There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. John 3:1-2 NLT
It was 2009. My daughter, Jaime, had been asked to speak to a group of women several hundred miles away. I offered to go with her, to be her companion and to give prayer support, something she has done for me hundreds of times. She and I sat near the front and the program was about to start. Jaime was quiet, prayerfully reviewing her notes and getting her spiritual focus. At that moment, the committee chairman came and whispered something in my ear. She told me that some notable people with influence had arrived. Excited, I turned to tell Jaime the news. “Guess who is here!” I said. I began to tell her but Jaime held up her hand for me to stop. She said, with such sadness, “Mom, why do you bring me so great a temptation right before I speak?” An arrow of conviction pierced my soul. Now, she would feel the pressure to perform well. Now, she would be aware that her presentation was getting graded by a few people who came to be impressed. I had delivered all of these pressures to her on a silver platter. Later that day, I asked her to forgive me.
I’ve spent much of my life wrestling with Christian Babylon, the world I’ve come to know from a lifetime of engagement in American church ministry. It’s much about who hears you speak or sing. It’s about looking your best before taking the stage. It’s about having a sold-out concert or conference. It’s about the size of the church that invited you. It’s about dressing in a way where others know you’re the speaker or singer when you walk into the room. The rule of thumb is to be a little bit more dressed up than they are. Make a statement with your choice of clothing and accessories. All of this co-exists with the weight of wanting to magnify Jesus and reach people with the Gospel. Oh, motives are messy and nothing is altruistic.
Covid has been a course corrector. With so much time to reflect, I’ve re-evaluated everything. In the process, I’ve gone through my closet and donated almost all of my ‘speaking clothes and statement jewelry.’ I don’t have the stomach for it anymore. God has done this new thing. My new litmus test has become this ~ Would Corrie Ten Boom wear this to speak? It seems that in every picture, she looked the same. So in every way, I’ve simplified. I’ve cast off some weights that so easily beset me.
What does all of this have to do with Nicodemus and John 3? Nicodemus was a ruler of the Jews, a notable person, the equivalent of one of our supreme court justices. He came to speak with Jesus but here’s the thing. Jesus felt no pressure. He didn’t sit up straighter because of who it was that paid him a visit. He didn’t try to elevate His illustrations to impress. He went the other direction. He spoke of spiritually infantile things, the stuff of wombs and being born again.
It’s the middle of the night and while pondering all of this on my bed, a vision came to me. I was half-awake. I was in a gladiator arena. I was the lone believer in the center, about to become a meal for the lions who were being released at any moment. The roar of the crowd was out of my radar. It didn’t matter to me if there were ten people in the stands or several hundred thousand. My focus was the faith test in front of me and how I would face the large cats. They would see me as prey; I would see them as predators.
Then, the Spirit of God spoke to me. “In the kingdom, they will not consume you. They will dwell with you as companions for your enjoyment.” And so, I stood and awaited their arrival. They circled me and I began to turn and look at each of them. I extoled their power, the beauty of their features, all given to them by Creator God. I asked if I could pet them. I approached the first, petted the top of his head, and scratched him behind his ears. His eyes closed and I began to hear him purr. I was in the kingdom and context had been transformed. I was not their meal; I was their friend. The audience were spectators of the power and glory of God.
God promises to tame the lions. We can exist in Babylon but not be consumed. The need to perform, to be accepted, to excel, to impress, to compete and win, will no longer be lions of prey. Nicodemus may grace our stage but so will the nameless widow who brought her mite to the temple. King Saul may summon us to calm oppressive spirits but so will the notorious demoniac who lives among the tombs. None of these, famous or infamous, will need a statesman. They will need a Savior and we will be the beggars who bring them to the One who saves.
Lord, I hear it again ~ your great commission. I will travel lighter, trading in my heavy robes for a simple tunic. I’m laying aside such weights and temptations. Amen