My phone was ringing again. I looked at who was calling and had that gut wrenching moment that many of us have every now and again. Would I answer the phone or let it go to voice mail? Work calls are easier to triage because people are normally calling for a business or ministry related reason. It is those personal calls that are not so easy. Is this person going to need a lot of my time? Am I emotionally prepared to deal with this person and their needs right now? Am I going to be more drained than energized when this call is done?
The reality is that relationships take work and sometimes lots of it. The older I get the more I value the people in my life and the more I see my own sin patterns more clearly. I have always been more task oriented than people oriented even though I am an extravert and am normally energized by being around other people. Hanging out, chatting, laughing, dreaming and planning can be a lot of fun. It is those messy moments when someone wants to share their problems with me that I suddenly zone out and find a way to retreat from the conversation.
Jesus must have been exhausted most of the time during the years of his ministry. He had thousands of people following him around hoping for a miracle or maybe a meal. He lived in community with the twelve disciples and was frequently visiting the homes of people to share meals. The gospels present the narrative of Jesus’s ministry as non-stop activity. He was so busy that they even had to let sick person down through the roof of a building that he was in just to get his attention. Despite all this, he never exhibited the tell-tale signs of exhaustion – irritability and a short temper. Now the easy answer to that paradox is that He was God and did not sin. While I agree with that truth, I also think that Jesus set a pretty good example for us to follow that does not require us to be God. Nobody was more relational that Jesus and no one was closer to their heavenly father.
Here are some of the principles that Jesus exhibited that I am learning to appreciate more and more as the days go by:
1. The most important relationship we have is with our heavenly father. No matter what He was doing or where he was going, Jesus always took time to get alone with God. Prayer and solitude were built into the core of his schedule and were a part of his daily rhythm. These times prepared him for the rest of what He had to deal with.
2. Jesus had close friends that cared for Him. Mary, Martha and Lazarus were frequent hosts for Jesus on His travels and provided a place of refuge for Him when He needed it most. Frank Viola has written a great book on their relationship and the town the lived in called “God’s Favorite Place on Earth”.
3. Jesus spent most of his time in the company of the twelve disciples that He was pouring his life into. They did everything together and ultimately became world changers and martyrs. He did not try to be all things to all people. Instead He was very intentional in the use of his time and the people that he spent most of it with. Interestingly, He even chose to spend significant time with the person that would betray Him.
4. Certain types of people were especially important to him – children, the sick, the vulnerable and the needy. He was also very intentional about spending time with controversial people who had pretty messy lives like prostitutes and tax collectors.
5. He did not waste his time trying to impress the powerful and influential religious leaders of His time. If fact, He often did things that would aggravate and irritate them. More often than not He was calling them to task for not following God’s law as it was supposed to be implemented.
As I evaluate my own life, I recognize the value in solitude and prayer as paramount to God softening my hard heart. Only He can make me more empathetic to the needs of others. Maintaining close relationships with a small group of friends has proven to be life giving in recent years. These men have allowed me to share my mess with them and make me far more capable of leaning into the messiness of others. Learning to pour myself into a select group of leaders is a responsibility that I am only now beginning to understand. Valuing “the least of these” and not trying to influence the powerful and connected is probably one of my greatest weaknesses and something that I will be working on for many years to come. May I one day fully understand Jesus’s upside down kingdom where the first shall be last and the last shall be first.