“Why is it that we are so much busier than Jesus ever was?” This was the question Mark Danzey posed to a Macedonian Ministry cohort of pastors in Birmingham during a recent workshop on discipleship. Groans, sighs, and a couple “wows” were the only responses heard around the table. Every pastor in the room knew they were far busier than Jesus ever appeared to be, and they were busy with a lot of things Jesus didn’t seem too concerned about. And everyone knew that this is largely due to the unnecessary expectations and attenuated spirituality we’ve helped to perpetuate in the culture of our congregations.
But this obsession with busyness is not just a pastor problem; it’s a Christian problem. Our immediate-gratification culture has produced scores of disciples of Jesus who above all desire to be entertained, to be enthused, who expect God to show up and show off, and to do so right now. When we don’t immediately experience a spiritual “high,” when it doesn’t seem that God is willing to act as we’ve expected, we begin to think that perhaps God is far away from us, that we’ve fallen into faithlessness or disobedience, or worse that we’ve been lured into the entirely unacceptable position of being an ordinary, unexcited disciple of Jesus. Matt Redmond, in his book The God of the Mundane, responds to this pervasive mindset by reminding us, “We are not saved from mediocrity and obscurity, the ordinary and the mundane. We are saved in the midst of it. We are not redeemed from the mundane. We are redeemed from the slavery of thinking our mundane life is not enough”
We often forget what a slow, mostly unexciting journey it would have been to follow Jesus those three years in the desert.
A few years ago I was having lunch with a group of pastors when one requested prayer for people in his congregation who weren’t excited enough about the small groups program the church was offering. “I just want our people to be on fire for Jesus!” he remarked. “I want them to be filled with the Holy Spirit! I want them to be excited about what God is doing!” After a few heads of those around the table awkwardly nodded in affirmation, I piped up. “You know, I think it’s okay that everyone isn’t excited or ‘fired up,” as you put it. If the gospel stories are any indication, following Jesus is often quite boring, punctuated by occasional moments of excitement and conflict. And even in those more exciting moments, just when the disciples want to get busy, Jesus often says, ‘Hey we gotta get out of here. Let’s get in the boat!’ Jesus frequently goes off to desolate places, sometimes taking his disciples with him. Being excited or ‘on fire’ just isn’t part of the criteria for following Jesus, nor is it a guarantee that something good is happening in the life of a disciple.” The young pastor responded with a combination of shock as well as relief, shock because he didn’t expect me to subtly rebuke him, relief because he realized that he didn’t have to try so hard to achieve something that God wasn’t expecting in the first place.
Conversion takes place over the course of a life time. Such is our discipleship. It’s slow, grinding, includes a lot of “down-time”, punctuated by moments of excitement. It’s difficult for followers of Jesus to truly grasp this reality because the world we inhabit promotes such busyness, chaos, productivity, immediate gratification, and excitement. All of these values, in way or another, pose obstacles to our discipleship and the lifelong conversion to faith in Jesus. As Eugene Peterson puts it, “There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.”
God calls us to be ordinary, faithful, committed disciples of Jesus. At times, God calls us to be still, to stop, to rest, to meditate on the reality that God is God and we are not. In these moments of stillness we can rest assured that God remains faithful, that God is acting according to God’s time and purposes (not ours), and that God will work through our stillness and lack of enthusiasm, not in spite of it.