James Bryan Smith introduced us to the idea of False Narratives as part of our study of his book “The Good and Beautiful God”. As we begin our look at Christmas this year, I think about one false narrative I’ve heard, and how the story of Jesus’ birth contradicts the false narrative. The narrative I’m referring to is the one that says “Following God is easy.” I’ve heard it said many times in my life that things just get better in life when you start to follow Jesus. People say or imply that if you just give your life to Jesus, everything will go well for you. You will have all the money you need, you will always be happy and healthy, people will love you, and everything will be just fine.
As I read the story of Jesus’ birth, it seems to me that following God is quite risky! Mary was a young woman, engaged to be married. When it comes out that she will be pregnant with the Messiah, it puts her in an immediate risky situation. If Joseph decided to divorce her, or if he decided to turn her in to the Jewish leaders, her life would be in jeopardy. It’s risky for Joseph to believe Mary and to trust that what she was saying was true. Not long after Jesus was born, they were told that the baby’s life was in danger and they need to get out of town quickly! Their whole lives had been turned upside down, they were now in a foreign land with no family and no support system at all.
In my own life, there was a time when following God was quite risky to me. I was recently and unexpectedly unemployed. I had started looking for jobs when I got a call from someone offering me a position managing volunteers. It was great for me and it seemed like a good fit. The problem was that as soon as I started to pray about it, God very clearly seemed to communicate to me that I definitely should not take the job. Not only that – there would be two other jobs in the near future that would come my way, and I was not to take either one of those jobs either. I had some very difficult conversations with God at that time, but eventually I decided to obey and follow him. I didn’t take the volunteer management job, and sure enough, there were two other jobs within a month that came my way. I was a finalist for both positions, but I did not take either one of them. I remained unemployed for the next three years while God spent time training me in how to pastor a small group of people and to pray with people. It was a risky, difficult situation for me, but God was faithful in it all.
Following God can be very risky and it takes faith. The founder of the Vineyard, John Wimber, was often quoted saying “Faith is spelled R-I-S-K!” I’m reminded this Christmas, thinking of the story of Mary, that the risk involved in following God is real, but so is God’s presence with us. The name that the angel gave to Joseph for the son was Jesus, or also “Emmanuel”, which means “God is with us.” Jesus came to show us that God is with us and as we take the risk to follow him, he promises he will continue to be with us.
As we continue soul-training activities, I have two for us this week:
First, take a little risk yourself and tell somebody about our conversation tonight. Share this post with them. Just talk about what we talked about.
The second soul-training exercise has to do with building community. Call someone from the group this week and check in with them. Pray together on the phone. Meet for coffee or a bagel and spend some time developing a friendship.