On Faithful Presence
By Curt Lunsford
This issue of Resonance seeks to discuss “kairos – seeking the rhythm of God’s time” and I have been asked to speak specifically to the issue of Faithful Presence. This is a topic that has been spurred by reading and thinking upon James Davison Hunter’s book, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy & Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. Hunter believes, and I agree with him, that U.S. Christians have lost their way in seeking to change their world through political means. All political means involve the use of coercive force to accomplish their ends. This is not the way of the Gospel. Hunter’s solution or way forward is to practice Faithful Presence. This article is not a review of this book or even of Hunter’s ideas necessarily, rather it is an attempt to urge us all to trust God more and lean into His ways regarding time and presence.
How is God’s view of time in contrast and competition with ours? As a starting point let us consider these words from 2 Peter 3, “but do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pt. 3:8-9 NIV).
It should be obvious from these verses that God’s timetable and ours are drastically different. One of the things that I have come to appreciate about our God is that He is not in a hurry. Hugh Ross once said in a Reasons to Believe seminar that God experiences an eternity within each one of our seconds. This is true because God is not confined by time or space, rather, His existence is out of time or space. This does not mean that He does not work within time and space, He does! He is the God who is both transcendent and imminent. Why does this matter to us? We are bound by time and space so learning to live within God’s kairos is to be willing to slow down and be, instead of rushing to do.
If we are to be more like God, we must accept that our God is not in a hurry. 1 Peter 1:18-20 says, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake” (emphasis mine).
God’s plan for humanity’s redemption was always centered on what He would accomplish through His Son on the cross of Calvary. Consider the ramifications of this verse. If you are a young earth creationist, God’s plan took 4,000 plus years to unfold. If you are an old earth proponent, then God’s plan was even longer in the fulfilling. Regardless, from our perspective of frenzied accomplishment this seems extravagantly long in the coming.
Finally, then, when in the “fullness of time, God sent His Son,” (Gal. 4:4) it was not as a full grown man ready to finish the work of God, but as a helpless baby. The Israelites had not heard “the voice of the Lord” for 400 years, and now the “Word of God” has come as an infant that must learn and grow before being able to complete the work that God has for him. For those of us who desire instant results this methodology seems uncommonly slow and backward. To belabor this point a little more, in Revelation 22:7 we hear Jesus say, “Behold, I am coming soon!” Most of us, confined as we are to our finite timeline, would not consider 2,000 plus years to be soon. Certainly, the Apostles did not think it was going to be so long before Jesus would return, but here we are in the year of our Lord 2015 and Jesus’ words still echo down to us, he is coming soon!
It should be obvious that God’s timeline and ours are vastly different. But what does that mean for us? First and foremost it means that we must learn to trust God to accomplish His purposes in His time. We must learn to rest our weary souls in His presence. For as He says: “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10). Again in Isaiah, “… those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary” (Is. 40:31 NASB).
Or Jesus’ words: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Mt. 11:28-30 NIV). All these verses speak of resting, and waiting – not doing.
If these are the words of our God, and they are, why do we who are in ministry, we who are striving to serve our Lord and bring His kingdom to fruit here on earth find ourselves so tired and overwhelmed? Could it be that we have forgotten that the church is the Lord’s and he is the one who will build it… in his time? (see Mt. 16:18). It is important at this point to offer one short word of caution. Yes, we are to have a holy zeal for the Lord and His Kingdom: an urgency for the lost, the spiritually dead. Our hearts should be broken for them; we must not shirk our responsibilities. But let’s be honest, most of us operate as though we are the savior instead of resting in the Savior. We operate from a model of doing rather than from a model of being. Within this model, busyness is the sign of faithfulness, even though our busyness may be hindering an awareness of God’s presence in our lives and hindering His presence through our lives to others. We become so obsessed with building monuments to prove our faithfulness that we have lost sight of simply being faithful; God and His kingdom have gotten lost somewhere along the way.
This leads to the second issue to be considered regarding the kairos of our Lord. The first issue has concerned a different perception of time, a willingness to rest in God trusting Him to accomplish His purpose in His time. The second issue to consider has to do with presence. Specifically, what does it mean to be faithfully present in our world as an ambassador for Jesus? At this point we are going to have to wrestle with the question of what does it mean to be a successful Christian or minister of the Gospel? All too often the default measures of success have to do with the size of the building, the number of people in attendance, conversions achieved, or the amount of money raised. Perhaps we will look at our deeds checklist to see if we have checked off enough of the right boxes while avoiding the wrong ones. None of these are bad things in and of themselves but they cannot be the measure of success for those who are serving Christ. The reason that we use these measurements is because it is hard to measure faithfulness or spiritual growth. So in order to accurately measure our success we must be clear about our calling. If our “calling” is muddled then we will be unable to discern success or failure.
We are to be disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ, who are in turn making other disciples. This is a slow process rather than a quick project. We are to make disciples by going, baptizing “and teaching them to obey everything Jesus has commanded you” (Mt. 28:18-20, emphasis mine). The intention of our lives, then, is to be ordered by being and making disciples, followers of Jesus. The key question might be, who is calling the shots in your life and in the lives of those you work with? Faithful presence is about obedient presence. Obedient presence looks different and is accomplished differently depending upon what God has called you to do. Abram’s calling, his specific task, was different than that of King David’s. Joseph served the Lord in ways that were different from Daniel, though both were “exiles” in a foreign land. Esther’s calling looked much different than Mary’s and yet both were used by God to accomplish great things for His people. Elijah and Elisha were prophets with power from on high, while Jeremiah was the weeping prophet to whom no one wanted to listen. In each case however, the servant of the Lord was called to be obedient to Him in their particular time and circumstances. For each one, this involved sacrificial obedience. The story does not change once we arrive at the New Covenant written in Christ’s blood. Yes, we have become the recipients of grace in ways that our forebears in faith never knew, but we are still called to “radical obedience”[i] in our time, with our talents and specific circumstances.
So, faithful presence becomes, how well did I obey Jesus and the leading of His Spirit today? Did I take time to hear His voice and follow His leading? (see Jn. 10:1-4). How well did I do at reflecting His presence, the presence of grace and truth? (Jn. 1:14). What is more important to me: the projects to be accomplished, the goals to be achieved, the amount of money I can earn, the size of “my” church, or that the people I encounter experience the very presence of Jesus? Faithful presence involves commitment: commitment to the priorities of the Kingdom of God; commitment to obedience regardless of cost; commitment to be the presence of Christ in the space and time that God has for you, trusting Him completely for the ultimate results. This is the kairos of God: God breaking into our world and changing it forever through the faithful presence of His children. Your life and ministry, your gifts and talents, your specific calling may not be as great, from a human perspective, as your brother or sister in Christ who is serving around the corner from you, but your success is not measured by comparison with them. Rather, your success is measured by how well you have been the presence of Christ with your time, talents, and resources.
In order to offer our world the gift of faithful presence, the very presence of Christ through us, we will need to avoid the chatter of worldly success models and concentrate on being the presence of Christ, serving our world with “grace and truth” (Jn. 1:14). We must proclaim the truth, but do so in ways that are filled with grace. We must offer grace, but we may not do so at the expense of truth. Both of these challenges are easier to accomplish if we are willing to walk with people over time. While God might at times use “hit and run” evangelism to accomplish His purposes, personal credibility increases as people witness your walk over time, as long as your walk is centered on Christ. This is why faithful presence requires resting in Christ rather than rushing toward accomplishment. Mother Teresa did not set out to be considered a great humanitarian or win a Nobel Peace Prize… she set out to be obedient to her Savior Jesus Christ and Jesus in turn gave her a larger platform than she might have imagined possible, let alone have strived to achieve.
As I attempt to bring closure to this article within the space allowed, I would like to encourage each person to ask this question of themselves: am I doing what Jesus has called me to do where I am?
Regardless of whether God has called and gifted you to be a garbage collector, car mechanic, educator, et cetera, whether the position He has assigned you is one of influence over many or few, if you are allowing Christ to be revealed in you, if you are serving Him by serving those around you, if you are obeying Him regardless of personal cost or societal perception of worth, then you are the conduit through whom God is breaking into our world. And when God breaks into the world, nothing, for all eternity, will ever be the same – for you or for those around you.
[i] Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 4: Discipleship Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001.