There’s an interesting phenomenon that occurs among people who spend a great deal of time together. They start to act more like one another. One person will start saying a phrase that the other says, they talk in similar ways, mannerisms rub off and interests combine. In my four months so far on internship, I’ve picked up certain mannerisms from the church staff I work with, joined in the banter of the weekly men’s Bible study I attend and shared jokes and phrases with the youth. This is true for all of us in each setting that we find ourselves spending consistent time in and with the people we are with there.
This is not leading into a typical talk calling you to be careful about who you spend your time with, although that is certainly true. This idea of acting more like those you spend time with hit home for me in a different way a few weeks ago on Sunday morning. I had just finished leading children’s church during the sermon and was heading back into the sanctuary. As I’m walking in, I wave to one of the kids who had just sat down with his dad in the very back corner of the seating area. This kid, who for the purpose of this post will be renamed “Billy,” was not one of the easiest kids to work with. He’s around three-years-old and to put it lightly, does not like to listen and follow directions in children’s church. He’d much rather wander around and play with the toys in the room than sit down and listen, participate in the activity or pray with the group. He isn’t used to being in a church or even a classroom setting, so he has nowhere near mastered the skills of waiting your turn, raising your hand to talk, making relevant comments, sitting in your chair, participating with the group, etc. Many of my youth volunteers have given up trying to keep him even slightly on task and have shifted to the goal of containment. He is a distraction to the group, and each week I wonder if there’s any possible way Billy could be getting anything of substance out of children’s church.
I waved to Billy and he smiled and waved back, which is pretty standard for your typical three-year-old, and so I continued on my way. He then said something that caused me to not only backtrack my steps, but really think about ever since then. Billy pointed to me, leaned towards his dad and said, “That’s Jesus. He’s Jesus.” I decided that during the middle of the offering was not the right time to go back to him and fully explain and correct his cute and innocent heresy. I just laughed and said, “Not quite,” and went along my way, reflecting on what in the world just happened. Here’s a kid that I don’t think is paying attention to anything that’s going on each week, and somehow he’s gotten enough out of it to know about Jesus and to have heard me enough to think that I am Jesus. For one thing, this is a real testament to the power of the Word of God, and how it is always at work in ways that we can’t even imagine or understand.
I know I’m not the first person to be mistakenly called Jesus by a young child. But it really got me thinking about how I relate to Billy and others like him. For many people in the church, the church leaders are a big source of their idea of who Jesus is. If the pastor is harsh and demanding and always talking about hell and damnation, then people (not just kids) can come out with a concept of a God who is cold, distant and angry. Billy saw me as Jesus, and the question that was sticking with me was, “What kind of a Jesus was he seeing in me?” How were my responses to his behavior in children’s church a reflection of Christ? Am I acting out my faith in the way I interact with my youth group, church staff, friends, family and strangers?
Praise be to God that it is not up to me to act perfectly in order to show the right version of Jesus to people. It is God’s Word alone that tells us who Jesus is, and I have the opportunity to share that Word with others. The times where I am giving Billy, the other kids, my youth group, my family and all those around me a poor example of what it means to be Jesus’ follower are too often the times when I am not regularly spending time with God. Remember, it’s our natural response to become more like those we spend a lot of time with. Let this be an encouragement to all of us to spend time with our Savior, so He can change us to be more like Him. Spend time in His Word and at the Lord’s Supper and let the Holy Spirit work in your heart and life.
Billy’s words challenged me to examine how my actions were representing the faith that I confess, especially being in a church leadership position. They challenged me to want to be more like Jesus. I pray that these words can challenge you in the same way. In order to better represent Jesus and act like Him, we need to be spending a great deal of time with Him. There’s no better person to be spending time with, and the good news is, He’s always available.