At first I felt that I had nothing to contribute to our church’s Watch Night service. Besides, our pastor had the main preaching segment covered. I was tired, still feeling the effects of all the changes I went through in 2007. But on the afternoon of 31st December, a passage came to me. It was Luke 6:12-19, and it reminded me of the three primary calls upon our lives as followers of Jesus Christ. (I am indebted to Henri Nouwen for helping me see the three movements in Jesus’ actions in this passage. For a recent summary of his insights on this passage, see Spiritual Direction, San Francisco, CA: HarperCollins, 2006, pp.109-125.)
1. The call to seek the Lord
One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. (Luke 6:12 TNIV)
Our relationship with our Maker, Saviour and Lord is our primary relationship. We get that right and everything else falls into place. We get that wrong and we lose the integrating centre of our lives. It would seem then that as a church and as individual followers of Jesus, nothing is more important this or any other year than the intentional pursuit of our relationship with our Lord. Our busy, noisy, driven world will give us little encouragement to do this. We have to make it happen.
Henri Nouwen’s comments on Jesus’ practice of seeking a solitary place to pray early each morning, recorded in Mark 1:35:
Somewhere we know that without a lonely place our lives are in danger. Somehow we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure. (Out of Solitude, Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2004, p.18)
In a confusing, rapidly changing, and increasingly violent world, our first call is to seek the Lord.
2. The call to the community
When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles… (Luke 6:13 TNIV)
I am an activist at heart. I worship at the shrine of Martha. My first questions in response to a situation are “What can I do? How can I be useful?” The divine pattern is different. When Jesus comes down from his mountainside prayers, He doesn’t rush into ministry. The first thing He did was to select His team of apostles. He builds a community.
In doing so Jesus is only doing what God has been doing throughout history. In Genesis, God gives humankind the responsibility to manage His creation. But humankind is only properly equipped to do so when they have a team — Adam and Eve. The rest of the Old Testament is God working out His purposes in history through another community — Israel. And now Jesus puts another team together.
How can we serve a broken world when our own hearts are crippled by loneliness? How can we help others if we function apart from the life-giving synergy that God intended? We must make time to build healthy relationships and healthy communities before we rush on to do anything else. If our first call is to seek the Lord, our next call is the call to community.
3. The call to ministry
He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by evil spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all. (Luke 6:17-19 TNIV)
This has been somewhat of a muted New Year. We ended the year with death in our face — the murder of Benazir Bhutto, the communal violence in Kenya, the ongoing bleeding in Afghanistan and Iraq, the persecution of Christians in Orissa, India — our pastoral prayers cover an ever increasing list of tragedies. We enter a new year where injustice, disease and death maim and cripple many. Sometimes it can all be so overwhelming.
We can either throw in the towel. Or embrace the reality that we were chosen to be God’s people for this time and recommit ourselves to be channels of God’s healing power to a broken world.
It is an impossible task. It is God’s task. Which is why we must do it God’s way. And that means respecting the sequence of the three calls. Our first call is to seek the Lord. If we are not rooted in Him we can do nothing. Next, we are to be in community. We are not to go it alone. And only then are we to minister.
The needs before us as are dire. But rooted in God and community, we find life. We can make a difference.
The spiritual journey moves us from solitude to community and to ministry as we follow Jesus … Jesus spent time on the mountain at night in solitary prayer. He came down in the morning and formed community. Then, in the afternoon, with his apostles, he went out and healed the sick and proclaimed the good news (Nouwen, Spiritual Direction, p.110).
Let us follow Jesus into 2008.