“Jesus is not my friend.”
The words come out quickly — perhaps too quickly. I lay the phone on the bed face down, extinguishing the smartphone glow of the Today app. My wife, wise to my blunt ways, waits for what lies beyond my initial proclamation.
After a few moments, I manage to explain that I have real difficulty relating to those who talk about Jesus being their friend. I know the idea of friendship with him is biblical, but so often the words are uttered with the sparkled, human version of friendship in mind. A version that I just can’t connect to the very real yet challenging and often difficult manifestation of the one I have with my saviour.
I’m tired of the narrative, sometimes. Tired of language that is so overused and vague that it has essentially lost any meaning. Today’s instalment of our daily devotional bread seems to do little to contradict this — I’ve had to stop reading at least twice, overcome by the urge to ask, “What does that even mean?”
Into my heart
When I was 13 or 14, I had my first altar call. At the final chapel service of my week at Bible camp, the youth pastor gave a rousing message and called us to kneel at the foot of the wooden cross. When my dad picked me up a few hours later, I remembered the pastor’s exhortation to make sure we told someone. So I did: “I asked Jesus into my heart,” I said.
What does that even mean?
I don’t mean to diminish what happened to me that day — or how pleased Dad was to hear it — or the infinite value in kneeling with other believers to renew our holy vows. But did I actually ask Jesus into my heart? No. I said the words, but if the Bible has any truth in it, Jesus — and God and the holy spirit — had been there for as long as I had believed.
I can no more ask Jesus to come into my heart than I can demand that Moses put the water back into that struck stone. Or, as JD Greear says in Christianity Today, “The posture [of repentance and faith toward the finished work of Christ] is itself a cry to God for salvation, whether you articulate it or not. But just because you prayed the prayer doesn't mean you assumed the posture, any more than telling a chair you're about to sit in it equates actually sitting down.”
It’s difficult to come up with new and fresh ways of speaking or arranging the words on a screen or page. I know — it’s what I’ve been called to do dozens of times every day. But are we guilty at times of not even trying? Surely God deserves more than the tired and lazy recitation of extra-biblical chestnut sayings, not to mention the unthinking manner in which we can mete out the biblical ones to each other as well as into that gleeful morass called the internet.
At times it seems as though our mandate, as precious and essential as it is, finds itself unable to rise above all that white noise, particularly on social media. There real value is as elusive as silence in the contemporary church. And when we uncover rare pennies and dimes of goodness or wisdom, how often we give in to the urge to click “share” rather than establish meaningful points of contact or genuine dialogue.
I’m as guilty of this as the next smartphone owner — in a fit of passive Twitterguilt, I find my pointer hovering over a quiet hashtag — a number sign typed before keywords on Twitter and Facebook to focus discussion around them — hoping to discover and favourite and retweet anything that can draw attention back to 276 Nigerian schoolgirls abducted in April to be sold as Boko Haram’s chattels.
What does that even mean?
I’d like to believe that despite existing in a world where our words have ever-shortening expiry dates that the most important ones will endure. But I’m not always sure. Even the white ribbon tied to our church doors and the faded sign bearing that hopeful hashtag are frayed and fading. I google the most popular “Christian” hashtags, hoping to grab some fleeting meaning where most of the talking seems to be happening.
I wonder where my friend Jesus is, how long these generic references might remain, whether any of it might matter at all.