Sometimes I’ll jot down notes and ideas on a 3×5 card or a scrap of paper. The paper eventually finds its way into a pile on my desk, and someday, sometimes, I’ll retrieve it, or find it by chance. The trick then is to remember what I was thinking about when I wrote the note and how it’s relevant — or if it still is. The note I found today was about discipleship, and I wrote it about a month ago while I was thinking about the pilgrimages people had been making to places like Lakeland, Florida… and to Pensacola before that, and to Toronto before that, and… well, you get the idea. People flock to stuff like this, to get a blessing, to hear the “latest word,” or to get some kind of healing.
And a phrase came to my mind: “What did you go out into the desert to see?” The words are those of Jesus, to the crowd who witnessed John the Baptist’s disciples coming to question him as to whether or not he is the messiah. His reply, of course, was to send them back with a message consisting of less-than-oblique references to a selection of messianic prophecies about the blind seeing, the lame walking, leprosy being cured, the deaf hearing, the dead being raised, and good news being preached to the poor.
To the crowd, he continues, pressing the question he had already posed to them by suggesting an answer: “A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? Were you expecting to see a man dressed in expensive clothes? No, people who wear beautiful clothes and live in luxury are found in palaces.” (From Matthew 11 and Luke 7.)
He presses the crowd a little on their motivations and expectations of what they’ll see. These days, perhaps some of the people the crowds flock to see are wearing beautiful clothes and living in luxury. And they make it look easy… waving their hand, saying a prayer, and delivering healing and blessing and telling the future with promises of fruitfulness, prosperity, and happiness.
I thought about the problem I had with “discipleship” as it exists in these movements and in the charismatic churches where I spent some years, where spiritual formation was distilled down to a crisis moment at the altar each week. And it’s the same motivation behind it all. That’s the thought that struck me so that it was worth writing down… a realization about this chasing after revival, whether it be traveling to the well-known revival “hotspot” or crawling to the altar each Sunday for prayer or taking in every conference within 200 miles because “You won’t want to miss this blessing!” The promises they make to get people to attend reveal the expectation. God is here, and you can get to know him and see him up close. These are not the kind of promises that men can make, or can deliver in a set time or geographic context. Things like this — the knowledge of the Holy — do not come on demand. But that’s not what we want to believe… we always want to take the easier way, and that’s what I wrote on my 3×5 card.
— we do it to take a discipleship shortcut.
We should know better, but we keep refusing to believe that no such shortcuts exist. What do you think?