Jumping and pointing, my son couldn’t stop shouting. “Daddy, a rainbow! Daddy, there’s a rainbow! Look!”
Once I saw it, something in me felt like shouting, too — though not quite as loudly as a four year-old.
Granted, my spirit was already primed for a celebration as we walked out the doors of our church yesterday evening. My wife and I had just finished our first class on servant leadership. Henri Nouwen’s In the Name of Jesus was our textual guide. As our group discussed the material, I sensed a deep stirring. On a thick square of white paper, my dull pencil struggled to find enough space.
Nouwen’s words pulled at my pant legs with the urgency of a four year-old.
And there was one tug which wouldn’t let go: “Jesus’ first temptation was to be relevant: to turn stones into bread.”
To be what? Relevant.
How often — and in how many ways — have I tried to perform similar miracles and transformations? Indeed, I’ve tried baking many stones into submission over the years. My inclination has been to heat them using my own flames. But it’s hard to cook well when my oven is a dry and dark vacuum, without the power of God’s love fully resonating within me, without a deep-welled and abiding Presence.
But I want to make things happen, especially good things.
At some point, though, I need to confront the truth that I don’t possess, in my own strength, the ability to meet the pressing needs which surround me. I’m unable to feed the sheep. And I eventually discover, as Nouwen describes it, that I’m “completely irrelevant” to the problem.
Without Jesus, my goodness quickly turns to badness. Still, by contrast, He reminds me of His relevance, by asking me, like He did Peter, “Do you love Me?” But my one-syllable response doesn’t cut it, especially when I don’t even look Him in the eyes when I mutter it. And so He keeps asking.
When I got home from the class, I pulled out an old prayer journal. It actually opened to nine months ago to the day, during a snowy December. In the entry, I was speaking to God about a looming leadership opportunity and then my decision to pull my name from consideration. And from relevance.
Here’s what God spoke to me on that winter evening:
Matthew, My plan for your life requires you to be carrying My Presence. I am always with you. But you need to be carrying Me — with revelation of my love and holiness.
I have been carrying you. I have been transforming you, giving you new eyes.
Matthew, learn and understand the importance of waiting at My feet. 2010 has been a very difficult year. But I am doing it again — lifting you out of the muck. Difficulties, agonies and frustrations have been used by Me to draw you closer. Stay close. I love you, Matthew.
I have given you greater intimacy.
And you are becoming more responsive.
You’ve had trouble being responsive in your life. You felt inadequate; you felt fear; you felt confusion. Being responsive was difficult for you because you didn’t feel intimacy with anyone — particularly with Me.
It’s hard to be responsive without intimacy. Remember this and fight for it in your spiritual life — hunger to maintain intimacy with Me because it will enable you to be responsive to My plan.
And allow no unholy intimacies with idols of any kind. Don’t be a first responder to the things of this world.
I will be with you, Matthew. I will be supernaturally with you. Just walk with Me, respond to Me.
Yes, it’s time to look into the eyes of Jesus again. It’s time to return to the table and dine with my King again. And it’s time to answer His question once again, though this time with a sacrificial response. Because He already has.
He became the final answer to all of my bleating irrelevance.
And now He reminds me that many more are just as hungry. No, I can’t feed them on my own. But now I can point in the direction of a rainbow.
With the joy of a four-year-old boy.