EVERYDAY we are confronted with issues…whether it’s the pressure of our work or bringing up our children in a pluralistic society we reach a point where we pause and say: ‘I think I have applied all my wisdom, and it’s not working!’
And it’s not just in homes, churches pretty much face the same challenges.
The Gospel of John starts with a statement which very much defines the whole book.
John says ‘in Him was life and that life was the light of men.’ The life, the energy, the love, the compassion, the empathy that flows from Christ is the light of men. The way out of our present predicament is Christ.
One of the themes that has been lingering in my mind is the ferocious love of God. ‘Ferocious’ is a word borrowed from Brenan Mannen, but I chose it as it pierces every corner of our existence – to the darkest moments in our life to the deepest valleys we go through and yet it is sometimes not visible within our naked selves.
Somehow I think we have neglected or failed to understand the intensity of God’s love in our life and that results us being just not aware of the hope and excitement that faith bring to our lives.
Paul had this in mind as he wrote to the church in Ephesus:
“I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know that this love that surpasses- knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:17-19).
You may have the power for what? Power to grasp the ferocious love of God and that this love surpasses knowledge.
- How wide: it covers the breadth of our experience
- how long: The length of our life here and forever
- how high: it reaches to the height of our celebrations
- how deep- it reaches the depth of our discouragements, sins, deaths and diseases.
Realizing and following this truth will be a turning point in our lives. What is the truth that we need to comprehend? That we are loved by a God whose love can only be described as ferocious and incomprehensible and that He gives us the power to love Him and love others no matter what goes through in our lives. So, how do we get this power to grasp this ferocious love of God?
We get this in our solitude.
Let us look at the life of Jesus.
There is this beautiful story that moves from night to morning to afternoon. Jesus spends the night praying to God. In the morning, He gathers His apostles around Him and forms His community. In the afternoon He goes out and preaches the Word and heals the sick.
Did you notice the order from solitude (prayer) to community (His friends and family) to ministry?
I believe we can look at solitude, community and ministry as three disciplines by which we create space for God to act in our lives.
Solitude: Being with God and God alone
How would you define that? Call it your quite time or prayer. To pray in solitude is to allow that voice to speak to you, the center of who you are, to our guts. Who am I and what am I here for? God do you love me? Then let me experience glimpses of that.
If you listen, you may hear that voice that Jesus heard ‘you are my beloved; on you my favor rests.’
Jesus listened to that voice all the time. See He made it a point to be alone with the Father and get that assurance every day…early in the morning, late at night. In season and off season, all the time.
It did not matter to Him what happened around him. Sometimes, people applauded Him. At other times, they laughed at Him and rejected Him. Once, they cried out Hosanna to Him. At another, they cried out, ‘Crucify Him!’ Jesus was not swayed by what was going on around Him.
How was He able to do that? Simple, Jesus knew one thing. That He was the beloved and He was loved by God. He clung to that voice, just like Isaiah, Moses and Jeremiah.
There are voices around us: ‘Prove that you are the son of God.’ ‘Prove that you can be relevant.’ ‘Prove that you have power and then people will love you and acknowledge you as someone divine’
But Jesus said, “No, I don’t have to prove anything, I am already the beloved.’
If you keep this in mind and understand that you are loved by God, you can deal with success and failure without losing your identity.
Where do we get that kind of understanding? In solitude; in being alone with God.
Long before your parents, siblings, the church or just anybody touched you in a loving or a hurting way, there was this voice: ‘I have loved you with everlasting love.’
Long before you were rejected or praised by someone, there was this voice: ‘I have loved you with everlasting love.’
Our life and faith is anchored in claiming our place in Christ. We are beloved to Him.
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God (1 John 4:7).
The absolute confidence that you are being loved by the creator of heaven and earth and He has invested His life in you and that you could stand tall before Him even if you fail gives you the confidence to go into this world and be what you are without being guilty or condemned and touch people, and heal them, speak with them fully aware that they are beloved, chosen and blessed, too.
See when you discover your place in Christ, you see where others stand in Christ.
Folks it is a mystery of God’s love that the more you aware of how deeply and sincerely you are loved by God, the more you will see how deeply your sister and your brother in the human family is loved too.
And this gives you the motivation to love them.
If we don’t get this affirmation from God that we are secure in Christ, then we will run around looking at the wrong places for recognition, praise and success.
I am a pastor. I have my stuff to do; lots of them. Nobody even sent me a car for Pastor Appreciation Day. But that’s OK. I can live without it. But you need to understand that there are days when I get miserable in my work too just like you.
Why does it happen this way? Because, we want something only God can give. Looking for it from our families, friends, prayer groups and churches simply won’t work.
Jesus got that affirmation from His Father when He spend time with Him in solitude. The Bible says…when morning came, He called His disciples and formed His community (my phrase).
Why is it so important that solitude comes before community?
If we do not know that we are loved ferociously by God and that we are His children then we would expect someone in the community to make us feel that way. And the problem with that is they cannot make us feel that way.
The result is that we feel hurt, abandoned, rejected and doubtful. Often that is the character of love that we receive from our community.
Look at Jesus…at the cross there were hardly anyone of His apostles beside him. That is the second love. The love that often leaves us doubtful, frustrated and angry is only a pale reflection of the first love in our lives – that is the love of God towards us.
The second love is only a broken reflection of the first love.
If we insist on wanting other people to give us something God alone can give, we become demons. We scream: ‘Accept me!’ Before we know it we become violent, demanding, and manipulative and bitter.
So how do we strengthen our community experience? Sometimes you don’t feel much love towards one another, sometimes you simply get bored with one another and that is hard.
But we can be faithful. We still can live in the same boat, create a home together and also create space for God to work in our midst.
The community really blossoms when we decide to forgive one another.
Forgiveness says ‘I know you love me, but you don’t have to love me unconditionally, because no human being can have that love.’
To forgive others for being able to give you only a little love – that is hard discipline (‘Forgive one another as I have forgiven you.’)
It is hard to tell your children, spouse, friends and anyone else that you cannot really give them all that you would like to give. That is where community starts to be molded and formed, when we come together in a forgiving and un-condemning way.
That brings us to the third aspect of Christ’s day – His ministry.
The night is solitude, the morning is community and the afternoon is ministry.
So here is the order that Jesus teaches…beginning with God in solitude to create a community of people with whom the mission is being lived.
And finally community goes out together to heal and proclaim the good news. It does not work any other way.
Power went out of Jesus and all who touched him was healed, we read.
He was completely obedient. He was always listening to God. Out of that intimacy with God, Jesus reflected love and compassion to everyone who saw Him.
Ministry is simply trusting that – if you have spent enough time being at the feet of God, listening to Him, then power will go out of you healing people, not just physical healing but also spiritual healing, some people are just a joy to be around.
Folks, we need to trust that. Trust that if we are living as the beloved we will heal the people whether or not you notice it. But you have to be faithful to His calling.
See when you are aware that you are God’s beloved, and when you are around friends and people in your community or church who love you for what you are and not for what you are not…then you can do anything.
You are not afraid anymore, you are confident. You are not afraid to knock at the door while someone is dyeing; you are open to discuss God with someone who may be disgruntled with God. This is the freedom that the Bible talks about – freedom in living and knowing the truth.
Rev. Mathews George is a pastor at Tucker Street Church in Greater Memphis Area in the US. He has mentored many people around the United States and India. He believes that only in understanding and accepting Jesus into lives true healing takes place. He can be reached at his email ID: mathewsown [at] gmail [dot] com