There are two opposite dangers that could overwhelm you, should you engage in Christianity. One danger is that you will be overwhelmed, without even noticing, by an accidental apathy– simply because you become accustomed to an “understanding about” God. The other danger, just as serious as the first, is that you will be overwhelmed by an encounter with Jesus in a way that transforms your life.
Danger #1 – Accidental Apathy
This blunting of spirit, this accidental apathy, is a danger that you certainly never sought. By attending church or listening to sermons, you didn’t anticipate that you’d fall into a rut of faith. By learning Bible stories and doctrine, or even by serving a church ministry or joining a small group, you’ve thought a lot about understanding God and applying God to your life. You’ve put yourself in a pattern where you spend a lot of time about faith. And, if you’re not intentional, you could inadvertently fall into a malaise.
It’s like this: Imagine a large cup filled with water represents all the amazing things about God. A little cup, placed on a table, represents your faith. As you learn more about God, the more about God is poured into your little cup on the table. So, for instance, you understand that God is Creator (pour). You understand that Jesus died on the cross (pour) so that you could have forgiveness of sin (pour) and life eternal with him (pour). You might even spend time in prayer (pour). Maybe you do something nice, something “Christian” (pour). Maybe you even went through a church membership class (pour). This is all great stuff. You understand a lot about God and have spent a lot of time in all of these things.
But once your faith is pretty full you can back off for a while. It doesn’t transform you. Since you have so much understanding you could just take your faith and try to apply it when you need to. You can also set it aside when you feel like you don’t need it. You could even empty the cup, clean it out, and put it back in the cupboard for a while. The important thing is that you control the access to your faith. It’s your decision. It’ll be there when you want to apply it. You can stop the process or begin the process at your whim. It’s your faith… it will never leave you nor forsake you… right?… unless it becomes a routine… unless you forget about it someday when your environment or circumstances changes.
Danger #2 – Encountering Jesus
The second danger, an encounter with Jesus that transforms you, looks like this: A large cup filled with water represents God’s friendship. A little cup represents your friendship with him. But your little cup isn’t kept on a table nearby. In this danger, the cup is kept on top of your head. You can’t put your relationship with Jesus off to the side. So, every time you invest in your friendship with God, and every time God invests in his friendship with you, water is poured into the cup on the top of your head. As the friendship grows, your cup is filled… and begins to overflow… yes, all over the place. Wherever you go, Jesus is overflowing from you. Whatever you think, do, or say, is impacted by the presence of Jesus over your life.
Knowing Jesus as your friend will mess you up. It’s exhilarating and nerve-wracking to know Jesus. You don’t know quite what or how he’s going to overwhelm you but you know he will. He’s personal, he impacts you. You choose to be filled with him, to be close to him, to anticipate experiencing him, to dine with him, to see him, to be changed by him, to be attached to him.
This is what Jesus wanted. In John 15:15, Jesus said “No longer do I call you servants… but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (ESV). Jesus uses a lot of attachment language. He doesn’t say, “Hey, you know what, keep me off to the side of your life”. Jesus calls himself the Vine and calls us the branches. We are grafted together. He tells us we should remain in him and he’ll remain in us. This is the same sort of language Jesus uses to describe his relationship with the Father. In John 10 Jesus says “the Father is in me, and I am in the Father.” He also says “I and the Father are one.”
Application = Apathy
But we, like the disciples did, often fall into an “application”-temptation. People would rather settle for trying to apply Jesus to the areas of their lives where they think they need him. This is what the Prophet Haggai said: “You have planted much but harvested little.” You’ve spent so much effort trying to understand and get things from God. And in doing so, Haggai said, you’ve missed the point. In John 6, Jesus said to the crowd, “Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the I can give you.” But the crowd wanted to apply him; not be attached to him. “But we want to perform God’s works, too. But we want all the benefits of faith. We want a ribbon for not actually producing a harvest. What should we do?” Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.”
Try Harder to Get Better
We struggle with this. My good friend, Rick Lawrence has wrecked me with this idea.* He writes in his book, the Jesus-Centered Life, that the “Understand and Apply” style of faith leads us to a “Try Harder to be Better” approach. This is the first danger. We don’t intend to do this to ourselves, but we have accidentally made understanding and applying Jesus to our lives the way we practice our faith. How Pharisaical is that? How many times have you heard this question: “How does this apply to your life?” It’s our most common filter question. We don’t mean to treat Jesus like an add-on, but we inadvertently make him an over-the-counter prescription for what ails us. But it doesn’t work that way. Jesus is not an application. Consider, for a moment, how you would answer this question: How many sermons have you heard in your lifetime… and why haven’t you applied many of their biblical principles to your life yet?
We are tempted to answer that last question with “I guess I need to try harder” answer. But that’s application. There’s no need to apply. You don’t even qualify. The only thing Jesus wants from you is you.
* We spent a lot of time together working on the Jesus-Centered Bible. Rather than trying to “figure out how Jesus applies” to his life, Rick’s heart persistently seeks attachment with Jesus.