It has been complicated from the first day, when we met under a grapevine to talk about what Thursday nights would look like now. And, 2 years later, it’s still easier to say what they don’t look like, which is almost anything I’ve ever known.
Each week we cycle through the same emotions. It is, at any moment, confronting, disquieting and a strange kind of intoxicating. I may rarely be rearing to go, but often, in the midst of it, the discord and the chaos, there is a quiet moment of belonging. Of peace. I can’t really explain it, and I guess that makes me nervous. I’m used to having the words.
Lately it is even more complicated. We have been praying the same thing for a very long time now. How we pray for folk there to meet Jesus. Not as a mentor who offers them the power to overcome their bad circumstances, but the real Jesus, friend of sinners, who offers so much more than a morality add-on.
And the thing is, we can’t smooth the edges, here least of all. We need to call it sin – because brokenness makes it something out there that happened to me. And I don’t know what it’s like to be pretty good and merely need a helping hand. If that’s who Jesus came for, I’m done. Up to my neck and sinking fast, dead without life or hope or breath, I need a rescuer – not a sponsor. I need heart surgery, rather than some scrawled prescription for another costly drug.
I need Jesus. And so do these precious ones who come every week, and sing his name, and hear a corner of why he came, but not the most important bit. They leave, I imagine, with weary souls, just as weary as the ones they walked in with. And we go, because we hope, over rissoles and garlic bread, to fill in some of those blanks. We pray for God to use us. In our pride, in our impatience, in our thinking we have it all figured out, we pray all the more. Please Father, have mercy.
And this week, because our God is abundantly kind, we heard one client tell another the gospel. And as we listened, our eyes grew wide, full, spilled over. We exchanged disbelieving smiles as he spoke of a life spent trying to atone for his sin, before realising that he never could. That Jesus paid it all, for him. And that knowing Jesus is better, better than anything this world can offer. We drank in his words. We drank them in like men desperate for water.
So, still, I can’t tell you what goes on here in a way that explains it. We wonder most weeks what it is we are fighting for. And then we hear these words of life, like streams in the desert. And I think about what Jesus would do, if he were here. He would call people to repentance, no doubt. Gently and winsomely, he wouldn’t water it down, because ultimately that’s not loving anyone. But oh, how he would love them. Looking around at the hungry and the broken, the lonely and the hurting and the grief-stricken, he would love them. Does look, in fact, and love them.
And however complicated this is – and it is – it comes down to one very simple truth. For all of my discomfort, I still haven’t learned how to do that yet. How do we bring the gospel of Jesus to bear in these lives and in this place? How do we truly love, here? It seems very simple in the books and the talking beforehand. But in this moment, at the end of another long Thursday night, I still haven’t learned how to do that. And maybe it’s the throwing ourselves on Jesus that explains why he’s got us going? Because at the end of another Thursday, we throw ourselves on Jesus, knowing that for all our words, we don’t have anything approaching all the answers.
“We go in faith, our own great weakness feeling,
And needing more each day Thy grace to know;
Yet from our hearts a song of triumph pealing:
We rest on Thee, and in thy name we go.”