Monday, May 24, 2010

being Jesus to those around us . . . seeing Jesus in those around us

I started reading a book the other day that has already challenged my thinking and I've only read the prologue. The book is God in the Alley by Greg Paul. In the prologue, Paul is relating a story of his interactions and ultimately friendship with a man dying of AIDS. After sharing about an specific incident of helping this man, he talks about something he realized as he was helping him.

He comes to realize that while he had desired to be Jesus to this man, there was much more to it than that. He also had to be willing to see Jesus in this man. As Paul put it in the book,"My capacity to be the presence of Christ in the world is dependent upon my willingness to see his presence also." (pg. 21). The two are very much inter-connected and "truly being Jesus and truly seeing him cannot be separated." (pg. 21). Paul goes on to talk about how being and seeing Jesus are spiritual disciplines that one must practice as a disciple of Christ.

In describing spiritual disciplines, Paul quotes Henri Nouwen:
In the spiritual life, the word discipline means "the effort to create some space in which God can act." Discipline mean to prevent everything in your life from being filled up. Discipline means that somewhere you're not occupied, and certainly not preoccupied. In the spiritual life, discipline means to create space in which something can happen that you hadn't planned or counted on. (pg. 22-23)
When I read that, I started to wonder about how well I do at creating space in which God can act - in which something can happen that I hadn't planned or counted on? And how well our society does at this? The honest answer to both question is not very well. We plan and schedule our days, often right down to the last minute - leaving little or no room for the unexpected things of God. But, what would happen if we began to create the space in our lives? What changes would that bring to us? To how we see the people around us?

Greg Paul goes on to say this about being and seeing Jesus:
The disciplines involved in being and seeing Jesus are also forms of spiritual cross-training. The practice of one sharpens the ability to "perform" the other. When I speak of disciplines, though, I don't mean exercises that are performed diligently each day for a short time. I mean the regular, intentional cultivation of an attitude, an awareness such as Paul wrote about in his letter to the Philippians: "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus . . ." If I am going to emulate and follow the Master, I need to watch him, listen to him, walk with him, saturate myself with him. Reading and understanding the Bible is, of course, critically important, but it's not enough. Jesus must be allowed to invade my whole life. I need to learn to wear him like a coat, carry him consciously in my heart, and look for him everywhere. (pg. 22)
It is quite clearly that Greg Paul is talking about a lifestyle here, not just something that we check off on a spiritual "to do" list each day. If Jesus is actually allowed to invade our whole lives, what would it look like? What would change about how we live? I've got a feeling there would be a lot of change in most of our lives. The reason for reading our Bible and praying would change too. We wouldn't be doing it so we could get it done or check it off our list for the day. We would be doing it so that we could allow Jesus into more of our lives.

These disciplines of being Jesus and seeing Jesus are disciplines that need to work together, but each is different from the other. Being Jesus is a discipline of action; while seeing Jesus is a discipline of stillness. When we choose to be Jesus we are actively looking for ways to serve others, help those need, and love all people we come into contact with no matter what their place on society's success ladder. Seeing Jesus means we need to learn how to stop being busy and looking for things to do and truly see what is in front of us. Paul describes the tension between these disciplines well:
Being Jesus requires that I choose to be actively present. Seeing him means that, paradoxically, in my being present, I must choose the stillness of being hidden - that is, rather than being focused on what I am doing, and seeking attention for it, I must be actively looking to see how Jesus is presenting himself in and through others. Being present the way Jesus was means that I have to abandon my own power. And seeing him in others teaches me the power of abandonment. Being Jesus is a call to give my life, as he himself indicated when he called us to pick up our crosses. But seeing Jesus opens me up to a new way to live, to a resurrected life. The wonderful gift God gave me through Neil was that moment of revelation - and the continued, growing realization - that being and seeing Jesus are intrinsically connected. In fact, they're often happening at the same time." (pg. 23)
Being Jesus and seeing Jesus are not two separate things - they are connected. And we need both in our lives.

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