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  • Jonny Harding

Holding Pattern

Patterns matter. Our daily rhythms, and the ideas that shape them, can help us choose to stay near to Jesus. We need to choose to stay near to Jesus.

Ignoring that reality, outsourcing the responsibility for our actions, or letting our daily rhythms be dictated to by the whims of the world are not strong discipleship decisions. If we are attempting to follow Jesus we need strong discipleship decisions to inform our patterns of life.

This is not a statement about personal discipline or contorting ourselves to the rigidity of a behaviour-timetable mandated to us (I’m looking at you, 30 days of prayer and fasting in January). Rather, it is an attempt to rouse a response from our need for an appetite for the ways of Jesus which is the only way our needs are met. We can be so hungry for so many other things. We have to help each other to focus on developing our spiritual appetite for the things of God.

Following Jesus is a radical and pattern changing thing to do.

If the practical application of our patterns for finding and following Jesus have been squashed and squeezed into prepackaged and disconnected conformity for the lie of an easy life, I believe we need to positively disrupt those patterns.

The complexity of the age we occupy can make us selfish. I’m confident you have noticed the world has a lot going on and, therefore, can become overwhelming. To live an economically, environmentally, and emotionally responsible life isn’t quite the same as my personal childhood dream of playing cricket and football forever. To block others out and live a nice life, quietly consuming my way through threescore and ten, not disturbing the neighbours, and keeping my ideas firmly within, and definitely not above, my station is a commendable but misguided aspiration. When I decide to follow Jesus I submit myself to an identity exchange (1 Corinthians 6, Galatians 2, Romans!).

Who I am is established in finding out who Jesus is.

The way of the world necessitates apprentices of Jesus finding His face and hearing His voice.

Our patterns, the daily rhythms of who we are, have to be helping us find and follow Jesus. Precisely because the world is a hard place to be at times, and my response to that is often a selfish one. To know who I am helps me make better decisions every day. To know who I am I need to know who Jesus is. The patterns of discipleship can help me with that adventure.

Faithful obedience to the non-violent, enemy-loving, self-sacrificing, including, loving, feet-washing patterns of the Way feels difficult to be enthusiastic about over distance. The environment of the world we are in doesn’t reward or encourage faithfulness to these ideas or the application of them, and so we can quickly let them go and be rewarded for doing so.

Let us see that the opposition to the ways of Jesus is not ‘us Vs them’. Let us not accept God-created difference being sharpened as a way to separate. Let us see opposition in an Ephesians 6:12 kind of way (“for our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”) Nothing from the patterns of the ‘world’ (read: anything not of, from, or for God) can endorse in us the patterns of discipleship and the Kingdom of God. They keep us from patterns that lead to a deeper revelation of Jesus, holy character formation, and the application of the way of Jesus in our lives.

Our radical rejection of the fear of death and control of sin is not to prove a point but from an awareness of our need for help, and confidence that help comes from Jesus. Help in deciding to choose nearness to Jesus, help changing the way we choose to interact with people, and help with hearing God’s prose. A disciple’s character is formed by proximity to Jesus.

We can close the proximity gap by seeing the face of Jesus and hearing His voice.

‘Face’ is the translation of the idea of ‘presence’. To see someone’s face is to be near enough to witness their expressions, to see the lines in a forehead that arrive in a frown or the crow’s feet that dance with a smile. To see someone’s face is a close and personal encounter. God’s face, a close and personal encounter that helps us understand His character and nature, is His presence. In the presentation of these ideas, as you wade through the articulation of my thoughts, take with you the significance of examining our patterns to spend deliberate time in the presence of God. God being present anywhere and everywhere always significantly helps us here! Inside, outside, Sunday or Wednesday, quiet reflection and loud exclamation, connectedness or solitude, sadness or joy, His presence is in all of it - explore patterns that help increase awareness of the privilege of ‘seeing’ the ‘face’ of God.

People. People matter. The deposit of the eternal is invested in people not things. My mild obsession with Matthew 6 haunts my culturally seasoned and misplaced desires for new and more things. In developing an appetite for the things of God, way ahead of places and things, people will always feature first. The image of God is entrusted in people. The Kingdom of God is outworked through people. The grace of God is experienced by people. The kindness of Jesus is shared between people. The power of the Holy Spirit indwells people.

Develop patterns that include other people. Pattern your life with people often. There is a radical way of Jesus that surrounds itself with people that costs disciples something, the burden of companionship and investment with nothing obvious by way of return. Push back the ‘common sense’ opinion of only carrying a circle of confirmation however popular the idea. In application, the life laid down and dedicated to Jesus administers miraculous meals to people who should have packed their own, opens the circle to those at the start of learning life lessons, crosses the road to bandage and protect, reaches out to blind former accusers and loves mothers and brothers whose blood is not their own.

Prose. Repetition is one of a limited number of tools I feel I have to engage and teach us. The proportions of our week are distributed among so many things that the piece of the pie this community has is often not as large as I would like in our lives (I’m fine about it, honestly). For this reason it means I often use the admittedly rather low hanging, and often frowned upon, fruit of alliteration. The repetition of a sound can help attach itself to an idea which can help in the application of the idea in our existence. That is why we end up here with prose. I want to say Bible but that doesn’t begin with P and I’ve already committed to presence and people.

It also communicates some thoughts about the Bible that using different language is helpful for.

Eugene Peterson, writing about John and the usage of images and themes from the Hebrew Bible in his writing and creating of Revelation, says this; “He does not quote scripture in order to prove something; rather, he assimilates scripture so that he becomes someone.” That is an amazing observation and a brilliant argument for why we have to invest in our patterns of Bible reading.

The voice of God must be allowed, through long exposure, to shape how we think, speak and act. Lifting contextless verses in isolation to get us through the day is not the same thing as ‘a long obedience in the same direction’.

Useful patterns of Bible reading that shape and inform our repentance, devotion, decisions, opinions and ideas must include conversation in community.

Three P’s. As tired and cheesy as alliteration is, Presence, People and Prose help us choose to find and follow Jesus. I believe we should be looking to positively disrupt our patterns of life.

As followers of Jesus, let’s help each other look for rhythms of life in the presence of God, with people and saturated in the prose of God. Let’s find new patterns and not settle for the ones conformed by the broken, unjust and overwhelming world.

Martin Luther King Jr in his positively disruptive and Kingdom pattern forming book, Strength to Love, says;

“We need to recapture the gospel glow of the early Christians, who were nonconformists in the truest sense of the word and refused to shape their witness according to the mundane patterns of the world.”

He goes on to say,

“We must learn that to expect God to do everything while we do nothing is not faith, but superstition.”

Choose to examine patterns of life. The ‘new thing’ simply will not come in the old wrapper. That is not a thankless pursuit of an idea of progress or change for changes sake, it is the surrender of an old life to a new way. Bowing to King Jesus and accepting His call at the cost of our own. Knowing there is help for frustration and healing for brokenness in His Kingdom.

We need to know what Jesus is like. This week, look for the opportunities of positive disruption in deliberate pattern change - how we live, shaped by who God is, in an unending shared pursuit of nearness to Jesus. To learn and know from his face who He is.


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