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Draw near: Praying about what we are looking for

Lynne Baab • Tuesday January 24 2023

Draw near: Praying about what we are looking for

Lutheran Bishop Michael Rinehart once got three speeding tickets in a year. The state where he lived, Iowa, required that he take a defensive driving course. At the end of the second class, the instructor asked to talk with him for a few minutes. The conversation that Bishop Rinehart describes is both amusing and thought-provoking.

     “Why are you here?” he asked.
     “Because I got three speeding tickets.”
     “No, really, why are you here?” It was an existential question. I wasn’t sure how to answer. “Where are you going in such a hurry?”
     “Well, the first time I was going to . . .”
     “No, where are you going in such a hurry?” Ah, he meant in life. Again, I had no words. “Life is short. Take your time and enjoy it,” he said. Now he was preaching. “There is just a grave waiting for you down that road.” Ouch. Now you’re going to bring up my morality?
     Then he pastored me: “What are you looking for?”
     I had heard this question before. I had preached on it. Now it took on new meaning. What was I looking for in life that caused me to move so frantically through the world? I went home and looked up John 1. Two disciples follow Jesus, and he turns and asks them, “What are you looking for?” (John 1:35-42). [1]

When I read about this incident, I found myself wondering how I would respond if Jesus – or a driving instructor – asked me what I’m looking for. I wrote last week and the week before about the ways my parents’ pressure on me to conform squeezed out a lot of my awareness of what I actually care about and long for.

The gospel of John opens with gorgeous words about who Jesus was from all eternity and what his purpose was in coming to earth (John 1:1-18). The next 15 verses describe John the Baptist’s amazing baptism of Jesus, where the Holy Spirit descends and John becomes convinced Jesus is the Son of God.

Soon after that, John and two of his disciples see Jesus walk by, and John says, “Look, here is the Lamb of God” (verse 36). The two disciples turn away from John and walk behind Jesus, who turns to them and asks them, “What are you looking for?” (verse 38).  The two disciples give a strange response, asking Jesus where he is staying. Jesus replies, “Come and see” (verse 39). These disciples of John stay with Jesus from then on. One of the two new disciples is Andrew, the brother of Peter. Andrew recruits Peter to come and follow Jesus by telling Peter that they had found the Messiah.

How I long for the immediacy those two disciples experienced. Jesus, there, in the flesh, talking in a human voice, asking them to think about what they were looking for, and inviting them to come and see where Jesus was staying and what he was doing. Somehow it seems that it would have been easier to discern what I’m looking for, who I’m called to be, and what it looks like to follow Jesus if only I could have seen him face to face.

And yet . . . Andrew, Peter, and that other anonymous disciple did not have the full gospel stories to read, like we do. They did not have the letters of Paul, Peter, and John. They did not have John’s revelation of the heavenly city where the sun is not needed because the glory of God is its light and its lamp is the Lamb (Revelation 21:23). They did not have the Holy Spirit, guiding and empowering them. When I look at the situation of those three new disciples of Jesus, they had to have been really bewildered by finding the Messiah in an unlikely person who talked about the kingdom of God in baffling and unexpected ways. We know from the gospel stories that over and over they are thrown off balance by Jesus’ teaching and the way he interacted with unexpected people.

The challenge for those early disciples, and the challenge now, is to turn to that one person, Jesus, and ask him to help us figure out what we’re looking for. And to ask him help us come and see, over and over, day after day. Jesus is present inside us in the Holy Spirit. Also by the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is among us as we gather with others who follow him.

As we ask God to help us come and see, we can ask for the Holy Spirit’s nudging to pay attention to the small and large miracles of life. God has helped me come and see – in fleeting moments, in wonderful times of blessed awe – and experience the presence of Jesus in the hugs of my granddaughter, music in worship services, prayers of friends, love and care that people give me, the beauty of mountains and water, and in the satisfaction I experience by living out my call to be a writer. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Holy Spirit.

What am I looking for? The guidance and power of the Holy Spirit to help me walk with Jesus. The awareness of God's enormous love for me, and for those I love. Most deeply, I am looking for peace and joy, so I can tell God I'm looking for the fruit of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

Amen, come Lord Jesus into our lives today. Help us come and see. Open our eyes to see your gifts and see who you are and where you're going. Help us recognize what we're looking for, and guide us to look for you and the things you value. 

(Next week: Praying from a liminal space. Illustration by Dave Baab: Discovery Park Lighthouse, Seattle. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up below under “subscribe.”)

The Sabbath is a time to slow down enough to “come and see” and identify “what are you looking for?” Resources on the Sabbath:

[1] “January 15: Second Sunday after the Epiphany” by Michael Rinehart. The Christian Century, January 2023, page 25.

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