A Changing (and challenging) Preposition

Yes, that title correctly says “preposition,” though you may think it means to say “proposition.” I want to talk to you about changing prepositions as a way to reclaim or fully claim our life as followers of Jesus. I want to encourage you in what God has been speaking to me.

Our greatest possibility for impacting the lives of others and helping people experience the HOPE of Jesus Christ comes in changing from “FOR” to “WITH.”

with cautionNow, before I get to the meat of that change the “Spiritual Health Association” (or the SHA) requires that I offer this cautionary warning first. If you are wondering what the SHA is, simply put, it is something I just made up. But, that does not diminish the validity of the warning I am about to give.

CAUTION: “with” is much messier than “for”

Okay, now that you’ve been so warned, let’s talk about what it means.

“FOR” is a very common word in our Christian vocabulary – and not a bad word. When needs arise around us we often try to think about what we can do “for” the person or entity in need. And again, it’s not a bad thing. When we hear about a village in Nicaragua where people do not have regular access to good, clean water, we want to do something “for” them. And we do. Our church, for example, is working to raise money to send a team to Nicaragua to help drill a water well and hoping to raise enough money to pay for the costs of drilling that well. Now, in fairness to our efforts, we are going there to work “with” the people of Nicaragua and that village. But, in the end, it will be something we have done “for” them.

Let’s bring it a bit closer to home. When we have people in our community who have needs – they struggle to have food on the table – our hearts go out to them and we want to do something “for” them. And we do. We give money to the food bank, we put together holiday food baskets, etc. Again, not a bad thing to do something “for” someone else.

We can move even closer and talk about our life in the church. How many of us volunteer to do something “for” the church? We usher at the worship service, we sing in the choir or praise band, we teach a class, we fix the broken things around the building. We do things “for” the sake of the church and the activities of the church – not bad.

But what if we decided to purposely shift from “for” to “with?” What if we decided to walk “with” people in our community who are struggling to make ends meet? What if we purposely decided to live in their neighborhood “with” them? What if instead of providing a meal at the holidays we invited them to eat “with” us in our home? What if we invited a struggling family to live “with” us for a time as we walk “with” them into a more hopeful future?

What if we decided that serving the church is not about doing a job “for” the church but instead is about serving “with” others? What if the work of ushering became a means of loving our brothers and sisters so much that we want to make their time of worship meaningful? What if singing in the choir was about worshiping “with” our brothers and sisters more than singing a song “for” them? What if going to church each week was not about doing something “for” ourselves or “for” God and instead became a way that we join “with” our fellow disciples to spend time “with” God?

I know, I am rambling and many of you reading this may be thinking you already have this mindset. The good news for me is that these blogs are my musings more than a treatise, so it may not be completely clear. The bad news for us is that I don’t think we live “with” each other as much as we could. Living “with” each other means we open ourselves up to one another. Living “with” each other happens not as a congregation, but as a small band of disciples living and growing together. Living “with” each other means we come together to share meals and share our lives and confess our sins. Living “with” each other means when a brother or sister falls into a pit, we jump in to help them out. It means sharing all we have “with” brothers and sisters in need without hesitation. It means that our desire to help others overcome issues of poverty and prejudice goes from doing something help “for” them to opening up our lives to walk “with” them.

“With” is messier than “for,” no doubt. It means taking a risk and knowing others whom you try to love more deeply will take advantage of you. It means giving up your own comfort in order to make HOPE more real for someone else. It means making a commitment to a small group of disciples and connecting with them as family. It even means disconnecting from family and friends in order to connect with others. You may have to forget what is behind and reach for what God has put ahead of us.

And here is the most significant lesson we need to learn about life “with” others – especially those who we seek to do things “for”: We need to learn to accept that others who are “in need” have much to teach us. We need to learn that we don’t have it all right just because our life is alright. There was a day when a woman of questionable reputation came to Jesus when he was at the home of a church-going religious leader. She began to weep in his presence and washed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. The religious man was appalled that Jesus would let this happen. Jesus used it to teach the man about what it means to worship God and give thanks for the grace God gives. This woman knew the grace of God in such a way that she offered an act of worship. It wasn’t that she went to church or said all her prayers, it was simply an honest act of gratitude. Jesus said that her act was a greater work than the moral life this man was living. Where he lived his life “for” God, this woman wanted to live her life “with” Jesus.

Again, I wish I had a greater clarity of what this could mean. But all I know right now is that Jesus came as “God with us” – Emmanuel. He gave up the power and comfort of heaven to enter into this life in order to help us know a greater HOPE than we could find anywhere else. Yes, he did something “for” us in dying on the cross, but his greatest promise was this: “I will be WITH you always…” He spent his time not with the religious people, but with sinners and prostitutes and those most in need of HOPE. He also spent time with a small band of disciples walking with them and helping them grow as he lived among the poor and outcast. So, ultimately, for me, it comes down to this – if I am a follower of Jesus Christ how is he calling me to walk “with” and live “with” others, especially those who need HOPE the most? How am I living and learning “with” a small band of disciples?

Maybe I will eventually make more sense of this and I can post another blog entry. But for now, this will have to do. I look forward to your help in working through this.

Holy high-five to you,

P.S. Soon after the day when I was pondering this “with” idea on a walk and talk with my son, another friend posted this link to a lengthy but more theologically astute article about this same idea. I do not deny that some of my thoughts in writing this blog post were also influenced by this article. However, the ideas in the article simply joined the thoughts already in progress inside my brain:


One response to “A Changing (and challenging) Preposition

  1. This response may not make complete sense because I am in my own “new thought process”. But I like your thinking and you are on the right track; keep developing it. But it also needs to include doing things “with God” as opposed to “for God”

    Kevin Watson, in his Vital Piety blog, “What we are FOR Is Not Good Enough”, recently suggested that The United Methodist Church needs to stop doing things “for God” or “in His name” and start telling each other about what God has done for us through Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit. In the introduction to the recently released “Key United Methodist Beliefs”, William J. Abraham and David F. Watson state that we have become very busy doing things “for God” outside the context of understanding “what God has done for us”.

    I heartily concur. Even after spending more than a few decades as a “good Methodist”, my understanding of “what God has done for us, including me” has been very muddled. If everybody was on the same page in that regards, then maybe we could start doing things “with God”, not just “for Him”.

    I am no longer muddled because of encountering a very recent translation of The Heidelberg Catechism along with “Body & Soul: Reclaiming The Heidelberg Catechism” by M. Craig Barnes. After all my time “doing church”, it has been overwhelming to finally understand the “why” behind what I have been doing. I have learned more in the last couple of months than in all my previous years. The catechism is out of the 1500’s and I had to first get over my amazement about the amount of knowledge the rank and file Christian of that time was given as opposed to what the person in the pew is given today. In “Key Beliefs”, Abraham and Watson cite God’s lament in Hosea 4:6: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge”.

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