Come to Jesus
By Gemma Ryan, Associate Pastor of Oaks Church Brooklyn
In our world today, we are so good at consuming information - reading the news, listening to TED talks, scrolling social media, listening to sermon podcasts. Information is wonderful and vital; we are so privileged to have information at our fingertips. But the truth is that information transfer alone will never change us. Listening to sermons about Jesus or reading blog posts about Jesus are a great way to gather more information, but that alone will never transform us into His likeness.
Imagine someone who wanted to learn how to dance. They want to know everything about dancing. They read books about it, they watch videos about it, they go to performances, they even buy all of the clothes and shoes that they might potentially need. And all of these things are good and important, but we certainly shouldn’t convince ourselves that doing these things equates to dancing. Memorizing the theory of the dance steps is not dancing. Watching someone else experience the joy of dancing is not dancing. At some point, we need to put down the books, stop watching the videos, and stop living vicariously through another person and actually start moving our own bodies.
And for me, that is the invitation of Jesus. In following Jesus and listening to his message, there is always then an invitation to start living it. He says, ‘Come and follow me.’ Come and see how I live, watch what I do, listen to what I teach, and then, you try. Taste, experience, and live these unforced rhythms of grace for yourself.
As Thomas A Kempis said related to spiritual practice: “It is better to practice it than to know how to define it.”
And maybe, like someone new to dancing, some parts of this will feel natural and easy and surprisingly fun, while others will feel fumbly and difficult, maybe even boring. Many parts will require patience, humility, and practice. This is what it’s like when we follow in the ways of Jesus.
When we begin to craft a Rhythm of Life, we are really looking at the rhythms and practices that we see in the life of Jesus and reflecting on what it might look like for us to live these as well, not just so that we can express our relationship with Jesus but also so that we can posture ourselves in such a way that we are increasingly open to the transforming work of God in our lives.
So, we notice practices like prayer, Sabbath, simplicity, hospitality, fasting, feasting, working for justice and peace, to name but a few. And when we begin to think of everything we see in the life of Jesus, and question how on earth we could possibly do this too, it can often become overwhelming and in the end, we often opt to do nothing.
In my life, I’ve found it best to keep it simple and to go slow. Here’s how Jesus said to keep it simple:
“Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)
Søren Kierkegaard was a Danish philosopher and theologian, and he wrote a book called Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing. This ‘one thing’ he is referring to is of course the Kingdom of God and God’s all-encompassing goodness. And to ‘will’ it essentially means to want it, to choose it, to seek first the kingdom.
Thomas Kelly referred to this as living from our Divine Center.
St Ignatius called it The First Principle and Foundation: “Our only desire and our one choice should be this: I want and I choose what better leads to God’s deepening life in me.”
Pete Grieg who founded the 24/7 prayer movement, simply called it The Vision:
“The vision is JESUS – obsessively, dangerously, undeniably Jesus.”
This call – to “purity of heart,” to simplicity of life, and single-minded focus on Jesus and His Kingdom is the deepest need in each of us, and the only thing that will actually bring us lasting freedom, and joy, and peace.
We don’t seek prayer, or generosity, or humility. We don’t even make our focus trying to become less ego-centric. We simply seek Jesus and his Kingdom and as we do that we become more attentive and attuned to the invitations of God in our ordinary lives.
My simple advice is this: begin by enjoying God. Start with desire and let desire lead you into discipline. Reflect on these questions:
How do I experience God?
What activities or practices make me feel alive?
When do I feel closest to God?
When do I feel most free or fulfilled?
Start there. Start with rhythms and practices that feel easy and life-giving. Then, invite God to draw your attention to any particular area that is drawing your time, energy, or attention away from ‘willing this one thing’, and then respond with openness, humility, and obedience. That could mean noticing a preoccupation with your phone, or your closet, your bank account, your title at work, or your Netflix account.
Pay attention to what you’re paying attention to. Notice any ways in which you are seeking rest, security, or satisfaction outside of Christ. When the Holy Spirit draws our attention to any undisciplined impulse, we simply acknowledge it and ask for the grace to turn from it. We increasingly say yes to the things that draw us into deeper intimacy and wholeness through Jesus and we increasingly say no to the things that draw us away from finding life and fulfillment through Him.
Jesus wants to bring you life. He wants your joy to be full. He said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” This isn’t about fasting for the sake of fasting, or racing through a Bible reading app to check a box. We don’t earn brownie points with God for self-denial or a two-hour quiet time. This is simply an invitation for you to recover your life.
Where are you weary and burdened as a result of your own choosing? What is complicating your life and leaving you feeling less whole, less satisfied, less free?
Come to Jesus, and he will teach you how to live freely and lightly His unforced rhythms of grace.