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December 21, 2011

The Beauty of God With Us

By Matt Woodley

A few years ago I had the chance to work at a group home for six developmentally disabled adults. I assumed my job would be fun and easy, hanging out with the residents, watching television, eating communal meals and bringing them to concerts at the beach. I was wrong.

The job wasn’t always easy or fun. I discovered that I could do things for them, but I found it difficult to be with them. They continually confounded my tidy expectations about people with developmental disabilities. “William” would tell clever lies in order to pit staff members against his vindictive, overprotective older sister. “Robert” dealt with his sadness by watching Johnny Depp movies for hours on end.

Whenever the residents acted manipulatively, expressed rage or withdrew into their sadness, I often felt anxious or inadequate. Facing my own powerlessness and incompetence terrified me: I either wanted to fix them, numb my feelings or just quit.

Thankfully, I stayed long enough to learn a valuable lesson: authentic relationships require personal presence. In order to grow in love, the real me must show up and be present to the real you—not the you that I think you are or that I want you to be. Authentic love includes my willingness to be with you in all your beauty and promise as well as all of your brokenness, sin and anguish.

The Gospel of Matthew begins with a remarkable claim: Jesus is God with us (Mt 1:23). In and through Jesus God walks among us, offering his personal presence to us in all of our beauty and brokenness. This Gospel records many of Jesus’ miracles, but perhaps these are the three greatest miracles: (1) in Jesus, God is with us and he wants to be with us; (2) through Jesus’ death and resurrection, God is still with us; (3) through his Spirit, Jesus is with us as we go into the world sharing the gospel.

Surprisingly, although Matthew’s Gospel contains a huge story of transformation (Jesus calls it “The renewal of all things” (Mt 19:28), and although Jesus asks for our wholehearted commitment, he also never asked us to follow him on a triumphant, overachieving, failure-free path to the spiritual life. This “Big Way” of discipleship eventually leads to spiritual burnout, disillusionment or self-righteous pride. Instead, Jesus constantly asks us to follow him along his “Little Way,” allowing the Father to work through our poverty of spirit, our failures and suffering, our quiet obedience and trust, and our small acts of mercy for vulnerable people—sinners, outcasts, the poor and the forgotten. This “Little Way” makes discipleship accessible to all of us—except the self-righteous and the alleged experts. Jesus himself provided the way to follow him: “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28-30).

So based on Jesus’ open-hearted, merciful invitation, we come and we keep coming back to Jesus. We come not because we’re worthy or qualified. We come not because we won’t stumble or fail. We simply come because he told us to come, and that’s always enough.

woodleyOP.jpgMatt Woodley is managing editor for preachingtoday.com. He served as pastor for over twenty years most recently as senior pastor of Three Villages Church in Long Island, New York. He is the author of The Folly of Prayer and, most recently, The Gospel of Matthew, a commentary in our Resonate Series.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at December 21, 2011 9:23 AM Bookmark and Share

Comments

Thanks Matt. These are words for my soul-weariness, which appears daily. Doug

Comment by: doug stewart at December 21, 2011 2:53 PM

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