“I think that when you follow Christ, one of the things that happens when you start listening to His voice is that you really are alone.”
— Mike Yaconelli in an interview with Dick Staub
I came across this quote the other day, and it made me think. I am pretty sure that this is not the way to evangelize, and it is probably not even the preferred way to build a church. Seriously, I think when we “decide to follow Jesus” the last thing on our mind is being alone. I mean, Jesus says that He will never leave us or forsake us, and there is that whole thing about church and unconditional love and being in community, isn’t there? That is all true, but I am in the process of finding out what it means to really follow Jesus, and I feel pretty alone.
I am currently learning how to follow Jesus while planting a church in a city I have been in for a little less than three months. We (my wife and I, along with some friends who are yet to move here) truly believe that God has called us to move to this city, build relationships with people, show them Jesus the best we can and gather them into a church. We knew two people when we came (if you count the guy who sold us our house). I have been looking for a job for two months, and I have received only two phone calls for interviews. I expected to get here and immediately get a job. I trusted that God would connect us with people of similar mindsets to ours very quickly, and we could get started on building a group of people into a church. After all, we are doing what we thought He wanted us to do, and that’s a good thing, right?
I told my dad on the phone the other night that, until the props are kicked out from under us, we tend to think that we are doing a good job of trusting God. My props have been kicked out rather forcefully, and I am finding out a little more of what it means to trust God. My family is not here. Friends that I have had for 20 years are not here. Even just familiar roads and sights and stores are not here.
So much of what our cultural Christianity in America stands for is in direct opposition to Mike Yaconelli’s statement and to what we find in the Bible. As good consumers, we know how to find a bargain and how something might benefit us. And though we know that sometimes things take time, if the process is too difficult, we will rethink how badly we want the end product. We have reduced the danger of following Jesus to a few convenient clichés, a couple of unwritten rules that are very much within reach and to being “nice.” I think we have lost sight of what the end goal is. In the end, what we need to have is God.
What if God’s end product is different than mine? What if there are other things He wants to do in me and with me before He lets us gather people into a church? I am starting to believe that is the case. I have been incredibly lonely through the last two months. I have my wife and my kids, which is a huge blessing, but I have yet to meet anyone who shares my natural interests much less the passion of my heart. I check my cell phone constantly to make sure I have a signal in case someone needs to call me. Usually, it does have a signal, and no one needs to call me. I have sent emails to myself from one account to another to make sure I can receive mail because nothing has come for a few days.
I have become pathetic. It is hard to write that, especially being aware that people who know me might read this. But I have. Everything that I have known has been stripped away, and I am left having to pray and depend on God. I even have to depend on Him to give me the desire to pray, because half the time (at least) I don’t even know how to pray.
I look in the Bible at how many men and women of God spent time alone or dealing with the perception of being alone. Abram was sent out to a place that he did not know. Esther had to walk into the king’s presence all by herself. Elijah wanted God to kill him because he was the last true believer. Jesus sweated blood in the garden. Paul spent lots of alone time in prison.
This is where I am supposed to be. I believe that God wants us to be in a place to need and to desire Him. It is so easy to get concerned about all the peripheral things of life. In my case, that means direction and people and money and jobs. I can get caught up in asking for everything to work out the way I think it needs to when, in reality, what I need is God. Period. End of story. I don’t need God to do things for me. I don’t need God to bless me. What I need is to know that the God of the universe, the creator of everything, is with me. That should be what I strive after. God is the end of this process called life.
When we start to listen to Jesus, as Mike Yaconelli said, we really are alone. We can be in a great group of people who can encourage us, but we have to walk with God. No one else can do that for us. It is where we recognize our weakness and where God can really begin a deep work.