For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. – Luke 19:10
The Gospels reveal a Jesus who is constantly rearranging his plans for people. He made time for children when His disciples said He had no time for children, (Mark 10:13–16). Jesus made time for a Pharisee in the middle of the night even though Nicodemus wouldn’t visit him during the day because of his fear of being seen publicly with Jesus. Jesus made time for a Samaritan woman with a reputation, (not the good kind of reputation either) even though to do so took Him out of his way, into the dreaded Samaria. Interestingly, the phrase He had to pass through Samaria, in John 4:4, was not a geographical necessity; for, although the main route from Judea to Galilee was through Samaria (Josephus Ant. XX.VI.1;#118), if Jesus was in the Jordan valley (3:22) he could easily have gone north through the valley and then up into Galilee through the Bethshan gap, avoiding Samaria. The expression of necessity means that God’s will or plan is involved, (1). Basically Jesus rearranged His plans for her. Jesus made time for a corrupt tax collector named Zacchaeus. He went out of his way to spend time with Zach and simply convey, “You’re valuable—you don’t have to prove yourself.” (2). The bottom-line is that Jesus had the most important job that has ever, or will ever exist, and He still took time for people. People where His job. Because Jesus rearranged His plans for people he changed the lives of those people, and ultimately created a revolution that changed the world. What might the church look like if we started rearranging our busy schedules and began investing serious time and energy in people?
The problem? We are too busy! Take a moment to consider your daily routine. If it is anything like mine it is very busy. Our entire society is built around “time-saving devices” that enable us to have more time in order to do more things, basically to be busier. As Neil Postman brought out in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, “the clock made us into time-keepers, and then time-savers, and now time servers” (3). Mumford wrote this in reference to the fourteenth century and the emergence of the modern clock. Think of how much more “time servers,” (or should I say time slaves) have we become since then. In an age of productivity apps, smart phones, and cloud synchronization we have to ask the question: Are we actually getting more done? In a culture when simply sitting on your porch and watching the rain fall for the sake of it seems completely ridiculous and non-productive, one has to wonder are we any happier, healthier, or productive. Is our busyness helping us or hindering us? What effect has our fast-paced life had on the efficacy of the church? Has our busyness made us more responsive and receptive to the needs of our community? If the church is too busy to help people than it is too busy.
John Burke, in his book Mud and the Masterpiece, shares how several years ago, Princeton University psychologists did an experiment inspired by the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37). They decided to replicate the story of the Good Samaritan with seminary students. Several variables were introduced. The students were interviewed and asked why they chose to go into ministry. The majority said they went into ministry to help people. Then they were asked to prepare a short talk—half of them on the story of the Good Samaritan. Finally, they were told to go across campus to present their talks. Along the way, the researchers had placed an actor in an alley to play the part of the man who was mugged in Jesus’ story. He was slumped over and groaning loud enough for passersby’s to hear. The researchers hypothesized that those who said they went into ministry to help people and those who had just prepared the talk on the Good Samaritan would be the most likely to stop and help. But that wasn’t the case. There was one more variable introduced by the researchers. Just before the seminarians left to give their talk, the researcher looked at his watch and said one of three things. To some he said, “You’re late. They were expecting you a few minutes ago. You’d better hurry” (high hurry). To others, the researcher said, “They’re ready for you, so please go right over” (intermediate hurry). To yet another group he said, “You’re early. They aren’t expecting you for a few minutes, but why don’t you start heading over there?” (low hurry). The results? Only 10 percent of the seminary students in the high hurry group stopped to help (90 percent didn’t help a guy slumped over groaning because they were in a hurry), while 63 percent of those in the low hurry group stopped to help. In several cases, a seminary student going to give his talk on the parable of the Good Samaritan literally stepped over the victim as he hurried on his way! The psychologists concluded that it didn’t matter whether someone wanted to help people or whether someone was preparing to teach the parable of the Good Samaritan. The only thing that mattered was whether or not they were in a hurry. They concluded, “The words” ‘You’re late’ had the effect of making someone who was ordinarily compassionate into someone who was indifferent to suffering or the needs of others.” If we want to be more like Jesus than the Pharisees, we must make ourselves available to God’s Spirit to see and value those in need more than we value our own agendas, (4). If we are too busy to help people we are too busy.
So what is the solution? Ultimately, we need to be reshaped by the Gospel. We need to fit our schedule into the gospel, rather than trying to fit the gospel into our schedule. We need to reevaluate our methods to determine if they’re the methods of Christ. Is “people are a priority” reflected in the way I live, in the way my church does ministry? Is my church really investing time in it’s people? Or has our personal busyness trickled into the church. The problem with our “time-saving” society is that it is built around making more time for “us” rather than for “them.” The problem with that is it is the opposite of the Kingdom of God. The message of the Kingdom of God is that a new life in Christ is available today. The power to be different than the world we live in is accessible to us now. Until we rearrange our plans for people we won’t see the change in their lives that God has promised. Just look at the impact Christ had on the lives of the individuals mentioned in the beginning of this article.
Because Jesus made time for Nicodemus in the middle of the night he was changed. In the beginning of the Gospel of John Nicodemus was too afraid to be seen with Jesus during the day so he visits him at night. But by the end of John we see him begging for the body of Jesus from Pilate during the day. No longer gripped by fear. The Samaritan woman was at the well during the hottest time of the day to avoid the townspeople and their condemning eyes. However, because Jesus rearranged His plans for her, the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people (same people she was originally avoiding mind you) “come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” (John 4:28–29). The gospel even records that many people believed in Christ because of her testimony. Finally, because Jesus rearranged His plans in order to go home with Zacchaeus, we see a corrupt tax collector give half his wealth to the poor and pay back his debts fourfold. Our lives, ministry, churches will change lives when we rearrange our schedules and invest in people. We need to spend time with people, no agenda attached, just to let them know that they are important. Nothing tells someone they are important more than spending time with them because in our day and age time is money. In fact I believe most would agree that time is more important than money. Spending time on people is costly. We’re basically giving a piece of our life to them. But isn’t that what Jesus did for us, just infinitely more?
Think for a moment of what the Gospel reveals about rearranging schedules for people. In the first chapter of John Jesus is identified as the creator of the world. I don’t believe there is a more important job than creating worlds and sustaining them. And yet in 2 Corinthians 5:21 we read For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. The King of the Universe rearranged his busy schedule for us, in order to save us, change us, and propel us out into the world in order to bring that change to others. I’m so glad He didn’t say, “I don’t have time for you right now. I have a responsibilities” Isaiah 53:9 says and they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Revelation 13:8 says he is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. At the very moment sin entered the picture Jesus rearranged his schedule for us. But He didn’t just make time for us. He died for us. How incredibly inconvenient it must have been for Him to hang from that cross. How incredibly inconvenient it must have been to be separated from His Father, lying dead in a tomb for three days. Even when people taunted him: come off the cross if you’re the messiah, He stayed. Jesus could have come down, but he didn’t. He stayed instead. He didn’t have too. John 10:18 says No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. May the reality of what Christ rearranged for us on Calvary change us today. May we go out into the world and rearrange our schedules for others. If we’re too busy for people, we’re too busy.
What are some things we can do as individuals and as the church that make people the priority? Here are a few ideas you can incorporate into your lives and ministry to begin making people a priority.
- Invite someone to your home for lunch after church. Sure it’s going to take some extra cleaning the day before. However, very few things say “I care about you” like having someone over to your home dinner.
- Begin a hospitality team that makes sure that every visitor has a place to eat after church.
- Embrace a church motto, or vision, that stresses the importance of people. OK so your current motto is: “to proclaim the three angels message” remember that the three angels message is “Good News.” You can’t share good news without sacrificing time for people.
- Begin a card ministry. There is nothing quite like getting a card from someone in the mail. Why? Because the receiver knows that time was spent on that card.
- Don’t rush out of the church after the sermon. Spend a few extra minutes visiting with people. Listening to people.
- Provide simple refreshments after the church service that encourages fellowship.
- Listen more-talk less. We all love to talk. Make a concentrated effort to really listen to people. We don’t have to feel like we need to solve their problems either, just listen.
- Invite someone to meet you for lunch.
- Begin a food bank, tutoring program, or some type of center in your community where acts of love can be demonstrated.
- The next time you see someone in need remind yourself that helping him or her is more important than whatever you are doing. You can take 5 minutes.
These aren’t radical, or new, concepts. But imagine what the church would look like if each member did at least one of these on a regular basis. Imagine what the world would look like.
(1). Brown, R. E. (2008). Vol. 29: The Gospel according to John (I–XII): Introduction, translation, and notes. Anchor Yale Bible (169). New Haven; London: Yale University Press.
(2). Burke, John. “Mud and the Masterpiece.” Baker Publishing Group.
(3). Postman, Neil. (1985) Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, New York, New York: Penguin Books
(4). Burke, John. “Mud and the Masterpiece.” Baker Publishing Group.
Copyright 2013 Richie Halversen