We Can’t Handle This Much Jesus

One of the creepier pieces of the puzzle beneath the headaches I don’t really have is a eyelid that doesn’t really close.

At least not all the way.

Well, at least that’s what my eye doctor says.

It’s handy at mealtime, where only a fool would pray with both eyes closed at my dinner table. When we say table grace, I keep that one creepy eye fixed on the spread. Because if I don’t watch the bowl to my right, I’m going to wind up on the short end of the mashed potato stick.

Meaning: I’m not so attentive during that prayer as I’d like to think.

In fact, I might be known to say Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, with more than a little indifference.

I don’t always expect Him to show.

And even when I do, I anticipate Him coming with His hands clean and His hair combed and never engaging in the banter another recent table guest endured about medical exams men get for their 50th birthdays and legendary effects of compression shorts.

No. When I say, Come, Lord Jesus, and expect Him to actually show up, I figure He’ll put His napkin in his lap and say please and thank you and pass the food in the right direction (clockwise, thank you).

And that might just be more offensive than not expecting Him to come at all.

Who said anything about safe?

In a famous conversation between beavers and children, C.S. Lewis illustrated the great truth that a thing could be both good and terrible. As Mr. and Mrs. Beaver told the Pevensie children about the great Lion, they grew uneasy. Finally, one asked if Aslan wasn’t safe.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Pastor and author Matt Woodley suggests that when we pray such invocations as Come, Lord Jesus, we call on Him to show up. We let loose our own control and agree to journey with an undomesticated God. “He’s good,” Woodley says, seemingly echoing Lewis. “But he’s not tame.”

But often when I invite God, I already have a nice seat picked out for Him where I’d like Him to sit, quietly, and nod His approval. When appropriate, I’d like Him to step in to give me a little help. I want Him to warm my soul, make me feel good about my walk with Him, and by all means, to keep me and the people I love safe and secure.

I want Him to make things work out nicely. Gently. Easily.

But Woodley kicks a leg out from under my chair, reminding me that when we invoke the presence of Jesus Christ, we open the “God-box.” And when we do that, we’d better hold on.

We always get more than we expected — more joy, more love, more danger, more adventure, more suffering and more holiness. And prayer doesn’t draw us from a world of care; as we join with Jesus, he calls us (and sometimes drags us) back into a world of care, danger and brokenness.” (The Folly of Prayer, p. 113)

Jesus never apologized

He reminds us of Jesus’ visit to the region of the Gerasenes. When He and his disciples arrived, the welcome wagon came not from the town square but from the tombs. A man approached, controlled by evil spirits of such strength that he could no longer be bound by chains. Roaming among the dead, he cried out all day long and ripped at his own flesh with stones.

Jesus, being Jesus, calmed the wild man. He commanded the Legion of demons out, and in a move of inexplicable weirdness, sent screaming evil spirits into a nearby herd of pigs who then hurled themselves over a cliff. Local hog farmers stood and watched, helpless, swilling around in a  pungent mix of marvel and horror.

The townsfolk swallowed down hard the wonder and majesty of the wild man subdued, and then vomited it back up, to consider that welcoming Jesus into their midst might just cost them.

This Jesus isn’t the smiling guy patting little girls’ heads we saw in the billboard, they said. This Jesus is unrestrained. We don’t like him. Make him go.

The wild man scared them a little. The wild Jesus scared them more. Woodley says this:

Sure, we’ve got this crazy beast of a man who cuts himself with stones and howls through the night and we’re afraid of him, but we’ve managed to keep it all balanced: the crazy, cutting guy stays in the tomb, we keep our pigs and sell the bacon and chops, and it’s all so wrong but it’s also safe and predictable. (p. 117, emphasis mine)

Jesus gave real life back to a man who’d long since lost everything, and in the process he upset an entire region. As Matt Woodley observes, “Jesus never apologized.” He never said He was sorry for this reckless thing.

Somewhere along the line, this community settled itself into a comfortable place. They kept their weirdness and discomfort out of sight at the outskirts of town. Jesus erupted into their quiet world, and scattered this one man’s oppression into some 2,000 pigs if for no other reason to show the folks how safe and secure their world really was not.

In truth, they were better off with an untamed Jesus than 2,000 pigs still at the top end of a cliff. But He didn’t say He was sorry, and they asked Him to leave. They said, as I am prone to do, “We just can’t handle this much Jesus right now.” (p. 118)

And I wonder this morning, am I willing to call to Him, “Come, Lord Jesus!” with both eyes closed, both hands open, and take as much Jesus as He’s willing to give?


Seems I’ve mentioned The Folly of Prayer: Practicing the Presence and Absence of God by Matt Woodley often enough that I think we can now call this an ongoing series. If you’re interested, you can read more posts on this book that God is using to rework my prayer life. Again.

Photo: Chapel by TouTouke via Stock.xchng
Disclaimer: This is not a book review, solicited or otherwise.
I have no affiliate link to a reseller and benefit in no way
other than by the book's content. I purchased my own copy,
which I'll gladly to send to anyone who'd like it when
I'm done (if you can read past the scribbles and markings.)

24 responses

  1. Uncle Weird

    Who else could you invite, to cause such disruption, and make such enormous and far reaching demands with his disquieting presence, all the while knowing that he has also assured us that in fact we CAN handle this much Jesus!
    1 Corinthians 10:12-14 (King James Version)

    12Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.

    13There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.

    Or more simply put “My Grace is Sufficient for You”

    What do you get when you cross a collie with a pit bull? A dog that gnaws your arm off, and then runs for help! Crude illustration for sure, yet with a certain message. Jesus comes and gnaws at our hearts and minds. Chews on our habits and prejudices, bites down hard on our selfish me first way of life, and when we say “this is too much Jesus” he leads the way to redemption. While even the “way to escape” is not easy, with his steady hand on our shoulder, the way from darkness to light is assured.

    Perhaps your eye’s refusal to close is a gentle reminder that our refusal to close our eyes completely is another sign of our lack of faith. Seeing the world through “squinty eyed cynicism” is the opposite extreme of looking through rose colored glasses. Eyes that never close, will miss a lot of surprises!

    Lyla, be of good cheer, eyes that will not close are not nearly as bad as eyes that will not open.

    2010/08/09 at 12:17 PM

    • Kind of a toss up there, eh? I suppose as long as I keep my heart open…

      2010/08/09 at 8:48 PM

  2. When I was a little girl praying the “Come, Lord Jesus” prayer at mealtimes, I only knew the Sunday School version of Jesus: a kind and loving shepherd who blessed little children. We need to know that side of Jesus, but now I wonder if I wouldn’t have had a better perspective on Him throughout my life if I’d also heard about the wild, strong Lion of Judah when I was young.

    Thank you for the great post!

    2010/08/09 at 12:25 PM

    • Yes, Meg. Yes! We need to know that side of Jesus — the “tender Shepherd” from bedtime prayers as well! He is both, He is all. We’re just so limited sometimes, I think, in seeing Him from more than one angle at a time. I’m glad He’s not restricted the same way.

      2010/08/09 at 8:51 PM

  3. I think I have first dibs on that book when you’re done.

    2010/08/09 at 9:01 PM

  4. This image you’ve chosen with your post was repeatedly used in Power Points during my weekend retreat. A God-incidence, I think.

    At our retreat, we repeatedly prayed expectantly: “Holy Spirit, Come.” And He did. Oh, did He ever. And we received this fullness of God.

    But as I step off that mountain, and into the valley of everyday living, I wonder how often I really pray in that same expectant way — from the deepest part of me.

    2010/08/10 at 3:21 PM

    • I know I’ve prayed that way when I actually sense a little trepidation at how He might choose to answer. If I’m yawning at Him, I know I have not.

      2010/08/10 at 10:40 PM

  5. Thanks for this reminder of the powerful awesomeness of God….power that ranges from a gentle touch…to a mighty surge…His glory encompasses it all….

    2010/08/11 at 7:05 AM

  6. Lyla, This is an incredibly convicting post. I think a lot of us try to “neaten” Jesus up. Sure he’s all about love and grace and peace…but he calls a spade a spade, his teaching his hard (even his disciples said so), and he’s been known to get frustrated with us. I’d like to think my Jesus sneaks in quietly and pulls a chair up to the dinner table — that would surely be easier — but I’m beginning to think he occasionally pounds his fist and ask, “Are you listening, really listening, to me, Michelle?????!!”

    2010/08/11 at 8:38 AM

  7. Karen, that range is mind bending.

    Michelle, I’m coming to learn that He does His best work when we are broken, humble, contrite. And for some crazy reason, the quiet, reserved fellow at my table who always does what I want doesn’t break me. That doesn’t even move me. Having Him shake my world up a little? That moves me. It drives me to Him. It just works better…so why am I always surprised?

    2010/08/11 at 7:43 PM

  8. To “let loose our own control and agree to journey with an undomesticated God” is, well, kind of scary. Okay, a lot scary. But what an adventure!

    2010/08/11 at 10:13 PM

  9. Have I ever felt this one lately. I actually got to a point where I was praying, “I don’t know what you’re going to do with this one, Lord…” when He reminded me that no matter, He is enough. We sing a song called “Open Up the Sky” at church. One line says, “We don’t want blessings, we want you.” After a long long week, during which Jeff had his deer incident and I suffered a few moments of “what-ifs”, I truly feel this. I want HIM! Realized it’s been a while since I’ve allowed myself to feel this way. Fear is a crazy thing.

    Anyway, this sounds like a great book, Lyla. I’d gladly borry it if I lived next door! As it is I’ll add it to the list and maybe in ten years I’ll arrive there! Thanks for this.

    2010/08/12 at 2:12 PM

  10. Sandra, hard to get that balanced picture. He’s here for me, definitely, really. But I start to think I can control Him. He’s here for way more than me. I forget that.

    Laura, you’ve had a week. I hate to say so but it seems we need those sometimes. To get to where we just want Him, only Him, again. Borry? You’ve been texting… And yeah, maybe you’ll get to this book about the same time I finally make my way down the list to God in the Yard. I keep reading the posts you folks are painting and I’m anxious to get there. But first things first…

    2010/08/12 at 11:26 PM

  11. DS

    First of all, I loved this post. It was very timely for me, because it seems all summer long I’ve been doing and going for everyone around me. I’ve had company and put people up for night. And I’m exhausted. And I grump.

    Because they aren’t always the good guests I thought they would be.

    Good thoughts!

    2010/08/13 at 11:31 AM

  12. I didn’t comment when I read this the other day because it asked a question I’ve been asking myself lately, and not in the sense of laying myself out for Him but in the sense of trusting Him with my life. How much do I want? I thought I wanted Him all, I thought I wanted more, but lately, something seems off – what do I want of Him, really?

    I thought I would let you know that you spoke to me with this. I don’t know yet what I’m to do with it, but I appreciate you.

    2010/08/17 at 2:04 PM

  13. You spur me on to pray and want: “I want you, Jesus, no matter what it means to me.”
    I’ve been pruned recently, but what is better than being more like He wants me to be? than abiding in Him and He in me, no matter what?
    Thanks for the post.

    2010/08/20 at 11:18 AM

  14. Monica, Kelly, Duane: Do I want? What do I want? How much do I want? These are the questions that nag at me. I don’t always answer the way I wish I would. But it seems perhaps Monica nails it with this: pray and want.

    Pray and want.

    I can’t even want Him apart from Him.

    2010/08/20 at 11:32 AM

  15. I have to tell you, this is one of the more intriguing posts I’ve read in a long time. From the eyelid that won’t shut to the Jesus who just won’t go away, you had me all the way. This is insightful, becuase we really do want a safe Jesus. Yet we utter “lord’ like its a casual title, like “dude” or “hey you.” But Lord entails an unleasing of the untamed Galileen. Are we ready for such a thing?

    David, http://www.RedLetterBelievers.com

    2010/08/20 at 2:50 PM

  16. Pingback: Around the Network: Taming time and unleashing God

  17. Delightful.

    I’m glad this was featured at HCB today!

    I love the title of that book. Especially the part about “absence,” since that’s not something we are generally advised to embrace in a relationship with God.

    2010/09/02 at 8:13 PM

    • L.L., thank you. And your observation about absence? Keen.

      It’s a reality that every one of us, I think if we’re honest, will face at one time or another. Some of us, more than once. (Ooh, pick me, pick me!) And it has nothing to do with the depth of our spirituality. Well, maybe it does, but not in the ways we’d expect.

      2010/09/02 at 9:15 PM

  18. Dropping a quick line in here to say I was glad that was featured at HCB today.

    Plus, I wanted to read this one again.

    Yep … every bit as good as I remembered the first time around.

    2010/09/02 at 9:59 PM

  19. Great post. Yeah, how many of us who teach and preach Jesus could handle the fierce young man who entered Jerusalem and went straight into the temple and when he wasn’t satisfied with the commercial religion took whips and beat those traders black and blue and upturned the tables in the bureau de change?

    2010/09/07 at 7:37 AM

  20. Charis

    Wow… Just found you today. Read the “Mount of the Lord” post first, because I sensed Holy Spirit speak that verse to me tonight… so I Google-searched and found your post(s). Already thankful and eager to read more. Appreciating your writing and thoughts. Thank you for accepting His invitation to the secret place, and then taking the time to share. Do you ever read Brennan Manning? He crossed my mind in the little I have read so far…

    2013/01/10 at 9:49 PM

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