He is standing before a drapery of smoke. Hair sweaty and long. There is a sword on his back, and when he draws it the metal shings in the silence. He smiles at me, then turns and runs into the fray.
This is how I’ve seen Jesus lately, and I think it points to an important truth: true fellowship with Christ is found in the trenches of our mission. Oftentimes, I am crying out for a greater sense of God’s nearness. Sometimes it’s as if I can see his form, but not his face, and my soul feels like it will break, like I can’t possibly wait to be closer to him. Led by the Spirit, this intimacy has the potential to grow like “an oak of righteousness” throughout our lives as disciples, but I think there is a key element, a “fertilizer,” if you will, that we often neglect.
Confession: I am not one for fellowship events. I have attended churches where they offer men’s fellowship after men’s fellowship, pizza party after pizza party, and I rarely feel the desire to show. Even though my soul hungers after connection, this type of thing can feel artificial and disingenuous. Much of this is a weakness in my own heart, but for me, having friendship as the goal of an activity feels stifling. Rather, the closest bonds I formed at our last church were with a disparate, age-diverse group that served meals at a local soup kitchen every few months.
If you have ever been on an short-term trip, didn’t it happen this way? Look at Band of Brothers, or any other war movie. Camaraderie happens naturally in service settings, where there is real work, real risk. David and Jonathan go to battle together; Jesus and his disciples minister together, even going into hiding when necessary. Make no mistake – fellowship is built on shared battles, not shared interests.
I am convinced Christ has invited us into something similar. When Jesus told his disciples that he would, “come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3), he was not just talking about Heaven. Rather, he was referring to our post-baptism lives, lives indwelt and led by the Holy Spirit. In these post-baptism lives, we have the opportunity to be with Jesus where he is: on mission. Important is that word “may.” Apparently, he has given us the option of staying where it’s safe, or heading into battle and greater intimacy.
Now, of course Jesus is omnipresent, but it is undeniable that God expresses a special heart for and presence “with the broken-hearted” (Psalm 34:18). He is already doing this work, I ought to join him in it. This is a privilege. If we want to get to know our general, the place to do that is in the trenches of missional living. There is a very real presence of Christ that we encounter in the empty space beyond what we can manage on our own.
The very same Jesus who is the lover of our souls is also a warrior. He has a sword on his back, and he is headed into the fray to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Once I see this, if I stay where the ground is sure and there is no smoke, I shouldn’t be surprised at feeling distant from my Savior. He told me where he was going; I decided to stay put.
Tyler Russell lives in Central Pennsylvania with his wife, Cat, and their 5 children where he teaches high school English and explores the connection between faith and art. His writing has appeared in Apiary Magazine and at RelevantMagazine.com, among others. He and his wife have also recently become active in the fight against human trafficking.