After fourteen years of serving as a pastor in the local church I switched roles this year to work for Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission and Serve Seattle. I still love the church, but I have to admit, I’ve grown more in my faith this year than the past few. If I had to pick one thing I’ve learned above all else, it’s that I’ve finally stopped trying to save people.
In Bible college, they trained me to have answers. They taught me how to preach with certainty and conviction. They educated me how to evangelize others and convert them to my thinking. Now, I don’t think any of the above is inherently wrong but it misses a crucial part of Jesus’ teaching:
Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ -Matt. 25:37-40
Okay, before you start thinking, “Kyle’s just reminding me to be nice to people again.” Look more closely. This passage is about much more. Jesus is communicating to those who want to “save” others, that they are actually the ones being saved. After all, this passage is all about eternal life and Jesus (once again) flips our assumptions on their head. Just like the people in the passage, I didn’t see that coming.
What I learned this year is to look for Jesus in the other. I’m beginning to enter conversations and interactions with people with a divine curiosity and wonder. Oh, and this goes especially for those different from me. I’m looking for Jesus in the homeless person on the corner and my Hindu neighbor three doors down.
I used to enter meetings and conversations with a prepared list of answers or even an evangelical strategy for conversion. Lately, I’m walking in with some great questions and a hope that I’ll be somehow changed. I’m finding this new posture is helping me finally listen. (It’s been a long road for me.) I’m seeing others as truly valuable, each with their own unique story and viewpoint. I occasionally get opportunities to speak still, but honestly, I look forward more to a diverse group of friends chatting in a coffeeshop. After all, I’ve seen far more change happen in circles than in rows.
I think this may be why I’ve grown in my faith so much this year. I’m discovering Jesus in people instead of assuming I’m the one bringing him to others. Because of this, life is becoming more of an adventure because he has a way of popping up in the least expected places. Maybe it’s because I’m not just expecting to learn from him for one hour on Sunday? I also think about him all the time now. It may be because he’s far more complex and wondrous now and I’m always wondering what he’s up to. Jesus is becoming this divine mystery to me that even as I write these words, makes me want to stop and worship.
Above all, I’m falling more in love with him and in turn, starting to love others more. It’s pretty easy to give a homeless person a hug when you think he may reveal Jesus to you in a special way. My religious defenses are easily lowered when I’m listening intently for Jesus in my Hindu neighbor. Heck, I even stop defaulting to Captain Advice to my kids when I stumble upon Jesus in their curiosity and wonder.(2)
It’s funny that I’ve had this upcoming scripture memorized for twelve years and used it in countless sermons, but I think I may just be beginning to figure out what God meant. Paul was speaking about Jesus when he said,
but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. -Phil. 2:3
Better late than never I guess.
Gotta run, I have a sermon I should be working on, but I think I’ll get to it later. I’m more interested if Jesus may show himself in my parents coming over in a bit.
You never know, and I like life better that way.
1. Don’t miss the feet in the picture above.
2. Oh, how healthy it would be for the American evangelical church to be known for curiosity and wonder again. Don’t get me started on that one. 🙂