If you haven’t read So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore, you may not get the reference, nor the wonder of the comment. For those that haven’t, that story is about a frustrated staff pastor meeting someone he thinks might be John, Jesus’ disciple, still living in the 21st century. Do you remember when Jesus told Peter that if John were to live until he came again and that it should not matter to Peter’s journey? Now, Jesus didn’t say he would live that long, but we thought that an excellent idea for a story. What if a first-century apostle were still living today? What would he think of what we’ve done to Jesus’ kingdom in the 2000 years since? That story has been read well over half a million times in the 14 years it’s been out. This is a story we never thought would go beyond a website.
Anyway, I was in Europe over the last couple of weeks, starting in Norway, then taking on a YWAM class on the east coast of Italy, before ending my trip with two stops in Switzerland. Except for my time in Switzerland, all the people I met on this trip were new to me. What a trip it was, too! I am blown away by the people I get to know in my travels. Wherever I go I meet some of the most compelling people who are sorting out what it means to live loved and responsive to Jesus rather than just working Christianity as a system of thought. I love that. I love the conversations I get into and the things we discover together. I never know where those conversations will lead and almost always see something new about this God I love in the process.
I also meet some of the most courageous people on the planet when I travel, those that have more passion for a relationship with God than they have experience at it. Despite incredible struggles and doubts, they continue to open their heart to recognize the connection God wants to have with them. Yes, they are frustrated that it seems to be beyond their reach, and yet they continue to ask, seek, and knock on the door. I know it isn’t easy. I know it can lead to years of frustration when the desire is not immediately fulfilled the way we hope.
For humanity to connect with the transcendent God is no small task. Everything broken about this world seeks to diminish his voice, obscure his reality, and make us feel all alone in the universe. Look at all Father has done, including the cross, to make that connection. So, it doesn’t surprise me when it isn’t easy or doesn’t happen quickly especially for those who have known significant trauma in their lives or been captive in legalistic systems as a substitute for knowing him. It isn’t easy for us to learn to give up trying to make happen by our own efforts what only he can do by his Spirit. And he will do it, even if it takes most of our lives.
One man told me on this trip that he wondered if this kind of relationship is only available to specific people like the men and women of God in the Old Testament. “If that’s true,” I told him, “then traveling the world and telling others they can have it, too, would be the cruelest thing I could do.” He agreed. I don’t travel, though, because of my need for income, or to satiate my ego. I wouldn’t do what I do if it weren’t to help others experience the same reality in him that I do. If it isn’t real for all, even the “least” of them, by however we choose to measure it, then it isn’t real for me either. That’s what the new covenant was for, to help every person find that connection with the God who loves them more than anyone on this planet ever has or ever will.
And that brings me to why I wrote this blog. I had a brief conversation in Switzerland that was repeated in an email when I got home: “You may remember when I said that ten years ago I always wanted to have someone like John by my side to answer all my questions. Today, I want to be someone like John, encouraging and helping others to discover and live in the heavenly Father’s love.” I love that. In essence, that’s the simplicity of the Gospel. Find your reality in him, and then find a way to help others discover that reality as well.
I remember when we were writing that book, that I yearned to be someone like John, too. We wrote way above our heads when we sculpted out that character and put the best things in his mouth that we’ve ever heard or thought. Even Sara would recognize how beyond me John was when I was writing for him. When she would get home, she would make the observation that I’d been working on that book again. When I asked how she knew, she would respond, “Because you’re always a better person when you’ve spent the afternoon with John.” It was our little joke, but she was right. Writing for John was aspirational.
Who doesn’t want to be a voice that opens a door in the heart of those who are endeavoring to discover what is true about God? Who wouldn’t want to be the cheerleader rooting on those who are about to give up in the misery of a difficult life? Who wouldn’t want to be a friend who can help others recognize the fingerprints of God in their heart?
Yes, in the early days we want a John who can help us recognize how Father makes himself known to us. As we grow, however, we can become that John for others. We need so many people who can help others learn to recognize God at work in them. We do that by asking God to give us away to those who want to know him, by looking for those who are struggling in their faith and befriending them, by walking with God, not just for the wisdom we need, but for the wisdom others might need as well.
It’s a noble aspiration—to find God with increasing fullness and to help others find him too.