Almost twenty years ago I was serving on one of the Operation Mobilisation missionary ships. During one month-long visit to a port I met a volunteer who later became my wife. We had a few conversations and it was obvious that there was a genuine and mutual interest. When I flew home from the ship my family wanted to know all about her. I told them what I could, of course, but actually I didn’t know that much.
If we fast forward two decades the story is different. After 17 years of marriage, 6 children, 5 homes, and lots of different shared experiences, I have more to say about her. If someone genuinely wants to hear about my wife now, I can share a lot. I can share facts, but I can also share what I appreciate about her character based on these years together. And I imagine that if God gives us another few decades together then I will have even more to spill should anyone ever ask.
That’s the reality of close relationship. Over time the amount we have to say multiplies.
Lately I have been pondering this on the spiritual level too. When we first respond to the Gospel we probably don’t know too much about Jesus. Maybe as a young Christian we know a few facts that form the skeleton of Jesus’ story: He is the Son of God who came to Earth; He taught, healed, died, rose and returned to His Father in heaven; He is there now and will come back again.
Essentially this basic skeleton of the Jesus story, with some variation, will be the basics known by beginners in the faith. These facts could be written on a piece of paper and stored in one of those tiny communion cups that some churches use. These facts are amazing, and for many of us our lives and our eternities were transformed by trusting Christ based on this level of knowledge, so we should absolutely worship God in light of this. Nevertheless, this is a very limited awareness of Christ the person.
Here is my point in this article, and one of my greatest concerns in life: I have sat through too many sermons and presentations where it feels like the preacher is drawing from not much more than a communion cup full of information about Christ. Sometimes it has been preachers who have preached for decades, but still seem to have very little to say about Christ Himself. Sometimes it has been ministry leaders who are significant in their own area of expertise, but still seem to have very little to say about Christ. This concerns me for them, and it concerns me for me.
If Christianity is about having a relationship with Christ, then it seems reasonable to expect that over time that relationship will result in an increased reservoir to draw from as we speak of the person we love. Years of communication and of shared experiences should significantly increase what we have to say about our spouse – both in a human marriage, and in our relationship with Christ.
A while ago I was reading one of the Puritans and I was struck by how he could go on for page after page about the character of Christ. He was prompted by some detail in John 14-16 as Jesus cared for his disciples, but he obviously had pondered long over the character of Christ as revealed in the Gospel stories. Suddenly I was struck by how little so many preachers actually have to say about Christ the person. Surely as life progresses we should have more and more to share about Him?
Was it Spurgeon who asked, “Where are all the divines?” That is, where are the men and women who are so close to God that it really shows? If that was a concern in the 19th century, are things any better in the 21st century?
Here are a few quick thoughts that may provoke some prayerful pondering on this issue:
1. It is possible to take the benefits Christ offers us, but not realize that He genuinely wants a two-way relationship with us.
2. If we can talk long about a dear friend or spouse we have known for years, how much should this be true of us when we have walked with Christ for years?
3. Christian ministry will always be limited when our relationship with Christ is limited.
4. We will grow in our knowledge of Him as we communicate with Him over the years – years of reading the Bible, years of prayer.
5. We will grow in our knowledge of Him as we share life’s experiences together – praying our way through the exciting, the exhausting, the painful, and even the boring bits of life.
6. There is more to Jesus than just a set of facts: born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth, “son” of a carpenter, etc. We can know Him personally: His character, His values, His heart.
For me, one last thought reveals both a great fear, and a great thrill as I move forward in life:
7. Christ has, for all eternity, thrilled the infinite heart of His Father. What we can say about Christ should not be limited to what can fit in a communion cup. By the time the years have passed, surely we should have much much more to say of Him who is really more than an ocean full of wonder? My prayer is that we all will.
Could we with ink, the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the oceans dry,
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.
(The Love of God, by Frederick Lehmen)