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My husband and I live in a safe, clean apartment and neither of us have ever missed a meal because there was no food to be found. When one of our kids wakes up sick, a doctor is only a short phone call away. I have access to the Internet, allowing me to see pictures and read news from all over the world almost as soon as it happens. There are at least nine churches within five minutes of our home and there are eight Bibles, four biblical encyclopedias and dozens of books on Christian living in this single living space.
It is certainly true that serious poverty exists in America, but most of us will never personally experience it. Our basic needs are more than met.
Much like the church in Laodicea, we appear to be relatively self-sufficient. If you’ve never read the book of Revelation, chapter 3:14-22 shares with us a letter written to the church in Laodicea, a wealthy city in modern-day Turkey.
Laodicea was wealthy and self-sufficient. In fact, when an earthquake destroyed the city just three decades before, they refused to accept financial assistance for their rebuilding. They depended on a large textile industry to keep the money flowing and even boasted a prestigious medical school. An abundance of money, clothes and medicine – does that sound a bit familiar?
What particularly interests me about this church is what Jesus had to say to it:
“Here I am! I stand at the door at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me." (Revelation 3:20)
Growing up, I had one understanding of this verse – as an invitation to the unbeliever. I remember being shown a painting of a door with Jesus standing on the outside, gently knocking and waiting to be let in.
Until I was nineteen years old, I didn’t question the context that these words were written in. The explanation I had been given made sense. Then I began reading Revelation.
When we back up, we find that this well-known verse was not intended for unbelievers, but for the church itself. Jesus’ passionate plea to be asked inside and share a meal with his Bride was for the ‘saved’ who were doing life without him. If this is our understanding of Jesus’ words, we are faced with several questions; and as we begin to examine those questions, we find that our culture today shares a few surprising traits with Laodicea and that these words may be as much for us as they were for them.
A People That Thirst, Even In Abundance
Jesus moves straight to the heart of the problem in verse 17: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”
I wonder what it would have been like to hear Jesus stand up in front of thousands of people and tell them to not worry about if they would eat tomorrow (Matthew 6:25), when many of them may have had real reason to question if there would be enough bread to send their babies to bed with full bellies. Most of us enjoy the luxury of reading those words about trust and applying them to our hopes for the future or the larger unknowns in life, not a literal trusting God for the next meal. What a present, vulnerable faith that level of trust requires.
While we face terrifying uncertainties, we may still find ourselves easily losing sight of our constant need for Jesus, simply because our lives are built to protect us from that primal level of wanting. We shop, we cook, we grow, we educate and we do it ourselves. We lead Bible studies and read devotionals and immerse ourselves in Christian culture; and perhaps, in the rich abundance that God has so graciously allowed us to live in, there are seasons when we forget our desperate need for a savior today, tomorrow and the next day. Seasons when we forget that without depending on him to be our source of life, we too are “poor, blind, and naked.” In our great wealth, we may not recognize how deeply we thirst.
Something Is Missing
When we become a people who are known less by our love and more by our sharp words in response to politics, pop culture, or anyone Jesus calls our neighbors, something is missing.
When the divorce rate in the church is no different than that outside of the church, something is missing.
When we spend more time talking about the poor than actually feeding them, and when we mock the man on the corner as lazy, something is missing.
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When we assign Jesus as the figurehead of a political party, something is missing.
When we build our lives around increasing our self-made domestic kingdoms, something is missing.
When our worlds are filled with Christian culture – music, books, programs, etc – but our souls are exhausted and dry, something is missing.
When we saturate our minds and fill our hunger with social media, mobile devices, and persistent noise, something is missing.
When we enjoy the freedom of forgiveness and grace poured over us, but limit those that can receive our forgiveness, something is missing.
Back To The Table
“If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”
His invitation is beautifully relational. He wants to eat with us. To breathe with us. To step into the dirt of our world with us. What a Savior!
When we sense that our feet have wandered away from the table he invites us to and that our hearts need to be re-tethered to Christ himself, perhaps there are a few places we can start…
Meet him in the mess.Reading through the four gospels, it is exceedingly clear that Jesus is not only unshaken by our human mess, he loves to meet us in the center of it. Whisper a prayer in the middle of the chaos. Push the pile of laundry to the side and spend 15 minutes reconnecting with him in scripture. Meet him in the silence and the noise, the gentle mornings and the long days.
Meet him in community. Real community is risky. Not only will it require vulnerability, but the further we walk down that road together, the more our ideas of Jesus might be challenged. Praise God for that truth! The stories and insights of our community, as well as the practical, tangible ways they love us, these collective experiences shape our understanding of Christ and draw us closer to his heart.
Meet him in the field. This may be the place we most avoid. It’s easier to invest our time in what seems to be about us, but we are called to love the world in a way that is sacrificial and gutsy. We are changed by literally being his hands and feet - feeding people, giving in a way that is difficult, staying late to take out the trash. Rolling up our sleeves and jumping into the work he is doing, this will create an intimacy with Jesus we cannot otherwise know.
As we meet him here, may our hearts be refreshed by new life and may our spirits rest in the humble truth of Paul’s own words, remembering our desperate need for a Savior, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15)
Cara Joyner is a freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom living on the East Coast with her husband and two sons. After years of working in student ministry, she has come home to raise her boys and begin tackling grad school. She loves hanging out with college students, watching Parenthood and eating chocolate like it's one of the food groups. In addition to iBelieve, Cara is a contributing writer at RELEVANT and Today's Christian Woman. She writes about faith, marriage, motherhood and intentional living at www.carajoyner.com. She can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.