One of the hurdles I have constantly encountered in establishing a prayer ministry here in Eastern Europe has been recognizing which of my practices or accepted traditions of prayer ministry are actually based on scripture, and which I have actually brought with me from my home culture. This is not to say that American traditions in the church are all wrong, necessarily. But, we must remember Jesus’ warning to the Pharisees in Mark 7, when He said, “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men… You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!”
Well, it is quite a humbling experience to be sure, when you realize – again and again – that your beloved ideas about how ministry and evangelism should look are exposed by the Word and Holy Spirit as nothing more than fleeting tradition and nostalgia. Freedom comes certainly, as does conviction and confession upon the recognition that pieces of my teaching – which I am presenting as truth – are in reality only my vain attempts to bring others in to share the darkness of my own prison cell.
One of the clearest examples of this can be seen in the mega-churches in the U.S., in which there is typically one man who is the “pastor” of thousands of people who come every Sunday to hear him preach. This man prays for and teaches the congregation, just as Jesus did. His name and image are usually quite well-known in the community. But practically speaking for almost all of the people in the church, the vulnerable details of his life and nature – his fears and struggles and joy, etc – are completely unknown. I understand that in some cases these pastors actually enter and leave the service accompanied by an armed guard. In these cases it is easy to perceive a very thick wall that exists around the pastor, meant to protect him from the very people he is called to serve.
Clearly, certain care must be taken as we spend time in prayer and discipleship. These things are very intimate by nature, and so we must be aware of the risk of unhealthy attachments forming between a pastor and someone he or she is serving. We know, for example, that Jesus had many women as close friends and supporters. However, we see a respect for certain relational boundaries when He chose only men to be in the inner circle of the closest 12. But this respect for intimacy in relationships, which we see Jesus display so beautifully throughout His ministry, differs significantly from the protective veil behind which so many of us in ministry keep ourselves hidden today.
Let’s recall, for example, the scene in Mark 8, at the miraculous feeding of the four thousand. Remember the words of Jesus to His disciples in verse 2: “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat.” Jesus wasn’t there just to preach a good sermon. By the time Jesus fed these thousands of people, He had already spent three days with them, teaching them, talking with them, praying with them. He was one of them. He had a real compassion for them. He wanted to serve them and to ease their hunger.
We know that the great majority of Jesus’ time was not spent teaching these massive crowds, however, but was spent instead with a very small group of about 12 men. For three years Jesus spent almost all of his time with these men. We read in Mark 9:30-31 that at times, Jesus didn’t want anyone else to know where they were so he could spend time alone with them, teaching them. In John 17, we read the prayer of Jesus for the disciples, when He says, “I have revealed You to those whom You gave me… Now they know that everything You have given Me comes from You. For I gave them the words You gave Me… They knew with certainty that I came from You, and they believed that You sent me… I have given them Your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world… For them I sanctify Myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.” (vs. 6-19)
Contrast these words of Jesus about the disciples with the scene described in John 6, when a large crowd approached Jesus saying they had been looking for Him. Jesus responded to this crowd, “You are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.” Later he said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you… Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.” John tells us in verse 66 that upon hearing these words, many people in the crowd that day turned and decided to follow Jesus no more.
But what about the 12 disciples? Jesus then addressed them, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” We recall Simon Peter’s response, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Given His calling as Messiah – Savior of the world – by today’s customary practices throughout the church, it would seem that Jesus’ time would have been better spent getting His message out to the masses. Certainly, Jesus would have wanted as large an army of followers as He could have possibly built before His death. So why did He insist on giving so much of Himself to such a small group of men?
Jesus knew that the praise of the masses was as fleeting as the contentment of their full bellies. He knew that ultimately His church would not be built by the crowds of people who were only in it for the blessings and comfort He had to offer. He wasn’t looking to build an army of obedient “soldiers”. He was looking for brothers and sisters who knew Him intimately, who truly loved Him with all of their hearts, and who were ready to lay down their lives for Him.
This kind of devotion to Jesus did not come easily for the disciples. Jesus invested everything in these men. He ate and drank with them, slept in their homes, traveled with them, showed them everything. They knew what He liked to eat, what made Him laugh, what made Him weep, when He needed time alone, how He felt when John the Baptist was killed, his favorite places to rest, that He could tell a good story. He was more than just “Lord”. He was their brother. Indeed, it was only as He became their brother that He truly became their Lord. And even one of them fell away in the end.
So why do we buy into this fallacy that the love of Jesus Christ must be shared from a protective distance? That we must be careful not to reveal too much of our true selves, but that we must protect ourselves emotionally and physically from the ones we are called to serve?
What it reveals to me is that I truly do not yet know Jesus. I do not truly trust Him. I do not truly love Him with all of my heart. If I did I would have no need to keep such protective walls between myself and those I am called to serve. In fact, if my nature were like that of Jesus Christ, such barriers would repulse me. We can not be free to show the love of Christ – to hope, to trust, to be all things to all men, to come out from behind our protective veils and to lay down our lives for the people we are serving – until we ourselves truly know Jesus Christ. There is no other way.
There is a new depth of intimacy and exposure in ministry, to which I feel the Lord may be leading me. I can’t expect the praises of the masses, or for others to follow. I ask for your continued prayers as I seek only to listen and to obey Him alone. Love and blessings, and much gratitude to each of you.