Reclaiming the Joy of Following Jesus

Her sadness interrupted our happy dinner.

She was young, cute, well dressed, and sitting all alone in a very elegant restaurant on a Saturday night … very distraught and on the verge of tears.   My husband and I were at a nearby table with friends, the four of us enjoying each other’s company over an incredible meal.  My friend Darlene was the first to notice the stranger’s sadness.  She stopped conversation to tell us about her and we each stole a glance her way.  The young woman was clearly not okay and now we had a dilemma: to act or do nothing.

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What did love require of us?

We thought that maybe we should reach out but weren’t sure how, yet we hurt for her.  At the same time, we didn’t know if we would embarrass her and feared she would prefer to be left alone.  It was uncomfortable.  

We continued talking amongst ourselves and ignoring the dilemma, but her pain was undeniable and we were bothered.  She looked down, sipping her drink with no one to talk or laugh with, isolated by a sea of happy people.  

Doing nothing would have been much easier, but Darlene ruined that option by speaking up.  Then Kyle motioned to me because I’m the person in our group that often makes the first move with new people.  

Pastor Andy Stanley challenges people to ask themselves, “What does love require of me?” The gospels claim that God is Love… so if we fulfill our requirement to love through faith in Christ, we fulfill what is required by God.

Love takes action.

I ignored the idea for quite a while then stood up and walked toward her.  I sat down at her table and struck up a conversation.  She was kind and friendly and seemed appreciative that someone noticed her.  She apologized for looking so distressed.  She was on vacation from across the country and just experienced a huge and painful fight with her boyfriend.  She started to cry as she explained that she decided to keep the dinner reservations even though he refused to come with her.  She was at a restaurant in a strange city, sad, alone, and uncertain.

Loved people love people.

Maybe your first step is realizing how loved you are before you can give it away.

I didn’t say anything special.  We didn’t buy her meal.  I didn’t hug her or make a big fuss.  I just smiled and talked to her for awhile and got her to laugh, told her that we’ve been there and gotten through it, and that I would pray for them.  Her countenance changed and she began to smile. That’s honestly all I felt compelled to do.

I returned to our table and we left soon afterwards, but I noticed that people at other tables started to talk to her after I left.  Back in the car, everyone was happy.  They wanted to know her story.  They were glad that I reached out and no one was mad that they had to wait for me.  They promised to pray for her.   We all felt lighter.  I felt so much gratitude that I have such a caring husband and friends.  

Love is kind.

At surface level, this seems like a very small act of kindness and maybe to someone who doesn’t believe in God that’s all it is.  That makes sense to me. If so, go be kind.  It will make you feel good and it makes the world better. 

Then again, if the gospels are true, we just partnered with our Creator to reach out to a stranger, got to know Him better, and grew our faith as He increased our joy.  He is probably working things for her good that we have no idea about.  My views have changed a lot about what it looks like to walk with God and I mess it up all the time.

I used to think that God wanted or needed us to do things for Him.  I have learned that it is so much better to walk with God.  Instead of an obligatory religious weight to carry, a life of faith  becomes an adventure of friendship magnified by the power of God.  I have found that Jesus’ kindness, power, and goodness is much greater than our own.

Jesus loves people.

There is a story in John’s gospel that taught me so much about what happens when people decide to hang out with Jesus.  A large crowd of people have been with Jesus all day and there isn’t any food for dinner.  Jesus has compassion on them and decides that He is going to feed them, but He asks one of His disciples named Philip how they will feed the crowd.  Most scholars estimate that there were easily 10,000 people in that countryside setting, no stores or restaurants available.  

The disciples instantly took inventory of their resources, their cash, their energy and concluded that they couldn’t feed the crowd, nor did they want to.  They had no solutions.  Even if they cared for the people in the crowd as much as Jesus did, which is doubtful since He created them, accessing the power of God didn’t occur to them!  Because, honestly, who thinks to themselves: Hey, maybe Jesus will cause one fish and two loaves of bread to be enough for thousands and thousands of people, right now, for dinner? That’s impossible! My favorite line of the whole story is when Jesus said, “Jesus said this to test Philip, for he already knew what He was going to do.”

Jesus was going to feed the hungry crowd with or without Philip.

Philip and the other disciples could choose to help Him feed the hungry people or let Jesus do it alone, but they wisely chose to be involved.  They didn’t understand that Jesus didn’t need them to figure it out or come up with the food all alone.  He wanted to see if they trusted Him.

If you don’t know the end of the story, another disciple found one little kid with some lunch and Jesus multiplied it miraculously by turning the lunch for one into enough to feed many thousands of people with 12 baskets left over.   Can you even imagine witnessing that happen?  What would it have been like for his disciples to experience dozens and dozens of miracles over the course of his ministry?  I bet that there were so many nights spent laughing and reminiscing about the actions of Jesus and the adventures they experienced together!

Nothing about the power of God displayed is boring.

Being a follower of Jesus is interesting!!!!  Jesus doesn’t fit in a box.  He doesn’t need our help to get His will accomplished.  He invites us to be part of what He’s doing because we will see His glory, our faith is increased as we realize who Jesus really is, many people are blessed, and often it’s FUN!!! Sometimes it’s difficult and costly, but always worth it.

That story of Jesus has been very impactful to me.  Rather than making my own plans and throwing up a “God please bless this” prayer, I have learned to look for clues as to what God is doing.  When I see that God is about to take action, I don’t want to miss out!  I want to see the water turned into wine;  I want to see thousands fed with one little lunch, and I want to see lives changed.

Here’s a lens of faith with which we might look at the events in the restaurant.

Love required us to be kind to her.

Jesus saw his beloved child in pain and He was sad with her.  He is close to the broken hearted and weeps when they weep.  He knew she felt alone and He wanted to comfort her.  He decided to show her that He saw her tears and He loves her.  He invited us to join Him.  He would show her kindness whether we joined Him or not.  He caused Darlene to notice the woman and she spoke up, interrupting Sarah who was blah, blah, blahing about a book she read and oblivious to the hurting person right in front of her.  

Because of Dar’s compassion, the rest of the group shared the burden.  Kyle motioned Sarah to go over because her pain has become our pain.  Sarah’s husband smiled at her to let her know it’s okay.  Together we convey the message:  we see you, we see your broken heart, you are not alone, you are loved.  We are your friends even though you don’t know us.  We’ve been there.  Her countenance changed.  She was lifted by love.  We felt closer to God.

Love one another.

“a new commandment i give you: love one another.” —jesus

We did our small part.  We aren’t responsible for the outcome.  We don’t have to be all things to all people. Show love.  It’s so simple.

Being a follower of Jesus is less about doing things for God and more about doing things with God.  He calls us Friends.  We were blessed that night because we got to know Jesus a little better by seeing His compassion through obedience to His commands (Love one another) and the prompting of His Spirit.  From eating delicious food to enjoying His beautiful creation, we get to enjoy His love and gifts everyday.  Our joy was increased because we participated in some very small way in what He was already going to do for a person in need.  We had the opportunity to extend the same mercy and comfort that He has given us and we have given each other and we walked away understanding just a little more about how terribly good He is.  His goodness and compassion are overwhelming.  Christ in us, the hope of glory.  

Our joy increased.

Every time I write a post I ask Jesus, What should we write about You?  What do You want them to know?  Today I felt like He was saying:  Let’s tell them that I am close to the broken hearted.  I care when people hurt.  I care when people are hungry.  I want my followers to know my power and be part of this great adventure of knowing Me and loving people.  Trust me— I know how to help you live your best life, now and for eternity!

I love you.  Jesus loves you more.

Sarah Barnes