I met three Jesus followers over the span of twenty years. All relished God. All possessed the kind of heart I long to have. And all lived wholeheartedly for God’s kingdom. They were the kinds of followers I want to emulate, those whose passion for God spilled over not only to those they directly ministered to, but to everyone who crossed their paths. They are people who ooze Jesus.
The first follower has no name in my memory. We met in a hiccup of a moment at Urbana ’87 on a bus ride to the venue. The Indian man sat next to me, greeted me, then shared his heart about Jesus, how he was willing to die for Him. Joy flew from him in an infectious way as he shared a snapshot of his story involving conversion and persecution. In those short moments, he exuded Jesus. In the aftermath of meeting him, I wondered if God had planted an angel on that bus. He led me, infectiously, to Jesus.
The second follower has a name: Lei Wah. She shepherded me when I was a young missionary to Malaysia in 1989, a place where it’s not easy to be openly Christian. Several of us slept in a large upstairs room, stretched out on too-short mats under a circling fan. I’d wake to music. She’d place contraband worship tapes into her boombox and sit before it, her arms raised heavenward, praise songs escaping her lips. Tears wet her face as she worshiped. She threw her soul into the praise, her life. Her quiet leadership taught me to realize what a privilege it is to worship and serve Jesus, and how little I value it.
The third follower, Paul, I met in Northern Ghana in 2008. As a local ministry leader, he accompanied our team as we fellowshipped with the village where my then 12-year-old son Aidan raised money for a well. Late one night as we bumped over potholed roads, Paul shared his story. I asked him why he waited to marry. He shared that he was the first from his village to complete high school, then college, but that during that time, he had very little money. He didn’t want to bring a wife and children into that poverty. Then he said, “Mary, for ten years I didn’t know if or when I would eat.” He learned naked trust during that decade, as evidenced by his quiet faith bursting from him. And that made him an empathetic leader who trusted God to provide, not merely financially, but in every area of his life.
The unnamed Indian man, Lei Wah, and Paul taught me how to relish. How to savor. How to take zestful pleasure in Jesus. As I sojourn down this path of Jesus-loving, I can’t shake their example. When I’m basking in mediocrity, I see their fervor. When I feign worship, I see their enthusiastic dedication. When I’m ill-content, I see their contentment. I want to lead others the way they led me.
I want what they have. But how do I relish Jesus? Here are three secrets:
One. Don’t let age define the depth of your relationship with Jesus.
In Prince Caspian by C. S. Lewis, we see an interesting interchange between a now-older Lucy and Aslan (who represents Christ):
“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”
“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.
“Not because you are?”
“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”
Growing in Christ doesn’t necessarily correspond to your age. All three folks I met were in their twenties and early thirties, yet they found God to be bigger the older they got. They pressed into Jesus, needed Him. Unfortunately for us, we have so much, so we don’t need Him. The less we need Him, the smaller He is to us. Don’t settle for plodding along, believing each year you’re growing. The heart that relishes Jesus is the one that runs after Him, who find maturity not marked by years, but by yearning to be near.
Two. Learn to abstain so you can appreciate the feast.
In Mark Buchanan’s book The Rest of God, he advocates abstaining so we can better relish life in the present. He writes, “We eat ourselves stuffed daily. There’s nothing to anticipate, nothing to make us stand back, astonished and thankful.” We glut ourselves, taking in everything we want when we want it. Part of learning to relish is resting in less.
My friend Paul relishes his food. When his wife cooked a feast for us, he smiled, thankful for the moment when God had given so much. I fear I’ve become so accustomed to plenty that I’ve forgotten how to relish simple things—a great meal, the touch of a friend, my son’s face, the sunrise. Relishing erupts from restraint in other areas of life. I have to eat simply on other days to enjoy a feast fully. I have to stop my work to call a friend. I must slow down long enough from my tasks to interact with my son. I have to deprive myself of the virtual world to appreciate the scenery of the actual one—the one God made.
Three. Embrace worship as a lifestyle.
My Indian friend worshiped God in sharing his story. Lei Wah sang her praises first thing in the morning. Paul pointed to God as provider because of his past. All three aspects are worship. It’s that minute-by-minute conversation with God throughout the day. It’s an anticipation of what He will do next. It’s praising Him in the moment, no matter how difficult that moment is. It’s embracing Jesus in the midst of interruption.
I love what Henri Nouwen said about his real work. “My whole life I have been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted until I discovered the interruptions were my work.” Perhaps interruptions are God’s way of helping leaders relish Him in the moment, to prove to ourselves that we’re the sort of followers who are interruptible.
Relishing God should be our highest priority. We are to “seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give [us] everything [we] need” (Matthew 6:33, NLT). So enamored with Him in that kingdom quest, we will grow beyond our years, rest in less, and worship in the moment. Perhaps someday others will write stories about our vibrant faith, how our enthusiasm for Jesus rubbed off on them. That’s my wish—to be that kind of follower.