In his book Transforming Discipleship, author Greg Ogden cites a tongue-in-cheek memorandum from the pretend organization Jordan Management Consultants (JMC).¹ The letter describes JMC’s concern about Jesus’ chosen disciples. For example, Simon Peter is prone to mood swings. Andrew isn’t a gifted leader. James and John value their personal gain rather than the organization’s greater good (and have a nasty tendency to call down fire on those with whom they disagree). The local small businesses around Galilee have blacklisted Matthew. Simon the Zealot runs with a radical, violent crowd. JMC suggests Jesus might be better off finding different apostles.
Throughout the Gospels, it’s clear the disciples are not paragons of virtue but are works in progress. So, how did proud fishermen, dishonest tax collectors, and violent zealots become people of humility, honesty, and hope?
Mark describes the twelve disciples’ appointment: “Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons” (Mark 3:13-15).
Notice the order: 1. Be with Jesus; 2. Do works for Jesus. Being with Jesus preceded doing things for Jesus. Great works—preaching and driving out demons—came afterward. Perhaps you’ve heard this quote attributed to Jim Rohn: “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” We become like our friends. Social science corroborates Scripture: “Walk with the wise and become wise” (Proverbs 13:20). “Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person…or you may learn their ways” (Proverbs 22:24-25).
Scripture suggests that spending time with Jesus has the same effect. In John 15, Jesus told his disciples to abide with him, or they could do nothing. We tend to desire to be more virtuous and think this comes through hard work. But, as in Mark 3, being with Jesus precedes doing for Jesus. The Bible attributes growth in virtue to the Holy Spirit’s work in us, not our efforts. Jesus says we can do nothing—including becoming virtuous—if we do not abide with him.
I have noticed that when I spend time with Jesus, I become more like him. Jesus is the ultimate picture of virtue: kind, humble, gentle, and loving. When I spend time with him, my conversations with people slow down. I am more compassionate, patient, and thoughtful. Conversely, when I neglect spending time with Jesus, I slowly stop being like him, even if my intentions are good. When I get too busy and stop prioritizing my prayer life, I become the opposite of the virtues I want to cultivate. I might humbly deflect a compliment while secretly hoping someone will praise me for how humble I am. Gah! Or I might be working on a sermon when someone interrupts me, and I respond with irritation and impatience. When they finally leave, I turn back to my Bible…what was I working on? Oh, right, a sermon on… patience. Oops. What an irony that I can work so hard to help others be like Jesus that I become less like him myself!
C.S. Lewis once quipped, “There have been some men who were so preoccupied with spreading Christianity that they never gave a thought to Christ.” It could be the same with virtue: we can be so preoccupied with becoming a “good person” that we never actually spend time with the only person who can make us good. It won’t happen by trying harder. Our emotions are too fickle, and our motivations are too sneaky. It turns out that spending 15 minutes in silence with Jesus usually makes me a better person and a better pastor than spending 15 more minutes on a sermon or accomplishing another task. I think that’s the same for each of us. Jesus alone can convict us, clarify for us, and conform us to his image.
So, how can we do that? Pastor Pete Scazzero, author of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, recommends a model called the “Daily Office.” Contrary to our tendency to think virtue comes from doing more, this ancient monastic rhythm is designed to help us stop, be with God, and listen to him.
Step 1: Silence: Set a timer for two minutes and spend it being with God—not asking for anything. Be still, silent, and focus on his presence.
Step 2: Scripture: Spend five minutes reading Scripture—perhaps from a book you are reading or a favorite Psalm. You might also read a brief daily devotional book.
Step 3: Reflect and listen: Briefly reflect on what God is trying to teach you.
Step 4: Silence: End with silence for two minutes.
I have found this model very helpful, and I will often use an approach like this in my office before my day begins.
Virtue comes not through our hard work but by simply being with Jesus and letting him shape us. Angry men become gentle. Anxious women become peaceful. Stingy business people become generous. It worked for the disciples. Perhaps it can work for us.
Besides, what good is doing things for Jesus if we aren’t becoming more like Jesus?
by Pastor Steve Clark
¹ Ogden himself cites a website, “Servant Quarters,” as the original source of the material.