This is about dealing with the things you haven’t got done. Is there an appropriate sense of not caring, or perhaps seeing things from a ‘higher’ plane?
These are difficult issues, with which most conscientious people wrestle all the time. Recently when talking with a student about this, we considered whether he had or knew any role models which helped him to draw boundaries around the things he just couldn’t manage, and accept that that is OK. No, he didn’t know any such role models. I said to him that the only person I had learned this from is Jesus.
Here are two perspectives on that idea.
Last week I read a section in my ‘Minister’s Prayer Book’ about the way Jesus ordered his ministry. Here is some of it:
How did Jesus order his ministry? What was his attitude, his method? If as ministers of Jesus Christ we imitate him, then our lives cannot be failures; and whatever the outward and visible results of it may seem to be, they must exert in some measure the same kind of influence and possess the same level of power.
We note … a certain detachment in Jesus’ attitude toward contemporary events and the secular problems and policies of his day. He lived on a higher level and his mind was not overoccupied and concerned with the details and externals of outward circumstances.Rather, he lived a deep, personal, interior life that found its source and centre in the life of God. Thus there appears a certain serenity and sense of security in his outlook upon the world.
In passing, I would comment that I do not immediately resonate with this language of ‘a higher level’, and in fact I was shocked by the idea of ‘a certain detachment’. And yet I think there is something important here, with which I agree and to which I aspire.
The author goes on to note that in many ways the human life of Jesus appears helpless and inconsequential, against ‘the great imponderable evils of his day’. His life and ministry seemed to make little difference, let alone overthrow them. And yet there was, within him, ‘resident within his soul the moral forces that were destined to topple from their pedestals one hoary evil after another and to set in motion an irresistible power that recreated and is still recreating the moral life of the world.’
So there is something critical to imitate about Jesus—but we need to be careful to work out exactly what it is:
We will do well, therefore, as disciples of Jesus, to imitate his attitude toward the external and contemporary and secular life of the world. We will not allow our minds to be too much occupied or enmeshed in the vexing questions of the day. We will keep ourselves informed concerning these, but we will not become so preoccupied with present-day problems which perplex, disturb and harass the mind, that we shall cease to live on a higher plane, cease to be God-filled, God-inspired [people]. For only to the degree that we are this do we acquire real significance and become active moral factors in the life of the world and possess any powers of influence and control…
To move this world to better things, to lift it to nobler purposes, to be amongst those who are helpers and healers of mankind, it is necessary to have this vantage ground outside ourselves, outside the world, and that vantage ground is God.
I have thought much about this. And I think it is right. The time I most clearly saw this was when researching my thesis on the Servant Model of the Church. I was testing out the assertion of the key writers on that model, who assert that the style of Jesus’ ministry is exemplary for the church, as servant.
But I found something very challenging. Whilst that is clearly true of the style of Jesus’ action, that is not all there is to it.
It was not that he did whatever people needed him to do. That is evident in an important little story found in Mark’s Gospel, in the first chapter.
After Jesus had a very ‘successful’ day (or more, perhaps) of ministry at Capernaum—teaching and healing—and the crowds thronged to him, suddenly he disappeared. Verse 35 tells us he went to a quiet place, to pray. The disciples ‘hunted’ for him, tracked him down and more or less told him to get back with the program! Everyone wanted him back on the job, healing and teaching. It was all going so well, don’t stop now!
But he did. He said that they needed to move on to other towns and villages, to do what he had been sent to do.
There are two critical factors here: first, Jesus’ own agenda. He was clearly committed to what doing what God called him to do, whether other people got it or not. He was dancing to a different drum. That’s what our quotes above mean, about the ‘higher level’.
But the other point is that this meant leaving some things undone. Clearly there were needy people, people who needed healing or help, and Jesus just left them!
Maybe he really believed that the good he had injected into that town and those communities would somehow work its way through, and reach those in need. Or maybe he didn’t know what would happen for those people: he just left that in the hands of God.
I think you have to do that sometimes, otherwise you would never go to bed!
I am not sure if I can go with the idea of a certain ‘indifference’, but I do think we need always to be making choices, deciding which battles to fight, which issues to engage with, and where we will spend our energies.
Jesus clearly operated upon a sense of what was God’s purpose, God’s priority, and thus where he ought to place his priority.
That’s what we need. It requires judgment, discernment, and sometimes a willingness to say we got it wrong, and we need to withdraw and re-focus.
Positively, it requires a vision of what God wills for the people we meet and with whom we work. I want to be available for that and involved with that.
A Christlike indifference to some things, yes, and by God’s grace we may make a Christlike difference to some other things.