Speaking at camps is a fun endeavour. You brainstorm, sweat and pray – planning out talks you believe are the right fit for the group. You then write, craft Keynotes, practice – and then launch into the session.
Inevitably, as the camp progresses – you discover there were key teaching moments you hadn’t considered, until you’re actually in the thick of it. Insights emerge, themes arise – and it’s often in those impromptu, unplanned moments where the gold is.
Last weekend I was sharing at a camp, looking at stories of ordinary encounters with Jesus. It was a blast – looking at these moments from the gospels, and exploring what these narratives can tell us about who God is.
But it was in the midst of the final talk on Sunday morning when one of these unplanned insights emerged. Every person we’d talked about had a choice – an opportunity to participate with the work Jesus was doing.
Perhaps my Sunday School upbringing had brushed over this – but it hit me square in the jaw, while speaking. Jesus invites them to participate – and the outcome is dependent on their involvement.
Two stories highlight this – the blind man, healed by Jesus (as told in John 9) and the rich young ruler who meets Jesus (in Matthew 19, Mark 10 or Luke 18 – take your pick!).
Jesus initiates the conversation with the blind man, who was likely a beggar outside the temple. The story doesn’t say this guy was calling out for help – just that Jesus saw him. Jesus speaks, then spits into the dirt, makes mud and puts it on the man’s eyes.
And then he gives the invitation to participate – telling him to go and wash the mud off his eyes in the Pool of Siloam – a good 700m walk through bustling crowds.
If the blind man wants to join in with this, he has to stumble through the masses of people – face covered in mud! – groping his way to the pool – and then dunk his head underwater.
The rich young ruler is a little different. He comes up to Jesus, he begins the conversation. They have a chat – and then Jesus invites him to participate. All he has to do – to find the life he lacks – is sell everything he owns, and come follow Jesus.
If the rich ruler wants to join in with this, he has to stumble his way through the selling all his assets, and then give all he has to the poor. Then come and follow Jesus.
As we shared about these stories, I saw that these two people – who couldn’t be further apart on the social spectrum – shared several similarities.
Each was invited to give something up. The blind guy was asked to give up the security of his spot on the ground, and the security of the life he’d always known as a beggar. The rich ruler was asked to give up the security of his finances, and the life he’d always known as a wealthy influencer.
Each choice involved genuine risk. The rich young ruler received no guarantees – he wasn’t told he’d get his wealth back, he’d have a comfortable life, or that he’d be a powerful member of Jesus’ inner circle. And Jesus never told the blind guy he’d be able to see – he just asked him to go and wash the mud off his face (that Jesus had placed there!). He was risking mockery, an uncertain journey, and an unknown future.
And each choice was genuine. This wasn’t some bait-and-switch game Jesus was playing. He wasn’t trying to get in their heads – and then show them the outcome was already determined.
Each person had a genuine choice to make. They could either participate, or not. Their future was not set.
The rich young ruler turned the opportunity down. The risk was too great, and the uncertainty too high.
The blind man, however, embraced the choice. He made his way to the pool, washed – and received the life he’d wanted.
I wonder how many of us face choices – perhaps more subtle, at just the whisper of the Spirit – like this each day? I wonder if many of us tend to shy away from the decision, waiting for certainty and seeking deeper understanding before action.
Words From The Wise
I remember talking to a wise mentor of mine – a man with a deep love for Jesus, and an impressive intellect to match. He said to me, “Jeremy, sometimes Christians can pray too much.”
I was stunned. What did he mean?
“They pray, and they pray – and they do nothing. They never decide. They’re wanting the choice made for them. Instead, we should pray and then prayerfully act.”
That stuck with me.
I have a tendency to wait. I want to know all the outcomes – I want certainty. But the choices we are presented with sometimes only come with partial knowledge. They come fraught with risk and uncertainty. Will we act?
See, the significant moments in our life don’t often happen perchance. They happen per-choice. And, like the encounters Jesus had 2000 years ago with – these choices are genuine. Different futures await – depending on whether we act, or pause.
At times, this truth scares me. I want the path laid out in front of me. I want to know all.
But – the best stories are those with tension and uncertainty. A movie with no danger or risk is not entertaining; a novel without conflict is boring. And perhaps it is the same with life – do we want to live a story like the blind guy who encounters Jesus, or be the rich young ruler – who walks away sad?