8. Jesus asked, “What Do You Want?”

There’s No “I” in “Us”:  We Really Do Need Each Other

Despite the ongoing need to get our personal faith practices in order, the historic Christian practices are genuinely meant to be both social and communal.  As we’ve seen, the corporate nature of Christian practices is most evident in the things we gather to do together: worship, prayer, feasting, reconciliation through confession and forgiveness, testimony, co-mission, lament, and the breaking of bread.  As with any practice, these are done in and through the life of the church repeatedly– we practice our faith together.  Craig Dykstra writes that these are “practices where life in Christ may be made known, recognized, experienced, and participated in.”[1]  Thus, this kind of life is recognizable, experiential, and participatory, and the natural outcome is that people really should know us by our love.

These ordinary things we do, sometimes as family, other times in small groups and as “church” truly have an extraordinary impact on our individual and shared faith life.  Practicing together is a little bit like being on a team, or to use Paul’s analogy, being one body with many parts.  We each have important roles, and together “we come to perceive how our daily lives are all tangled up with the things God is doing in the world.”[2]  Everything we do, or fail to do this day and all days is important to God’s plan for each one of us, our family, our church family, and the world at large.  This is why it is important for each of us to consider what we do with our time.

Because we are embedded in a culture which idolizes individual autonomy, it’s important for Christians to remember that we are also surrounded by a cloud of witnesses to the life of faith (Hebr. 12:1), and that we have an obligation to study our lives and look for all the ways we have crafted habits of independence rather than inter-dependence.

“We live in a time of increasing emphasis on individual sensibilities and needs, what essentially has become a spirituality of the personal self… We can so easily come to feel that we need no one.  Our social context encourages us to make our own choices, live our own lives, and engage with others only when we think they have something to offer us.  This is not Christian spirituality… 1 John 1:3-4 reminds us that joy is made complete when we are in fellowship with God and one another.”[3]

So, instead of going solo, searching for a personalized, pseudo-spiritual experience empty of connections with others, we must take a concerted look at what we practice, both at home, and in church with other believers, on a weekly basis.  Do this and you’ll begin to understand how, “a meal becomes a time of forgiveness.  A day of leisure becomes a day of contemplation.  An illness turns into an experience of solidarity with the poor.  An occupation becomes a vocation.  Giving becomes an expression of gratitude.  A burial becomes a time of thanksgiving.”[4]

Perversely enough, practices takes time, energy, and dedication, the very things we profess to have little to spare; there are already too many claims on our life, so practicing can’t be something extra to cram into an already-packed schedule.  Others may have more time, but not feel physically or emotionally well enough to enter into the regular commitment a shared practice entails.

In any case, we will keep coming back to this idea that few of us believe we have enough time to practice our faith well together because of competing daily demands to which we feel we must attend.  This is especially true for families with children at home.  Are you kidding?  Gather all of us together for nightly dinner?  Go to church together every weekend?  Pray daily as a family unit?  This issue is not about becoming more efficient or productive.  On the contrary, what we truly need sometimes is to step back, identify the real problem (usually we are over-committed, especially our children), and pray about how to better prioritize our individual and family activities.  This often involves humbly admitting that our children cannot participate in every wonderful opportunity open to them.  It means limiting what I call the family’s AIP, or Activities in Progress.[5]  For example, a child may have to choose between a sport and a musical instrument, or being at the family evening dinner instead of working after school at a job in order to pay for a car when the car is necessary only to be able to get to and from the job.  It literally means that in our families we must get our house in order by prioritizing the evening meal at home, worshiping together on the Sabbath, and daily prayer together as a family.

“What Do You Want?”

This is a matter for thought and prayer.  One day, John the Baptist’s disciples followed Jesus.  “Turning around, Jesus saw them following, and asked,

“What do you want?”” (John 1:37).

We must let Jesus confront us and ask the same of us.  As we too follow Jesus, we must expect him to turn, look us directly in the eyes, and ask that unsettling question.  If we say we want to follow him, then admitting that we are out of practice is an excellent place to start.

It is my prayer that this discussion of the shared Christian practices gives you pause.  Next time, will will dig into the truth that our faith life is truly strengthened when we do these things together.  In the meantime, plan a meal, invite someone not normally found at your table, linger over the food and fellowship.  If not now, when?

And if you like what you’re reading, share it, and click on the FOLLOW button too. Add a comment in the LEAVE A REPLY box below to start a conversation!

~Julie A.P. Walton

 

[1] Craig Dykstra, Growing in the Life of Faith: Education and Christian Practices, 2nd ed. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005), p. 43.

[2] Craig Dykstra and Dorothy C. Bass, “Time of Yearning, Practices of Faith,” in Practicing Our Faith: A Way of Life for a Searching People, ed. Dorothy C. Bass (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1997), p. 8.

[3] Gordon T. Smith, A Holy Meal: The Lord’s Supper in the Life of the Church (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2005), pp. 10-11.

[4] Craig Dykstra and Dorothy C. Bass, “Time of Yearning, Practices of Faith” in Practicing Our Faith: A Way of Life for a Searching People, ed. Dorothy C. Bass, p. 8.

[5] Melanie Nelson, Don’t Believe the Hype about Finding One Cool Trick to Productivity, The Chronicle of Higher Education Academe Today online newsletter, https://chroniclevitae.com/news/1168-don-t-believe-the-hype-about-finding-one-cool-trick-to-productivity?cid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en&elq=61fc968c605c4024a9c05692c7b20806&elqCampaignId=1680&elqaid=6672&elqat=1&elqTrackId=53cb266e80b44d9c9f011d608cec6c31. October 23, 2015.

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