Raise your hand if you’re some sort of ministry leader who’s had at least 10-20 faith-centric conversations with your students or staff this past week.
I see that hand, friend. Mine’s up too.
Many of us are amazed that we get paid to talk about God with people all day. It’s an overwhelming privilege and an undeserving opportunity. For quite a few of us, this privilege is quite literally our job, but hopefully and more importantly, our calling, desire and passion. But, wow, what in the world—we are the luckiest crew around.
With the fall semester in full force, we’re not only kicking off our year but discipling leaders, filling up our calendars with one-on-ones and having conversations about Jesus over more coffee than small Latin American countries can support. But as our schedules are filled with conversations and meetings about Jesus and for Jesus and around Jesus, we must be mindful of one critically important thing as our calendars are overflowing.
That reminder is simply this: We cannot borrow spiritual intimacy with God from the conversations we’re having with others. Conversations about God, although incredibly beautiful, beneficial and necessary in their own right, are not conversations with God.
For the past many years, it’s been both my profession and passion to talk to college students about their relationships with Christ, both in university settings and now in a church setting. And near the beginning of every year as my daily schedule gets filled with conversations about Christ, I can easily fall into what I like to call borrowed intimacy.
In other words, without even realizing it, it’s tempting for me to borrow from the spiritual intimacy others are experiencing with Christ by stealing it for myself.
- My students are studying the book of Hebrews right now and talking to me about it quite a bit. They’re excited about what they’re learning, which is so cool. But before I know it, I’m borrowing more from their experiences studying than I am gleaning on my own.
- The conversations I’m having with coworkers or co-laborers about how they’re being stretched in their faith leads me to temporarily believe that’s how the Lord is asking me to be stretched too. Their lessons from him have become my lessons.
- I try to feed off the vigor I see in my leaders who recently led friends to Christ. I temporarily allow their zeal to satisfy my own hunger for the lost coming back home to Christ.
Before I know it, I can spend a chunk of my day talking about Jesus but not to him, thinking about him, but not drawing near to him. I can exist as a bystander to his work all day without entering into his presence. Should I absolutely know better? Yes. Can this happen more often than I like to admit? Also yes. Is it a temptation for all of us who are consistently having conversations around faith and discipleship? Perhaps.
But we all know a borrowed spiritual intimacy is a facade that cannot sustain a life dedicated to the work of the ministry or any life dedicated to seeking and serving Christ. Of course, our ministry conversations are extremely helpful to our students and to us, but they prove to be a hollow substitute when it comes to sustaining us.
Because although our work is centric around Jesus, it does not automatically equate to intimacy with Jesus.
So that’s my simple reminder, perhaps mostly for myself today. An obvious truth that I can’t afford to live without:
- To talk to Jesus as much as I talk about him.
- To be personally with the Lord and not just his people.
- To enjoy intimacy with Christ, not for the sake of what I can share with my students, but simply because he is my first love.
It’s true that to walk and wade through the lessons, breakthroughs and victories of those entrusted to us is one of the great privileges we’ve been given as shepherds and disciplers. But let us not forget that lessons, breakthroughs and victories are awaiting us in the quiet places alone with Christ as well.
Intimacy with him is too beautiful a thing to borrow from anyone else, even the people we love and the students we’re serving. Draw away and be still—to learn, to listen and to lead in the manner that’s completely dependent on our Savior. I’m aiming to do the same.