The Servant-Listener

Last time I mentioned Jesus is a servant-listener. I became acquainted with this term in a book by Jan Johnson, Invitation to the Jesus Life, Experiments in Christlikeness. We already know Jesus came to be a servant (Philippians 2), but the connection between listening and serving is one I hadn’t made before.

It’s hard to imagine Jesus doing anything other than being attentive. In our always-connected digital culture, most people are anything but. They look at their phones many times a day, and if they’re not looking at them, they are thinking about looking at them and wondering what they’re missing. In conversations, a lot of half-listening goes on. People often look around for someone more interesting to talk to or are simply distracted by what they think they need to be doing.

If Jesus had access to a cell phone, I’m sure he would have turned it off when he interacted with his friends, or anyone, for that matter. As usual, he is our example in this. As we experience him listening to us, we can learn to listen to others. He is never too busy or distracted. He never tires of us, even when we repeat ourselves over and over. He’s never looking around for a more interesting conversation. For him, listening is a vehicle for loving and blessing.

Next week: How to Be a Servant-Listener

What We Don’t Know

Most of us have used the old saying, what you don’t know won’t hurt you. It means remaining ignorant of a situation relieves you of responsibility to worry or think about it (idioms.thefreedictionary.com). The corollary is ignorance is bliss. Sometimes it is but most of the time it’s not, including when it comes to our interactions with others. Being unaware of what’s happening in a person’s life can lead to insensitive comments or hurtful actions; conversely, being aware gives us opportunities to pray and possibly help.

A comment I heard by a conference speaker illustrates how we need to at least be aware something might be happening beneath the surface. She said you don’t know what someone has gone through, what they are going through right now and what they may be facing in the future. This reminded me of Philippians 2, where Paul gives us insight into what it means to have the mind of Christ in our relationships. We are to consider others better than ourselves, and to think of others more than we think of ourselves. This often requires dying to our desires to talk about ourselves, give advice or share our stories.

When Jesus interacted with people, he looked them in the eye, listened to them to the point of discerning their hearts and cared about what they shared. While we may not be on the same level of servant-listener as Jesus, we can stop talking and pay attention to others with the intention of knowing them, loving them and being present in whatever way they need.

Influenced or Influencing?

A recent development in the social media world is the abundance of influencers. Some of them have many followers, who apparently pay a lot of attention to what they say. Historically, someone who has influence over others has been admired for their character, wisdom or expertise. On social media, it seems anyone can be an influencer and all they need is a cute face or a gimmick. I couldn’t name a single social media influencer and no offense, but I’m not interested in letting these people sway me to do or think anything they recommend. I prefer to think for myself.

But there is one influencer I listen to and I think you know where I’m going with this. Jesus was and is the greatest influencer of all time and up until recently, his impact spread without the help of the Internet. His followers enthusiastically spread word of his love, compassion, compelling teachings and of course, his resurrection. They weren’t afraid to say his name or talk about how wonderful he was.

Today, we may not be afraid t,o mention his name, but in many places, we aren’t allowed to talk about him. We can still be influencers for Jesus by the way we treat people. We can be patient and kind, helpful and cheerful, selfless and giving. We can be peacemakers and peace-spreaders, and in this way, be real influencers in this sad, unkind world.

Hand-in-Hand

Three weeks ago, I was ordained an elder in Grace Communion International. As I prepared for this third covenantal milestone in my life, I couldn’t help but wonder what new adventures await. I also looked back over the events in my life leading to that moment. When Joe and I got married, he was what was then called a local elder, with not much responsibility in the congregation. We both worked full time and had no clue about what was on the horizon.

When his dad became president of GCI, we were asked to move to California so he could work in church administration. Skipping ahead, when we went through our monumental and earth-shaking changes in doctrine – in everything really – our world was turned upside down and we began learning about grace. New possibilities opened for women as we discovered women’s ministry and saw hints (could it be?) that women might become pastors.

I often said I was just standing around with my hands in my pockets and God looked at me and said, let’s go. He took my hand and off we went. I wish I could say I boldly went where no woman had gone before, but I was less than bold as I often hid in the ladies’ room before speaking at women’s conferences, asking, like Jonah, to be let off the hook. But he always said he would go up on the stage with me, so I went.

In all that time and in all those experiences, I never felt as though I had received an assignment or a mission from him. God was leading me, and I followed as best I could, but it was always together, always knowing he was right there to hold me up, help me and strengthen me. The difference is grace. He didn’t give me a job and then sit back and wait to see how I would do, giving me good or bad marks according to my performance. He filled me with the faith, strength and courage of Jesus and we did it together.

As I enter this new chapter of life, I know nothing has changed. He is still holding my hand, filling me with grace and faith to continue to go, perhaps even boldly, where I’ve never gone before. He continues to be my Source. Wherever we go, it will be together, with me holding on tight, laughing as he winks and says, let’s do this!

What God Really Wants

I read another devotional with a statement that got me thinking. The author (whose books I generally enjoy) said God has given all of us a mission in life, and we will one day have to give account of our mission and can then rest from our labors. He said: “We seldom realize fully that we are sent to fulfill God-given tasks.” Another well-known author talked about the assignments we receive from God. These statements, along with the oft-used God uses us, make me uncomfortable and I finally understand the deep-down reason why.

Taken together, they pull me back to my past, when I lived and breathed legalism. Each of these statements implies failure – I might not discover or fulfill my mission; I may not complete my tasks or if I do, my work might not be satisfactory; if I am being used by God, I might not live up to his expectations. I could disappoint God, displease him (see my previous posts on these topics) and then I could be in danger of losing out on salvation.

I never want to go back to a legalistic view of God. I never want to sink back into separation theology – of believing anything I do wrong can drive a wedge between us, even a little bit. In Christ, we are as close to Jesus as we want to be, and he is as close to us as our own hearts. Any idea that we are only here on a mission to finish tasks for him or to be used for assignments diminishes the relationship God wants to have with us, the relationship he created us for.

For twenty-five years, the only relationship I had as a Christian was with the law; now I revel in a relationship with my Abba God and I’m thankful he doesn’t want to use me to fulfill tasks or assignments. He loves me more than that.

I Need a Meeting

I’ve been reading a series of Unputdownable (the name of the publisher) books by a British author, and they are hard to put down. The main character is an alcoholic who drinks to forget all the horrible things he’s done. He’s always going to an AA meeting to find encouragement from his fellow alcoholics and to try to keep himself sober.

I’ve never had a problem with alcohol, so I couldn’t relate to needing help with drinking, but I do sometimes have a problem with my tongue, among other things. Because of the fourteen books I’ve read about this character, needing a meeting was on my mind, so when I started having an attitude problem, I realized I needed a meeting – with Jesus! I found myself saying this often and it worked. As soon as I turned my thoughts to Jesus and prayed for help, I felt the relief that comes from getting just what I needed for that moment.

Sometimes I need a meeting to tell him how thankful I am or how much I love him. For any reason and at any time, a meeting with Jesus is just what I need. And the best part is, I can have one any time I need it.

(If you’d like to know about the books, email me at tammy.tkach@gci.org.)

God Has a Plan

When bad things happen, a lot of Christians tell others – and themselves – that these things are part of God’s plan and he has a purpose behind them. This way of explaining life’s trials and tragedies makes it look like everything is by God’s design (or his fault) and that he makes us suffer to teach us lessons – or give us a book to write.

But is everything, little and big, all part of some plan God has for each of us? What about those who suffer a birth defect or are abused? What about children who are sold into slavery? What about terrible car crashes? Some might say God’s plan is only for Christians; those who don’t believe are on their own. But God sends rain on the “just and the unjust.” He lets us make choices about everything. Sometimes our own choices cause us problems; sometimes the choices of others are the cause. But they are our choices, not ones he imposes on us.

God’s plan for our lives is much bigger than the day to day events we experience, although the more we yield and cooperate with the Holy Spirit, the more involved he is with our lives. He wants all of humanity to be with him in eternity, and to paraphrase Star Trek Captain Jean-Luc Picard, he will make it so. Redemption will happen – all will be made right and everyone will be made whole. As N.T. Wright said, “the major, central, framing question [of the New Testament] is that of God’s purpose of rescue and re-creation for the whole world, the entire cosmos.” That’s the plan.