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.)