There was a couple of years ago a case of a man who had held a girl hostage for decades, locked away in his basement in a secret complex of underground rooms where she was forced to live without access to the outside world. This man, his crime discovered, subsequently committed suicide. His prisoner’s release meant his death. It was a disturbing story. This post is about and for those of us who believe in Jesus Christ but have kept him pretty much to ourselves.
At the age of 16, I invited Jesus into my life. The circumstances were dramatic. I really, really needed Him to help me through the situation I was in. He did come, and he did help me, and has ever since. Years later, reading about that awful story, I found myself confronted by an image which shocked and resonated. Deep calling to deep, as it were.
Jesus was still here, safely walled into a secret complex of rooms in my life. In private I would come and see him, drink deeply of him, and leave again, making sure not to allow him beyond the confines I set. I was unwilling to share him with the world, he was too precious. In sharing I knew I would become vulnerable, and what if others discovered the hidden, awful things about me? Surely my life, the life I knew, the life I controlled, would be over. I was afraid of what he might do if I let him out. What he might do to change me, to change how I related to the people around me. It would all be different forever and I would have no control over it.
It is true that the moment a person stands up for Jesus they become invisible to the world. A mouthpiece, merely, for something most of the world neither understands nor wishes to. It is also true that the adulation or acceptance of the world is fleeting, fickle and cripplingly hard work to maintain. Either we spend our lives chasing it or we give up and exist in the place of resignation to failure – mockery, low expectation of selves and others.
It is extraordinary that I have been able to to do this at all, to effectively imprison God in my life. That he wouldn’t just, er, leave. But He is faithful and says he’ll never do that. He’ll never leave.
I had been out of university a few months and we had decided to get a cleaner. I was delighted about this. What a luxury. A friend phoned while the cleaner was vacuuming, and my delight immediately turned to embarrassment. I don’t remember what I said or whether my friend even asked me about the background noise, but I just know I was so mortified I ended the conversation pretty quickly. We had all been struggling students together and suddenly there I was with a middle-class trophy, a cleaning lady. I was never going to admit that I had someone else sorting out my house. It was all of a piece with my pretence of having it all together without admitting that Jesus is at the centre, holding me together. It all tied in with my taking the credit for coping with difficulties and not telling about the thousands of ways Jesus walked with me through them, my taking the credit for stuff Jesus in me did.
In short, pride has held me back. Another kind of prison guard, watching over my self-image. A bully to keep me in line, to stop me from moving forward. I was stuck with images of Christians I knew who reached out to the world in ways I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, copy. And It stopped me from even thinking of alternatives. I confess my vision, my focus, has been very small. Stay safe until I die. Stay out of trouble. Don’t upset anyone with your difficult beliefs. And everything will be fine. I thought.
But then I have over recent years been confronted by the following questions, coming at me in sermons on 3 continents, in conversations with friends and snippets overheard on the radio or elsewhere. Are you prepared to die to your ambition for popularity? Are you ready to disappear into the hinterland, the region of exile called the church? Are you willing to come to Him outside the camp, bearing the reproach and the shame He did? No servant is greater than His master. Are you willing to be misunderstood by all but God? Even by your family members, your own parents, your children, even at times your husband? Are you willing to do that?
Well, you make it sound so inviting, Lord…(!)
But actually, what choice do I have but to say yes. The alternative is, er, what exactly? The pain of knowing I have something, no, some one to share but deliberately choose not to, and a life of trying endless distractions to keep me from facing that fact. Jesus is so much greater than anything the world has to offer. Alien to the world system and beautiful.
Jesus was not a cuddly, winsome bloke with a few good lines. He was not a bloodless mystic who lived in a cave somewhere. He was flesh and blood, a manual worker turned itinerant preacher. He knew what it was to be human. To laugh, cry, love, feel pain, get tired, hungry, annoyed. And yet, amazingly, fantastically, he was also divine. He did not go down well with the religious people of his day. They orchestrated his execution. And he doesn’t go down well with religious people now either. But he didn’t come for the religious people. He came for ordinary people who knew they needed to connect with God. People like me. So I’m unlocking the door and letting him out.