As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.Matthew 9:9 (ESV)
The whole dance, or drama, or pattern of this three-Personal life is to be played out in each one of us: or (putting it the other way round) each one of us has got to enter that pattern, take his place in that dance.C. S. Lewis
One of the remarkable things about my experiences in Pops’ workshop is that I am just an ordinary guy. It is my encounters with God that were extraordinary. Once I had started down this journey, I found that God was not about to let go of me. I suppose I could have turned away, but that would have been all my action, not the Lord’s. I shouldn’t be, but sometimes am, surprised by the lengths the Lord goes to work out his plans. I didn’t know it yet, but he had long been preparing me for the ministry he was calling me to.
In my “real” job, I am a coach and consultant – trained and experienced in listening and observing and guiding and directing. Those same experiences and skills are needed in spiritual direction. I soon discovered the lines between my “real life” and my “religious life” blurring. Eventually, the distinction would be lost altogether.
A short time after my conversation with my Pops about my identity, I was in a three-day workshop to hone my coaching skills. The course was excellent, well presented, and facilitated by great instructors. Much of the time was spent helping me and others in the course understand others and, to a lesser extent, understand ourselves. We learned about understanding people and their behavior by comprehending their deep needs and longings. We talked about deep and valid needs we have as human beings: being trusted, being valued, and making contributions to something larger than ourselves.
I was struck by the irony of the class missing the single greatest need we have: to be in a life-giving relationship with the risen Christ. I was not surprised, this was, after all, a secular course. Nonetheless, we are created to be in a relationship of mutual love with the triune God, and as long as that relationship is not pursued and nurtured, we are necessarily not all that we can be. The needs identified in the course, to be trusted and valued and to be part of a valuable enterprise, are fully accomplished in our life with Christ. There we find our ultimate purpose, ultimate value, and ultimate source of trust and confidence.
My thoughts drifted away from the class material and towards the self-understanding I was starting to gain in Pops’ Workshop. Silently worshipping and praying, I found myself asking Jesus to show me where he was in the classroom.
Months earlier, through exposure to Immanuel Prayer, I had learned the value of looking for Jesus in everyday settings. Immanuel Prayer is a method of inner healing prayer where, with the help of a trained prayer facilitator, a person asks the Holy Spirit to bring to mind a painful memory; painful, but one that will lead to healing. The person is then invited to see where Jesus is in the memory and what he would say or how he feels about the events being remembered. A key truth behind Immanuel Prayer is that Jesus is always with us, in our past, our present, and our future, whether we are aware of his presence or not, he is there. In addition to looking for Jesus in memories, I had begun looking for him in day-to-day situations, starting to break down the artificial wall between my “real” life and my religious life.
As I looked for Jesus in that training room, I saw him behind the instructors, lounging in a corner, laughing. Clearly, Jesus found it amusing how the instructors explained human behaviors in terms of deep longings and needs without thinking of him or bringing God into the conversation. My impression was that he appreciated their efforts, but he knew that they were taking the long way around and were missing many key tools.
I asked Jesus if he was present at all in the secular content of the course. He showed me a full-length mirror like you might have in your bedroom. It was completely fogged over, as if by steam from a hot shower. Jesus was reflected in the mirror, but the reflection was so obscured that you could barely tell it held a person’s image, let alone discern that the image was Jesus. He was there but barely discernable. He was showing me that his truth is there in the course material, just very hard to make out. In this vision, Jesus offered me a towel, and I began to wipe the mirror, removing the obscuring condensation and revealing Jesus more clearly with each stroke of the towel.
This was remarkably like the offer to take up sanding wood that Jesus had made on my second visit to the workshop. Yet they are different. In sanding, Jesus was inviting me to help reveal the beauty people are created to have. The invitation to wipe the mirror is an invitation to help people see and know the Lord, not only where he is hidden in training material for coaches, but where he is in their daily lives. It is less about healing and more about learning to see God’s presence in our lives.
My initial thought was that this was a distinctive and personal calling. A ministry of revealing Jesus to others? That sounded like a calling for a missionary or an evangelist. Yet as I thought about I realized there is nothing unique about it. Each of us, as followers of Jesus, should be helping to reveal him. Our mission on earth is to continue the work of Jesus. Individually and collectively, we are to be his hands and feet, his body here on earth (2 Cor 12:27). One of the things that Jesus came to do was reveal the Father to the world (Luke 10:22, John 14:7). Jesus wiped away the fog so that we could clearly see what our Pops is like. In the same way, it is our job to show people Jesus, the only way to the Father (John 14:6). As Jesus reveals the Father, we are the next link in the chain, revealing Jesus to the world so that, seeing him, they will know the Father.
Understanding the universality of this mission, I realized that Jesus was not only reminding me of this call we all have but was also letting me know that the work he is inviting me into includes helping others to see him when their vision is obscured. He was again showing me, in advance of my later training and education, an aspect of spiritual direction: helping people see and recognize Jesus in their daily lives.
In a situation like this, my normal stance is to disqualify myself, to assert that I am not smart enough, good enough, or trustworthy enough. Like Moses in Exodus chapters three and four, I want to tell God all the reasons why he has picked the wrong person. I should have been intimidated by this new revelation. I am not ordained. I have no formal theological training. Even worse, I was still the proverbial bull in the china shop, leaving a trail of hurt and damage behind me. Yet Jesus’s invitation to help reveal him to people left me excited, not intimidated. To my own great surprise, I didn’t tell Jesus that he’s got the wrong guy for the job.
Dancing with God
Instead of disqualifying myself, I asked the Father what this ministry of revealing him might look like and what shape it might take. His reply was: “Let’s just dance for now.” That may seem to be a cryptic and obtuse answer, but it made perfect sense to me at that moment. In my journey with God, I had a strong desire, nearly a compulsion, to know an outcome before I committed to a course of action. I was reluctant to take a step, even a small one, without knowing where the journey would take me. The Lord had told me years earlier that this is not how it works with him. If I know exactly where I am going, where the road leads, then I am not really trusting him. I am making my own judgments about whether that is a destination I want to travel to or not. The only way to travel with him is by faith, and faith assumes an unknown (if not an unknowable). Faith says, “wait and see.”
“Let’s just dance for now.” The invitation to dance was an invitation to step deeper into a relationship with Jesus. Since ancient times the church has used the metaphor of the dance to talk about the intertwining relationship of the three persons of the Trinity. Each of us is invited to join the dance, to step into a relationship with God. My Pops was gently reminding me to not worry about where the road leads and inviting me to spend time growing in my relationship with the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Step into the dance, don’t worry if you know all the steps or where it will lead you. Just start dancing!
Now I seemed to have a two-fold assignment: “Sanding wood” to help reveal the beauty that people were created to have and “wiping away the fog” to help people see Jesus so that they might also know my Pops.
Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics) (p. 73). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.