One of the disciples (Thomas) asked Jesus a fascinating question. A question that many of us can Identify with. A question that John the author picked up on and dedicated three whole chapters (Ch. 14,15 & 16) to answering. “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (Jn 14:5). In other words, Lord where are you going? We’ve been with you for three years, we’ve laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve whined and we’ve dined. Our horizons have been broadened and our hearts have been opened. Lord we’ve done life together and now out of nowhere you are just going to leave us! Just imagine the scene amongst the twelve disciples.
“Gents,” Peter says, “the person we’ve given everything up for, is going awol. Caesar Tiberius and the whole political climate is rotten to the core. Religious institutions profit margins are at an all-time low. Frankly, synagogue leaders, sacred priests, scribes and the various legal regulatory boards have had enough of plummeting religious stocks and now they want blood. Lord I’m not saying it’s bad timing but Lord where are you going?”
Over the past few months I’ve sensed the pastors, elders, leaders and my own heart ask a similar question to Thomas. “Lord where are you?” Our nation seems to be in turmoil; our church is thankful for the trickle of authentic conversions but Lord we are desperate for a torrent because so many are perishing apart from you. Lord so many are broken, so many are isolated and lonely, so many are going through the motions. “Lord where are you?”
It was at our mid-year core leadership gathering on Saturday (22 July) where I sensed the Lord say two life altering things to the heart of Thomas. Like the disciples and especially those entrusted with the gift of leadership we can feel “troubled” (14:1), “orphaned” (14:18), “withering” (15:6), “fruitless” (15:2), “hated for no reason” (15:25) and tempted to “fall away”. We constantly seem to project that everything is ok but if we are truly honest, inside we’re either mad, sad, bad or scared. It is this that Jesus wants to transform and it is to this that Jesus says “…I will ask the father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever – the Spirit of truth” (14:16-17b). Jesus is saying I may be exalted in heaven and seem far away but you will still have the fullness of my presence with you to help you (14:16), to enable you (15:26), to convict you (16:8), to guide you (16:13), to assure you (Rom 8:15) and to grow you (Gal 5:22-23).
More than this, right in the centre of this deep meaningful conversation Jesus sobers his followers by saying “I am the vine, you are the branches… apart from me you can do nothing.” (15:3). This is the nerve that I believe the Lord touched at this gathering. It was as though God was saying to the leaders, in the midst of what you feel and see it is the Lord’s presence and power you crave.
God may be mobilising the leaders and his people at RUC to take more seriously their time alone with him. To prepare a highway in our hearts. To remove any obstacles of sin and make smooth rough paths through which he can travel more freely. He may be moving us to a season of focused corporate prayer. In the words of Jonathan Edwards I think in hindsight the core leaders gathering was “A humble attempt to promote explicate agreement and visible union of all God’s people in extraordinary prayer for the revival of religion and the advancement of Christ’s kingdom” because we have come to the end of ourselves and realise afresh that “apart from him we can do nothing”, absolutely nothing.
Lord bend me to pray, Lord bend us.