From my peripheral I noticed someone leaning across the isle of the airplane. I turned to see a woman looking at the Bible on my lap.
“How do you do it,” she asked?
“Do what?” I responded, blinking into focus this unexpected intrusion.
“You must love to do that, study I mean.”
“Yea,” I admitted. “That’s one way to put it, but I do love to spend time with Jesus.”
“My Bible has stayed on my lap the whole flight,” she bemoaned, “and I’ve been watching you enjoy reading yours.” What have you done to make it something you want to do, rather than feeling obligated?”
“Let’s face it,” I said, “with the kind of pace we all have to deal with, it’s hard to find enough time to read, study and enjoy the Bible.”
She was nodding now, locked in, eyes wide and lips pursed.
How do you do it?
I mean where do you find the time and focus to grow life-altering intimacy between you and Jesus Christ? Make no mistake, relationships that go beyond casual friendship alter our balance, create a kind of discontent of the status quo. They are life altering. We see it all the time when two people fall in love. It’s no different in our relationship with God. When we ‘want to’ muster energy, focus and resources in order to displace indifference, it begins to establish Jesus Christ once again as the dominant Idol in our life.
But before that happens, we need a heart check. What are the innocent imperceptible substitutes for Jesus we rely on for pleasure? It’s not a matter of time, but priority that keeps us away from intimacy. Jonah bewailed in the belly of the great fish, “Those who cling to worthless idols, forfeit the grace that could be theirs.” He knew a little bit about walking the other way, when God said ‘follow me.’ That scripture has reminded me to stay away from dominating distractions that consume time and space, but ultimately don’t give anything back to the spirit. I call it withering indifference, a consistent wrong direction. But note, it’s not an ugly sin kind of thing, just run of the mill indifference—filling one’s life with measured activity that doesn’t give back life. It’s tough to identify, too. They consume the few extra fragments of time we do have, and displace the vibrant intimacy God wants us to enjoy with His Son.
Christ’s love comes to all of us concretely through grace, the nuanced blessings we see and taste every day from the hand of God. They remind us that we’re not self sufficient, not capable of sustaining our own spirit, that we need God to bring us to a place of rest. But it takes time and space to lavish grace where we’ve had a stubborn hold on things too important, and not at all interesting to God.
“Can I ask you something?”
She leaned closer across the isle.
“You talk about idols with a little “i” and I get that. But what really matters to God? Is it just time he wants, or is it something more?”
The scriptures say, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a humble and contrite heart He will not despise.” So, it’s not about displacing time, so much as resting in a place where God brings grace to us, something we can’t create, or manipulate or even discipline ourselves strict enough to receive. It’s His free gift to us. How audacious to think we can control time with God. We bring ourselves, our contrite heart, our desire to experience life-altering intimacy, and then trust He will meet us in the space we have created, giving up what we like, for what He knows we love more. When we build a ‘want to’ it replaces ‘have to,” and withers the withering indifference. Indifference can only be solved when an idol is cast down for love.
I noticed she gripped her Bible in her lap.
“What’s wrong,” I asked?
“How does Jesus become my greatest Idol?”
Strangely, we have to lose something, and to do that we need to understand the nature of the gospel. Jesus said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it bears no fruit.” He also said, unless you lose your life, you will not find His. The spiritual step we take to move away from lesser “i’s” and embrace the Big “I,” Jesus Christ, is no more complicated than offering ourselves afresh to God, humbly asking Him to break down indifference toward Him, and replace it with Him as the primary and only motivation. We have to go back to the cross, time and time again. Unless we do, we are starving on a substitute, when all along Jesus Christ wants to overwhelm us with a daily entrée—intimacy with Him.