Most Christians I know struggle with prayer. Oh, to be sure, among my friends are those who faithfully pray each day. Some even spend an hour or more in intercession for others. But these folk are the exceptions to the rule. The rule, it seems to me, is that we don’t find it easy to pray.
The NIV translation of Mark 1:23 begins with the phrase “Just then.” This phrase translates the Greek adverb euthus. If you were to look up euthus in a Greek-English lexicon, you’d find meanings such as “immediately” and “suddenly.” “Just then” doesn’t quite get the sense of the original, I’m afraid. It misses the feeling of urgency, the feeling that things are moving at a quick and exciting pace.
In the time of Jesus, Jewish teachers often focused on the fine details of legal interpretation. They wanted people to understand, for example, exactly how they must wash their hands in order to follow the Jewish law. Moreover, these teachers would support their conclusions by quoting from other, earlier teachers. Even their verbal teaching included the sort of material we would find in academic footnotes. (I took today’s photo while visiting Capernaum several years ago. Most of what you see in this photo is from a fourth-century AD synagogue. But the dark stone lower foundation is from the synagogue that Jesus visited in the first century.)
Last week, we considered the question: If I follow Jesus should I quit my job? The answer I suggested was: Perhaps, but not usually. Yes, there are times when the Lord calls us to leave one job for another. But, for the most part, the call of Jesus doesn’t require us to leave our jobs. Rather, it does encourage us to see them in a new light. In fact, following Jesus reframes our careers in light of our fundamental vocation. Let me explain what I mean.
In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, we began to consider the question: If I follow Jesus should I quit my job? I noted that many Christian testimonies seem to imply that real discipleship means leaving behind “secular” employment in order to go into “full-time ministry.” These stories appear to be consistent with what we see in Mark 1. When Jesus calls his first disciples, Simon and Andrew, then James and John, he calls them away from their work (fishing for fish) and into a new line of work (fishing for people). If we are going to follow Jesus faithfully, should we leave our jobs and take on new employment?
It’s a wonderful thing when someone truly hears God’s call to leave “secular” employment and get more directly involved in some kind of explicitly Christian organization. I have the greatest respect for those who follow Jesus on a disruptive and personally costly path. There is no question in my mind that sometimes God calls people away from one line of work (fishing for fish, for example) and into another line of work (fishing for people). Those who say “Yes” to Jesus are to be affirmed and supported.
But, I am concerned about the underlying message that is often communicated by those who leave their jobs to “follow Jesus.”
When Jesus came upon Simon (whom we know better as Peter) and Andrew, his brother, he called to them, “Come, follow me.” Notice that Jesus did not say, “Come, believe in me.” Of course Simon and Andrew wouldn’t have followed Jesus unless they believed that he was worthy of following. But, we must note carefully that Jesus invited Simon and Andrew to take action, to do something in response to his invitation, and not merely to believe and go back to fishing.
Those of us who are familiar with the ministry of Jesus can take for granted the fact that he called his disciples. But Jesus’ initiative would have surprised people in his culture, and not just those whom he called to follow him. Religious teachers in the time of Jesus didn’t recruit their own students. Rather, they received those who sought them out and asked to become followers. Jesus, by contrast, chose the ones whom he wanted to be his disciples.
In Mark 1:15 we read a summary of the good news preached by Jesus: “The time has come. . . . The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
How did Jesus encourage people in his day to respond to this good news? How should we respond to it today?
In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, we began to consider the question: Can I live in God’s kingdom now, or do I have to wait for the kingdom to come in the future? We discovered that the answer of Jesus to this question is nuanced. Yes, the kingdom has come near, and thus is present. Yet, the kingdom is not completely here, and so we continue to hope for its coming.