“But earnestly desire the greater gifts, and I will show you a still more excellent way.”
(1 Cor 12:31)
I once attended a weekend men’s retreat where men spend a lot of time gathering in small groups for discussion. A man in my group constantly spoke of how much he loved his family. He felt he had a pretty good handle on that. Ditto his fight to recover from alcoholism. And oh how he loved his work, where this financial consultant was a self-proclaimed dynamo! Yet I could tell from his comments things were very different when the discussion turned to where he fit in to the body of Christ.
One evening, as we walked the path to our cabin, I asked him why he loved his job so much. He said, “Mike, when I’m at work I’m given a clearly defined prey, and the command and weapons to hunt. I know if I don’t hunt I don’t eat. I love my job because that’s where I hunt!” I asked, “And you don’t find that challenge in the church, do you?” He just looked at me with wondering eyes, quietly shook his head, and said, “No”.
We must come to Jesus as we are, and often during the journey return to Him as we are. But along the path of sanctification the state of “as we are” must be evolving! I think we often use “come as we are” to excuse ourselves from the many commands the Bible gives us to grow and mature. Coming as we are to Jesus is the only way to meet Him, but is it the best way to follow Him? I think not. It has been said Jesus loves us enough to meet us where we are, but far too much to leave us there. Didn’t everything Jesus lived and taught provide a template for moving from whatever plane we were, on to the next one—a template for becoming those “disciples who observe all He commanded?”
What happened to George is, sadly, what is happening to men far too often in a brand of Christianity that has placed evangelism and discipleship upon decidedly unbalanced scales. A constant diet of “come as you are” too often leaves those who long ago came as they were, as they were, and not as Jesus desires them to become. Men were created with a desire to explore, the need to work, and a yearning for “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” Once they grasp a concept, and come to see it as a weapon in their arsenal, they want to be shown how to use it. After understanding the teaching and the application, they want to go out and “hunt”!
The writer of Hebrews defines “repentance and faith towards God” [evangelical salvation], as the “elementary principles” of the faith (5:12). When you continually feed men this diet, without mentoring them on to what he later describes as “the things that accompany salvation” [good works, love, and mission: the command to GO (6:9-10)], they get bored with the process and check out of the game. The secular business world has figured this out. Why can’t we?
We read men the training manual over and over again, but no one mentors them in to the experience of it and then demands they follow. We tell them week after week to keep coming as they are, when the familiarity of who they are is something they desperately desire to move beyond. No one had made the application of God’s manual clear to my friend, as they had done at work. No one told him he needed to hunt or starve in his faith as they had done at work, and so his passion and the fire of the Spirit within he once knew did indeed starve. This has happened to far too many of his brothers in the body of Christ. When men can’t find anything in the body to fulfill their God-given yearnings for the experience of the hunt they, like my friend at camp, wander off in search of counterfeit thrills the world is only too happy to serve up.
Solomon said, “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven” (Eccl 3). There are times we need to come as we are, to rest in the arms of amazing grace. But there’s the journey we are constantly to be engaged in, and those times of rest are only a part of it. There are also times for a man to accept the command to step out of his current condition, take up the weapons God has provided for him, and go hunting! Jesus once said to those who did too little hunting and too much resting, “Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and yet do not do what I say” (Luke 6:46)? If we don’t start providing a better balance of coming as we are and hunting to those who have already come as they are, and make it clear that the state of “as we are” is to be constantly growing and maturing, they’ll continue to stay as they are and not become what they could be. I can’t help but think there would be a lot fewer like my friend who had to turn to the world for his excitement, and a few more living in and for the kingdom of heaven on earth, if we stopped telling men to come as they are and to pursue, with Jesus Christ, the new men they could be.