Availability and the mettlesome social rhythms of following Jesus

One of the values of the organic church community here is availability.   I always thought that I was a relatively available person; I’m pretty low-key, don’t use a day-planner, don’t own a PDA, am process instead of goal-oriented, and I don’t keep a busy schedule.  But this week, as we still adjust to life in a town of 7,000 [vs. formerly 144,000] people, I realized that I have quite a lot of growing to do.

Let me back up a little bit.  While the S.F. Bay area wasn’t exactly a hustle-bustle urban metropolis, it was still a place, due to spiritual strongholds and exorbitant cost of living, where people were extremely and sometimes ridiculously busy.  There were some friends with whom you would have to schedule four to five weeks out to be able to grab coffee or a bite to eat.  People here make themselves busy.   And, as a result, the Bay area makes up for the loss of hi-touch with hi-tech.  Everyone I know does lots of email [and checks multiple times in a day], updates and reads other people’s updates on facebook with frequency, and does instant messaging and online chatting here and there.   It was the efficient and hi-tech way of keeping up with relationships with new social media tools designed for people who are in front of computers or carry mobile data phones.

Out here in Gl0be, it’s not like that at all.  People here have “open door” policies where you can literally drop by ANY time instead of calling first.  I don’t know a single person in the Bay area who functions in this way.  We surely didn’t.   And we still don’t here!  There are NOT as many things to do out here as there are in the Bay area, and people don’t work as long hours here as folks in the Bay area.   So people are and perceive themselves to be a whole lot more free.   You see it in people’s rhythms: their pace of life and their social availability.  They come to the cafe, and THEY STAY THERE for a long time.  They sit down and talk to multiple people.  You have people of different generations talking at a table together.  I even mistakenly thought one was a set of parents and the other their son; why else would this older couple be talking to this younger guy?!

So to get back to me  : )… I was in “task mode” taking over duties for Dezi, the current acting owner/manager of the cafe, who was out of state.   So I went in UNavailable and got stopped by an older couple who frequent the shop.  They introduced me to other people, talked to me for a while, then asked me to pull up a chair and stay and chat more after the polite 15 minutes I had already given them.   I wish I could say that my apostolic and evangelistic muscle reflexes kicked in, and that I charmed people closer to the gospel with great purposefulness and even planted a church that day.  But I can’t.  My introversion and my lack of availability got in the way.

I stammered through my answer and mumbled something about having to go make some deposits at the bank for the cafe and something terribly vague like  “I probably should get going.”  And I even ended up telling a half-truth (a.k.a. a near lie) by saying that my wife may be needing me at home soon (something that could have been true but most likely wasn’t!).  Ten seconds later, I was kicking myself.   What was I thinking?  Why did I even move to Gl0be if not for love for God and love for people?   How many times does this ever happen to me?!

But old habits die hard.  I was in task mode.   And I was not used to being available like that.   I was previously fine being available to an extent; but it was always on my terms in the various spaces and places in the Bay area I frequented.  And when I would have conversations with other busy people in the busy Bay area, it would last at most for 10 minutes; then we would part ways. Not here.  It could last an hour.

So this week, I’m kicking myself!  And I’m also realizing that I’ve got a ways to go in capturing the heart of the Father who loves people and seeks them out.  In Luke 15, He is looking for the lost sheep, on hands and knees looking for a lost coin, and waiting on the front porch daily, then running out to his lost son.  People matter more than ideas, more than products, more than profit, more than anything.  And this has to be more than just a stated value or belief.  It needs to be reflected in the social-spiritual rhythms of availability.

Availability to God?   I get it.  Availability to God through availability to people? That’s a different story.  That’s METTLESOME!   We talk about spiritual and sanitized words like emotional  “boundaries” and can even prooftext passages that seem to show Jesus having boundaries.  Boundaries are fine when employed properly, but can’t they be used for the purposes of hell rather than heaven?  Can’t they be about self-preservation, self-protection when God is asking us to die to self at a given moment and love the world?

Consider the famous Good Samaritan story.   Couldn’t the first two people who passed by the wounded man in the Good Samaritan story have claimed some sort of “boundary” excuse?  But at the end of the day, they failed to love.   They were not available to what God REALLY wanted: availability to demonstrate love in action — the greatest two commandments. These are the FIRST THINGS: Love God; love people.  When I even think theologically about it, the incarnation is the most extreme form of availability there is: Jesus made Himself COMPLETELY available to humanity by becoming one of us.  Living among us, breathing the same air, eating the same food, sitting next to the same people: these are the very marks of a radical and subversive message: I LOVE you so much that I am making myself completely accessible and available to you.  I will live in your world and provide a fleshly bridge to the Father.

Was it inconvenient?  Yes.

Was it messy?   Yes.

Did it come at personal cost and wounding?  Absolutely, his very life.

But it was and almost always is the right thing to do when we consider the revelation we already have.  Love God; love people.  Keep it simple, and REALLY do it instead of  just talking about it.

I didn’t learn any of these important discipleship rhythms in seminary.  But I see now, here in the small town of Gl0be and after a pretty big missed opportunity, that to follow Jesus and to grow in Jesus is to imitate the divine social rhythm of availability to people.

We are in the people business.  And current missional literature is talking about the value of tables, eating and hospitality, and I get all that.  But that simply doesn’t go far enough — especially if our schedules (as emblematic of our hearts) are not under the Lordship of Christ (i.e., TRULY available to God).  To have fully died, to give up control, to be fully available to God through availability to people are the core heart issues that must precede and govern the thousand small to big choices we take in our relationships with people.   So unbeknownst to us, we cap our influence when we don’t yield to God’s natural design for relationships in the world.  Our personal transformation and discipleship become MASSIVE obstacles in our ability to impact others. It was for me!

I’m praying that, next time, I will not miss out on an opportunity to be like Jesus (that socially lingering “drunkard and glutton”) in his discipline of social availability and engagement.   We would appreciate your prayers toward that end.

7 comments to Availability and the mettlesome social rhythms of following Jesus

  • LyleW

    Wow, Mike! Great lesson here. I think Kristy has this down pretty well, but I’m sure I’m way worse off than you! “Availability to demonstrate love in action”: good words. Now I need to be more than a “hearer only”.

  • Hanah

    I jive with this entry. Some of the same themes have been surfacing in my life too. God is up to something, eh?

  • elbert

    thanks mike! this is a great lesson and even though it sounds so simple to be available, it’s so hard isn’t it?

  • marcia

    Amen. I feel this is a season of simplifying, and being available to connect. The more I do it, the more I realize that people are longing to tell their stories, to connect, to share. Thanks for the post.

  • mikeandleslie

    Wow, sounds like God is stirring similar things in us. Awesome!

    As a quick update, the Lord gave me an opportunity to redeem myself yesterday with that same couple. And I took it! It was wonderful. We exchanged stories about our families, and it gave me a wonderful opportunity to practice greater vulnerability — another thing I need to grow in here in a small town.

    It ended with this super nice elderly lady wanting to send stuff to Kenya this summer with me.

    Thank God for 2nd chances.

  • JR

    You know I think this busy concept is California culture. We are so busy doing nothing in California that interaction with an acquaintance for more than 10 minutes feels like they are taking away “precious” time from life. Of course, this is ridiculous, because you “spend” time with people, one never says I “hoard” my time checking email or trivial social network diatribes, which is what we sadly do in California. From my experiences traveling across the USA, it’s just about the stories people share, but as well as the stories you share with people. You never know how your story can positively affect your new acquaintance. I think Jesus shared stories with all kinds of acquaintances and it worked for Him right? I mean He shared a lot of stories with people who weren’t his friends and it may have eventually caused his death, but it’s all good, we wouldn’t have his transcendence if he hoarded his stories only with himself and his friends.

  • Steph

    A great post Mike. Thanks for your raw honesty in your struggles. I’m sure we can all relate. I like the concept of “availability to God through availability to people.” At the end of the day it’s not about our own ability to love people, but obedience to God when He gives us the opportunities. But we still have to be there among people first. O

    n the flight home from Globe I was tired and usually would put on my headphones and go to sleep. But something was different in my heart and Kenneth and I struck up conversation with the woman sitting next to us on the plane. We ended up talking to her for the whole 2 hour flight. We talked about all sorts of stuff from family to pets to what we were doing in Globe and how a couple months ago she and her husband had completely lost their business. It was clearly a blessing from God, hopefully for her, but most certainly for me. This sort of interaction may be natural for some people, but it is completely unnatural for me. But God showed me that not only can I do it with his strength, but also that it can be good.

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