So can we simply just be friends with Jesus? Can we waste time in his presence watching him blow clouds into different shapes and sizes and imagine a tableau in the sky? As I thank him for flowers and sunsets, can he also delight in me every time I make the high score in my computer game? Or is my point of contact with Jesus confined to his work of salvation and my role in proclaiming it?
It seems like the latter is the only valid expression of what it means to be a believer of Jesus Christ. Despite the fact that heaven and earth scream the glory of its Creator, we have been so preoccupied with his work that we neglect his invitation to his heart of love. The contemporary measure of faith seems to be attendance and participation in church work rather than the true work of the Church which is to know God. Instead of being a transformative agent as salt and light in the world touching all areas of life that come from having been to the heart of the Father, all that seems to matter now are the activities done for the church. If there are any forays out into the world, it is to pull in more people into one’s particular church as some may even have a quota. In building edifices, which are more of monuments to our successes than to God’s glory, we have inadvertently poured concrete over the flowers that God was holding out to us. With that we may have repackaged salvation by works. The indulgences and penance of the medieval Catholic Church have given way to our purpose-filled activity much like this photograph of a bumper sticker below:
We speak of the gospel as a free gift given to us by grace and inversely speak against any teaching where one has to earn or work for salvation. The reality, however, feels like we draw in would-be converts with a marketing ploy that the Christian life is a theme park where they can have eternal life and unlimited access to all the Kingdom of God can offer, while burying the fine print that states that they are in the boot camp of discipleship. I recall a movie in my childhood starring Dolphy and Panchito (legendary Filipino comedians) who were queuing to watch a show but found themselves in line that led to an army recruitment center. I think many Christians are in that kind of comedic situation, only it is not as funny.
Many lack the knowledge that the true love of Jesus the friend is what compels us (2 Corinthians 5:14) and the intimacy of having been to the heart of the Master and knowing his business (John 15:15). As a result, many inside the church are prone to the guilt trips and manipulations of contemporary Pharisees who hint that we are not doing enough. Lacking that love, the responses of many have been reduced to “looking busy.”
Perhaps we need to hear the Gospel of grace and justification all over again: that the ultimate expression of being loved by God is by simply being. Much like the repentant thief on the cross beside Jesus (Luke 23:40), many may never have the chance to do anything for the Kingdom of God. All they need to be is be. “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)
“Being” and “doing” are intertwined: we do things for God because we have been to his heart, we have grieved with him and his love now compels us to love others as he would have loved them. “Doing” for the sake of the ordinance is plain legalism. However, by “being” with the Father and delighting in him and the works of his hand, I get a picture of what the world should be and at his feet declare, “Send me.”
It has to be said though, that many early Christians who responded to the invitation to draw near to the Father’s heart, stayed there. Some have become so comfortable that they ended locking themselves up in monasteries and throwing away the key thus depriving the world of salt and light. Some, however, would step out of their comfort zones and once again engage and minister to the fallen world. Among them is St. Dominic whose ideal is “contemplata tradere” (“"to pass on the fruits of contemplation”-motto of the Dominican Order).
On the other hand, many modern Christians have been plucked out of the crib, thrown into the servant’s quarters bereft of any intimacy with God and are now serving time in hard labor. It is bad enough they are locked up in a saltshaker, but being a candidate for burn-out, it is also a matter of time before they completely deprive the world sorely needing an incarnated presence of the Living God. We might as well be locked up in a monastery somewhere.
We are now at a point in history where the confluence of experiences and traditions should inform us of the imbalance we have in our spiritual lives. That our point of contact with the Father is not ministry but intimacy; that the real purpose for humanity in this world is to glorify God and enjoy him forever (Westminster Shorter Catechism: “The chief end of man is to glory God and enjoy him forever”). There are no formulas or seven steps to achieving this; indeed even observing those steps can be hard work. We do not need anymore “how-to” formulas as the bookshops are already littered with those kinds of books. We may have to recognize that we have fallen out of love with Jesus (Revelations 2:4) in which case the call is not to run around piling upon ourselves more work but to quietly sit still and wait on him.