- pray for those who persecute you
- love your enemy
- with the measure you use it will be measured to you
During my entire Christian experience, I’ve been taught about and told others about a "personal relationship with Jesus." By faith, I’m required to hold that "personal relationship" in higher esteem than any other relationship I have.
There are degrees of relationships we have with the people in our lives; different depths. In most cases, family relationships are strongest. “Blood is thicker than water.” We can have strong bonds with friends we grew up with or went to college with. Life defining experiences shared in the military can be strong. The relationship with a spouse or a child is strongest of all; especially a spouse.
My relationship with Jesus is supposed to be stronger than all of those according to the scripture. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" is the greatest commandment according to the Lord. The next is like it: "Love your neighbor as yourself".
So what happens when a relationship goes wrong? We all know of examples of broken relationships in every category listed above. We can make our own list of broken relationships between fathers and sons, daughters and mothers, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives. Often these are damaged beyond repair.
Hold these descriptions of relationships in your mind for a few moments as I change gears on you a little bit.
The assumption here is that most of you are familiar with our story. My granddaughter, Allie, when she was a baby was shaken and abused by her father. She lived through it, but she sustained severe brain damage and is now lives as a disabled child.
Now, let’s play pretend for a second. Imagine that I have a strong relationship with you. A bond like we were brothers-in-arms. We've gone through intense experiences together and we've had each others' backs. We know each other. We'd lay down our lives for each other.
Let’s take our little fiction further. Imagine you had it within your power to prevent Allie from being abused. You were keenly aware of the potential for this to happen and you had it in your power to stop it before the abuse happened. In fact, it would have been a very small thing for you to change the circumstances Allie was in.
But you didn't. You wouldn't.
You decided that it would be better for Allie and my family to go through the trauma and you did nothing to prevent it. How would our relationship fare? I'm standing over a little baby in pediatric ICU in a coma. She’s under a heat lamp because her body can't maintain its temperature. She has a tube from an artificial breathing machine taped to her mouth because her brain isn’t telling her lungs to work anymore. Another tube has been threaded through a nostril into her stomach to deliver nourishment. Every square inch of her scalp is covered with nodes to monitor brain activity. Think with me for a second. Would I invite you into that room with me? Would I want to see your face? What is the condition of our relationship now?
This is one reason people walk away from God. I am in relationship with the Almighty Creator of the Universe. He is all powerful, all knowing, existing everywhere at once. But He didn't stop this.
I wasn't thinking exactly like this when things went bad for us six years ago. I was confused. It was extremely difficult to take any comfort at all in my relationship with Jesus. I felt abandoned but did not stop praying to Him. I gave Him glory and worshiped Him in church, but I often gave Him a piece of my mind.
Sometimes I even cursed at Him in a rage. Sometimes I ran toward Him and often I walked away from Him. I was schizophrenic in my faith.
I did not and do not fully have a grasp on what it means to have a relationship with the Lord (or any other person for that matter). The standards I listed above (love your enemies, forgive, etc.) are hard to maintain, even in the context of “a relationship with Jesus.” I think I'm more like the disciples who asked Jesus point blank, "How many times must I forgive?" That's the kind of understanding I have. There must be a limit; some line that you aren’t expected to cross.
I think I'm more like John the Baptist (not in ministry or prophetic or obedience sense of being like him). John the Baptist, when he was in Herod’s dungeon sent a message to Jesus: "are you the one we're looking for or do we seek another?" He didn't know he wasn’t going to get out. He was being wronged. And you know the end of the John the Baptist story: he was beheaded.
John the Baptist and Jesus were cousins born less than a year apart. Jesus was performing miracles all over the place, but He did not lift a finger to secure John's release from prison. He let John go through it. In fact, to add insult to injury, Jesus sent back a glowing report of the ministry He was doing all over the countryside among perfect strangers: "the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me."
We don't have insight into how John took this news. But we do know what Jesus had to say about John the Baptist after his boys were out of earshot. We know that Jesus said of John the Baptist that “among those born of women none is greater than John.” These are marvelous words.
Why didn't Jesus send these words back to John?
This is what I mean about relationships. They are a mystery. God is doing and saying things that we just don't have the ability to understand.
I’ve come to the place in my life where, even though I don’t grasp the nuances and depths of my relationship with Jesus, I want Him to say marvelous words about me. I want Jesus to marvel at my faith.
Did you know that men are capable of doing deeds that will make Jesus marvel? We know that He does things that make us marvel, but the other way around? Is that possible?
Jesus marveled about the character of John the Baptist. Jesus was amazed by the faith of a gentile centurion. Jesus was startled by the faith of a gentile woman when her groping hands initiated a surge of healing power to flow from Jesus into her and heal her.
I don’t want to stumble, any more, over how Jesus chooses to do things. You don’t get to pick how and when your life intersects with Jesus. But you do have control over how He reacts to you when the collision occurs. I want Jesus to say the kinds of things about me in public that He said about a gentile centurion, a cast-off woman, or John the Baptist in his moment of doubt.