Before the 140 characters of Twitter, before the first Facebook status was updated, before the first e-mail was sent, there was the classroom note.
The classroom note was an amazing piece of communication. It offered the handwritten musings of a distracted mind in the middle of a class lecture. Girlfriends would write boyfriends long essay notes. Boyfriends would write back with a short reply. Friends would write friends. If that wasn’t enough, the note would be folded in such a way to make passing to the intended recipient easier. (Personally, I would fold notes into the shape of a paper football.)
Unless we are the sentimental type, we have perhaps thrown away many of those classroom notes that we received. Even though we no longer posses our classroom notes, we likely remember some of its common features. One such feature was the classic “check yes or no” question. The question was a shy person’s way of communicating interest in a person about going out on a date. Do you want to see a movie Friday night? Check yes or no. The recipient would receive the question, mark the appropriate box, and then send the note back.
The concept “checking of box” might be worth reflecting upon today, especially when we think of our devotion to Christ. Sometimes, we all have the tendency of simply checking the box when it comes to our faith in Christ. What do I mean by this? Checking the box is an adage that says we are all in on Sunday morning, but the life of Christ doesn’t impact who we are the rest of the week. We will say “yes” to the Lord on Sunday, but by Monday morning, we are saying yes to something else.
How does this look? The Christian life is developed and strengthened by our worship of the Lord, both communal and private. On Sunday, we will worship the Lord in strong and mighty ways that give glory to God’s name. Later in the week, our memory of worship begins to fade, and we become distracted in our devotion. Other devotions, such as money, political identity, our careers, or even ourselves, begin to take control of us, shaping who we are and how we live. Instead of Christ shaping our entire being, our love of the Lord ends up only shaping this one hour we are together each week.
Christ seeks our total and true devotion. The call to follow Christ is more than simply checking a box that says we are present in the body, yet spiritually and emotionally absent. Absentee devotion to Christ is not true devotion. Jesus desires a devotion that is grounded by a desire to grow spiritually each day and allow Christ to reside within us. This occurs when our devotion to Christ is formed through hearing and doing what Christ desires.
That is the funny thing about Jesus. It is also the challenging thing. Jesus actually expects his followers to hear his teaching, to remember his words, and to apply them to our lives. Jesus’ words are not platitudes that speak of an utopian ideal. Instead, Jesus’ words are the Church’s missional guides that shows us the way to the Father. Jesus is the Word of Life who speaks to the way of an everlasting life in the Father’s arms. Thus, Jesus’ words are powerful. They are transformative. They are challenging. As well, they call us to take seriously his commands and what they mean for faithful devotion to the Lord. When Jesus says “blessed are the peacemakers,” he truly means for us to reflect on what Jesus’ idea of peace looks like in a world constantly seeking revenge.
Devotion to Christ is central to our passage from John 14:23-29. Once again, we are faced with the idea of love in response to Jesus’ resurrection. Last week, we said love was a commitment to each other and the world as Christ does. We love in the ways Christ has loved us. Jesus puts our love to the test here, and asks us to see if we have truly claimed Christ’s love as our own.
In this dialogue, Jesus responds to a disciple’s question about his revelation and says that those who love him are the ones who obey his teaching. They will experience his presence. Said another way, those who are truly devoted to this life are those who seek to grow in their devotion by following the Lord’s desires. They will feel the presence of Christ at work, because, Jesus says, God will be with those who seek to follow the Lord’s teaching. The Lord will reside with them. The presence of God is found in faithful devotion and obedience to Jesus’ teaching.
Jesus says that it is not enough to say you love Christ. The words of our love must be backed up by the heart of our actions. We have spent a lot of time lately in the church saying love is all you need. If you love Christ, then everything will be all right. Unfortunately, that is only part of the equation of the life of Christ. Holiness, a desire to grow in Christ’s likeness and follow the Lord’s words, must be central to who we are and our life in Christ. Our love of Christ must be rooted in a desire to take Jesus’ words seriously and apply them to our loves and the ways we interact with the world.
Indeed, Jesus’ words are challenging and cut against many of our world views. Jesus’ words ask us to consider who we truly are devoted to and who is the root of our love. This is not an easy task. It is not something we can do alone. Jesus knew this. He knew that alone we would not be able to be fully devoted to the Lord. We need help. We need the Holy Spirit’s presence.
Jesus says the Holy Spirit comes as an Advocate at work in our lives. God’s Spirit comes and teaches us what it means to follow Christ, reminds us of God’s words, and shows us the way forward. The Holy Spirit empowers us so that our devotion to the Lord is not empty words, but a life lived for the Lord. The Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity, is the presence of God at work in our lives, who brings us to a deeper walk with the Lord. Even though Jesus has departed the world in a physical sense and reigns in heaven today, we have the confidence of the divine presence of God being with us always through the life of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus never leaves us alone to figure out what it means to be devoted to the Lord. God’s presence surrounds and guides us daily into what it means to be more than simply box checkers. The Spirit is continually at work in transforming us into the people God has called us to be – people who are devoted and in love with the Lord, who seek to follow the Lord’s desires, and who impact others in the name of Christ.
The presence of the Holy Spirit gives us the confidence to take on the challenging words of Christ. We do not have to say that Jesus’ words are too difficult. We do not have to say that Christ didn’t really mean those words when he said them. What we can say is something like this, “Jesus, I love you and I want to grow more like you. Help me to follow you through the guidance of your Spirit in my life.”
The fact that we are never alone is the peace of God that helps us to take on the difficult and challenging. God’s peace is comfort that helps direct our love and devotion to the Lord. It is the inner sense of calm that reminds us that God is with us. Jesus’ peace is the presence of God at work in our lives that helps us to remain committed to the Lord even when the world seeks to distract us away from Christ.
All of us have checked the box that says we love Christ and are devoted to him, only to find ourselves more connected to other desires. What if our devotion was truly centralized on seeking to follow Christ’s words and aligning ourselves more with his will than our own? I cannot promise you that this life will be without its pains or heartaches. Jesus never promises this life will be easy. Only that if we seek to be devoted to the Lord and follow in the Lord’s steps, we will find that Christ is with us, the Holy Spirit guides us, and it will be shown to what it means to take on the challenging words of Christ.
True love of Christ isn’t found in checking a box. It is found in a life daily devoted to taking on Christ’s words and making them real in our hearts. As we prepare to come to the table and share in the covenant meal of communion, now is a great time to allow the Spirit to examine our hearts. What is the measure of our devotion to the Lord? Are we simply checking a box that says we love Christ, but are not allowing that love to be fully realized in our lives each day? Are we seeking to follow the Lord’s desires with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength?
The life of Christ is more than checking a box. It is a life fully devoted to the love and desires of the Lord. What would it look like if our lives were more than checking a box, but a life completely devoted to God? What would be different? What would change? Who would we be in Christ?