In the north of Eng­land is a dis­persed Chris­t­ian com­mu­ni­ty whose com­mu­ni­ty rule is avail­abil­i­ty and vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty. I have found these two words extreme­ly help­ful in guid­ing and shap­ing spir­i­tu­al life and inter­ac­tions with oth­ers. This month I want to work with how this is mod­eled in the life of Jesus and how we can prac­tice avail­abil­i­ty and vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty as a spir­i­tu­al discipline. 

The mys­tery of the Trin­i­ty, a mutu­al­ly sub­mis­sive com­mu­ni­ty each giv­ing way to the oth­er, is a help­ful place to begin. The Trin­i­ty mod­els rela­tion­ships for us — a liv­ing exam­ple of Jesus’ teach­ings of lov­ing God and neighbor. 

The Life of Jesus: Availability

I think it’s impor­tant to assume that Jesus was inten­tion­al in what he did and how he spent his time. Why did he spend the bulk of his time on earth seclud­ed from pub­lic life work­ing with wood in what some would call the armpit of the Mid­dle East? Why did he pour so much into twelve ordi­nary peo­ple of no social sta­tus? If we want to fol­low Jesus, tell his sto­ry and change our world, it’s a help­ful thing to look seri­ous­ly at the way he chose to live his life. 

If I were charged with bring­ing a mes­sage that would for­ev­er change the face of human­i­ty, seek­ing to estab­lish a king­dom on earth, bring­ing restora­tion to all civ­i­liza­tion, and announc­ing a his­to­ry-alter­ing new reign of love, I would want to get right to work on it. I would go after the pow­er struc­ture, estab­lish a for­mal orga­ni­za­tion, raise mon­ey, build build­ings and schools, and spread the mes­sage to the largest pos­si­ble audi­ences. I would dine with the peo­ple of great influ­ence. I would join boards and committees. 

Instead, Jesus wast­ed” thir­ty years and then spent three years camp­ing with a group of ordi­nary peo­ple, yet the long-term results are staggering. 

Cer­tain­ly Jesus spoke to large crowds, did pub­lic heal­ings and exor­cisms, but a good part of his min­istry was, quite sim­ply, spent offer­ing his pres­ence to a small rag­tag group of twelve. The fact they still believed he was the Mes­si­ah after spend­ing so much time with him may just be proof of his divin­i­ty. You spend a week camp­ing with me and sure­ly any allure of divin­i­ty will quick­ly fade away. 

Jesus’ exam­ple of tem­po­rary iso­la­tion from pub­lic life and his deci­sion to focus on sig­nif­i­cant avail­abil­i­ty to a select few has much to teach us as we go about our min­istries and dai­ly lives. Stay­ing in com­mu­ni­ty for many years by its very nature lends itself to grow­ing and cul­ti­vat­ing sig­nif­i­cant rela­tion­ships. I can only imag­ine the impact that many years of liv­ing a sim­ple, ordi­nary” life, most like­ly help­ing his father in the car­pen­try craft, had on those in his local community. 

It’s also inter­est­ing that as Jesus began his pub­lic life he did not give sig­nif­i­cant time to every­one. Cer­tain­ly some want­ed more from him but he set bound­aries. I under­stand the idea of seri­ous­ly men­tor­ing a group of peo­ple, but even after all his efforts, the out­come seemed to be an utter fail­ure. He even lost one to sui­cide. This is impor­tant for us to grasp. Not only does it show us the impor­tance of focus­ing our efforts on a small num­ber of peo­ple, it pro­vides us an exam­ple of how we should set up our expec­ta­tions of out­comes when we com­mit our efforts to be avail­able to oth­ers. See­ing the results of Jesus’ labors help me to let go of my agen­da for how things should go. It enables me to let go of my need to see big results and my idea of suc­cess. This encour­ages me to learn to be with peo­ple and share my life with them. 

In our work­ing with oth­ers it is impor­tant to note that after his appren­tices’ fail­ures, he didn’t give a strong cor­rec­tion, or even try to micro­man­age them. Rather, he empow­ered them with love and for­give­ness, mod­el­ing a seem­ing­ly absurd rela­tion­al method of transformation. 

Yet out of the ash­es of his dis­ci­ples’ fail­ures, his mes­sage sim­mered and soaked. It was these bro­ken peo­ple he charged with car­ry­ing the most impor­tant mes­sage the world would ever hear. His being with” empow­ered them to car­ry his mes­sage and thus com­plete­ly alter the social, reli­gious, and gov­ern­men­tal struc­tures of the world. 

Sad­ly, in mod­ern times, fol­low­ing Jesus’ mod­el of dis­ci­ple­ship is often sec­ondary to imi­tat­ing cor­po­rate methods. 

The Life of Jesus: Vulnerability

In the Gar­den of Geth­se­mane we find Jesus plead­ing with his friends for help, to stay and pray with him. Ask­ing for help requires vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty. When they let him down, Jesus con­front­ed them not once, but twice. Con­fronting a friend requires sig­nif­i­cant vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty. Notice the love in his con­fronta­tion, that in extreme dis­ap­point­ment, Jesus dis­plays a dis­tinct oth­er-cen­tered­ness say­ing to Peter, “… that you may not come into the time of tri­al, I know your spir­it is will­ing but flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). Even in Jesus’ time of great suf­fer­ing and dis­ap­point­ment he offered grace and thoughtfulness. 

Prob­a­bly the most pro­found pic­ture of vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty is Jesus naked and nailed to the cross, raised on a stand, arms stretched out, bare for all to see, mocked for all his earth­ly efforts. It is a pic­ture of giv­ing, hold­ing noth­ing back, open­ness, love, vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty, and sub­mis­sion to God and others. 

Then those haunt­ing words, Father, for­give them they know not what they do” (Luke 23:24).

This is what lov­ing those who per­se­cute you looks like. To make a pub­lic dec­la­ra­tion that a per­son doesn’t know what they are doing could be made in such a way as to belit­tle. But, in this con­text we see it drip­ping with love. Jesus looked into the heart of his killers and saw their frailty. He saw their bro­ken­ness and fool­ish­ness. And in the mid­dle of great agony he reached down with com­pas­sion, fur­ther open­ing him­self to ridicule — an incred­i­ble act of vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty. I imag­ine Jesus under­stood that soon his tor­menters would real­ize the sig­nif­i­cance of their actions and that it would wreak unimag­in­able hav­oc on the rest of their lives. The night­mares, the mem­o­ries of the sounds of flesh tear­ing, the col­or of the blood, and the look on his face, would be a bur­den impos­si­ble to car­ry. His vul­ner­a­ble words of for­give­ness would soon come to mean every­thing to them. 

Avail­abil­i­ty and Vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty as a Spir­i­tu­al Discipline

It’s impor­tant to remem­ber that we are asked to fol­low Jesus with lives. This can only be lived out in the mid­dle of the places and spaces we inhab­it. We begin in the midst of our rela­tion­ships and the posi­tions we hold. I like the way phras­es Romans 12:1, Take your every­day ordi­nary life — your sleep­ing, eat­ing, going-to-work, and walk­ing-around life — and place it before God as an offer­ing.” We bring before God who we are at this very moment, our per­son­al­i­ties, habits, short­com­ings, and gift­ings. Rest easy know­ing that God accepts what we have to offer and that the Spir­it is ful­ly intent on the grace required for our transformation. 

I may not be able to spend three years camp­ing with twelve peo­ple, but in my remain­ing years I can inten­tion­al­ly make myself avail­able to a few. Prob­a­bly the best place to start prac­tic­ing the dis­ci­pline of avail­abil­i­ty is with the peo­ple God has already placed in our lives, for many of us this will be in our homes. Of course, few rela­tion­ships are more chal­leng­ing, intim­i­dat­ing, and inti­mate than with our loved ones; they know us all too well for us to hide behind the wall of pre­tense that can dom­i­nate so many of our human inter­ac­tions. This is also the space where we learn to relin­quish the habit of let­ting our agen­da, our fears, and our need to con­trol under­gird our con­ver­sa­tions. Of course, being tru­ly avail­able to oth­ers is, by its very nature, vul­ner­a­ble; and choos­ing to make our­selves vul­ner­a­ble is not an emas­cu­lat­ed posi­tion of weak­ness, rather it is a move­ment toward strength, joy, and freedom. 

I some­times won­der how often we spend time with peo­ple free of agen­da. While a vari­ety of inter­ac­tions are often need­ed, I’ve come to favor sub­mit­ting my words and agen­da to God. With­out fail, when I sim­ply seek to be present with peo­ple, it gives spaces for God to guide, bring­ing won­der­ful­ly hon­est con­ver­sa­tions. We show up and sim­ply offer the great­est gift we have to give, our time and pres­ence. There is great free­dom in lay­ing before God our need to be impor­tant, noticed, or hav­ing some­thing help­ful to say. In relin­quish­ing my desire to con­trol, it gives space for God to work in other’s lives through our exchanges. Gen­er­ous lis­ten­ing can require great patience and effort, but it is a skill worth prac­tic­ing that forms some­thing deep with­in us. We are learn­ing to lis­ten and, if I can­not lis­ten to my broth­er and sis­ter, I cer­tain­ly can­not lis­ten to God. We bring who we are, thus the state of our heart. Our char­ac­ter for­ma­tion then becomes of great impor­tance. So often we can only take peo­ple as far as have been. My lis­ten­ing to God and my own appren­tice­ship to Jesus is what I have to give. 

Build­ing and cul­ti­vat­ing rela­tion­ships is slow and messy work. As with any dis­ci­pline, we are doing our efforts before God as an act of sub­mis­sion. We start small, let­ting go of our obses­sions with per­fec­tion, allow­ing our fail­ures to become teach­able moments that only push us fur­ther into the heart of God. 

It is impor­tant to note that as with most ser­vice, we will often find we receive more than we give. God is good like that. Not only am I giv­en the oppor­tu­ni­ty to learn from oth­ers, but when peo­ple open up to us and choose to share their lives it is quite pos­si­bly the high­est hon­or they can bestow upon us.

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Text First Published July 2015

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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