salt; we should change the flavor of the whole dish.
So, as we give God thanks for our church anniversary, let us continue to seek out places to let our light shine in worship to God and let our salt flavor the world around us in service of those whom Christ died to save. After all, “you gotta stay bright to be the light of the world.” How have you been letting your light shine recently? How has your salt been flavoring the lives of those with whom you come in contact?
Ask the Lord to lead you so that you may let your light shine in the days to come. Make a commitment to let your light shine and your salt flavor the life of someone on a daily basis. That would be the kind of worship the Lord desires, according to Isaiah.
28All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29They got up, drove Him out of the town, and took Him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw Him off the cliff. 30But He walked right through the crowd and went on his way. (Luke 4:28-30, NIV)
As Jesus faithfully proclaimed and lived the kingdom of God, He faced resistance, even from those who had been close to Him. We will experience something similar as we seek to follow Jesus today. Knowing that resistance will come allows us to be ready. We won’t stand alone, but will follow Jesus in a community that can help us discern what is right and persevere in the face of opposition.
Jesus was in the synagogue of Nazareth, and after reading a prophecy from Isaiah, Jesus claimed to fulfill the prophetic promise of an anointed One who would bring salvation to the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed. At first, those in the synagogue voiced their approval. But when Jesus declined to do miracles for them and suggested that His ministry would serve people on the margins, the people in the synagogue became enraged. In fact, they even tried to throw Jesus off a local cliff, but somehow, He managed to escape.
If we seek to follow Jesus today, there will be times when we will experience something similar. I’m not thinking about the “thrown off the cliff” part. But I do know that faithful engagement in the work of Jesus today will stir up resistance if not outright opposition. And sometimes this antagonism will come from people who are close to us, even as Jesus experienced rejection from those in Nazareth who were his friends, neighbors, and family.
Some years ago, Ben was called to a new church in a city in the southwestern United States. He cared deeply for his congregation and they loved him in return. Everything seemed to be going wonderfully with his pastorate. As he became more connected to the community around the church, he realized that his congregation was not serving a substantial group in town. This predominantly Anglo church had overlooked their Mexican American neighbors. So Ben began working with church leaders to develop programs for this underserved group. In a couple of years, not only was the church able to meet many tangible needs of their neighbors, but also quite a few of those being served began participating enthusiastically in life of the church.
Though some of the elders of this church were pleased by their new outreach, others were not. Even some who had been on the committee that called Ben were unsupportive. They felt uncomfortable having in “their church” people who were not just like them. When they tried to get Ben to curtail the church’s
outreach to the Mexican American community, he declined. He explained that this effort was consistent with the ministry of Jesus, hoping his unhappy elders would change their minds. But this didn’t happen. Instead, they worked behind the scenes to get others in the church to agree with “their side.” In time, resistance to Ben’s leadership was so strong that he decided he should leave the church.
Now, I’m not suggesting that every time someone has a problem with pastoral leadership that person is in the wrong. Pastors can mess up too. (I am one of them!) My point here is that if we seek to follow Jesus faithfully, we can expect resistance from others. Knowing this in advance can help us when resistance comes. In some cases, we’ll know that we need to persevere and will seek God’s strength to hang in there. In other cases, like that of Jesus in Luke 4, we’ll decide that it’s best to leave.
Allow me a word of encouragement here. When, in following Jesus, you face resistance, don’t stand alone. Gather with others who can be with you in this time. Invite them to help you discern what is right. It may be that you need to change course. Ask for prayer from those who are standing with you. Lean on their support. Receive their exhortation. Remember, following Jesus is something we do together.
If following Jesus faithfully today will bring on resistance, what have you built into your life to help you make wise choices and persevere when things are hard?
15Yet the news about Him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. (Luke 5:15-16, NIV)
Early in His ministry, Jesus was extremely popular with the crowds. They marveled at His teachings and were astounded by His healings. They wanted Jesus to stay with them. Yet Jesus was not governed by the feelings of others. His clarity about His life’s purpose and His ability to choose this over other tempting options were supported by His practice of prayer. Jesus often withdrew from the crowds in order to engage in conversation with his Heavenly Father. This clarified His sense of purpose and strengthened His resolve to do what He had been called to do. Similarly, you and I need time alone with God if we’re to know and to fulfill our purpose in life. Prayer makes that purpose clear and energizes it.
In Luke’s Gospel, we note the growing popularity of Jesus in His early ministry. Even when He escaped from the crowds to go to “a deserted place” (Luke 4:24), they pursued Him, trying to get Him to stay with them. But Jesus explained that He needed to preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God in other cities. “For I was sent for this purpose,” He said. In other words, Jesus chose purpose over popularity.
Why was He able to do this? What helped Jesus to be so clear about His purpose and to act decisively in light of it? There is a hint of an answer to this question in Luke 4:42, where it says that Jesus went to “a deserted place.” Luke fleshes it out in more detail in Luke 5:15-16. Again, these verses highlight the popularity of Jesus, adding “But He would withdraw to deserted places and pray.” The Greek original emphasizes the repeated and continued nature of Jesus’s actions. He often left the crowds for places in which He could be alone.
And what did Jesus do there? According to Luke 5:16, Jesus prayed. Unfortunately, Luke does not fill us in on the content of Jesus’s wilderness prayers. All we know is that He would regularly get away for a time of solitude, in which He would pray. But it seems likely that His practice of prayer enabled Jesus to gain clarity about His purpose. He did not let popularity govern His behavior because He knew what His Heavenly Father had called Him to do.
Notice that Jesus exemplifies, not just occasional prayer, but a consistent practice of getting alone to pray. It’s not as if He goes out once and prays, “Father, show Me My purpose.” Rather, Jesus’s clarity of purpose comes through His consistent conversation with God.
The example of Jesus encourages us to do likewise. If we want to know our life’s purpose, if we want to be able to decline that which would distract us from what we’re on this earth to do, then we need to establish a practice of regular prayer. We may not be able to withdraw to a deserted place very often, but we can find time, even in our busy days, to get alone for conversation with God. If this was essential for Jesus, surely it should be essential for us as well.
Set aside a regular time for conversations with God about your purpose in life. If you can get away to “a deserted place” for this prayer, that’s great. But, even if not, find a time and place when you can be alone with your Heavenly Father.
Ask the Lord to help you make time in your busy life for prayer. As you talk with Him, ask Jesus to help you know more clearly your purpose in life. Ask Him for the strength to live in light of that purpose, saying “No” even to good things that would distract you.