The young pastor peered intensely at me through searching brown eyes, trying hard to articulate his dilemma. “Tell me, please tell me, how can I move my ministry into these wonderful things that have been promised to me and that I so desire? I believe you can instruct me in this.”
Sitting across the table from me was a Kenyan ‘man of God’ as male pastors are often called in Africa. I recognised him as a delegate at the conference I had spoken at earlier that day. Tall, good looking, with flashing eyes and obvious determination of character, he definitely projected a deep sense of focused conviction. As I observed him and listened to him pour out his questions it was obvious he was spiritually gifted with leadership abilities. It was equally obvious he was determined nothing would stand in the way of achieving his dreams.
The conversation thus far had gone something like this:
He: “Mum* I believe you can help me achieve the next part of my ministry for God.”
Me: “How’s that?”
He: “I listened to you today and that is why I am here. I need to know how to move into the signs and wonders that God wants me to perform for Him.”
Me: “Why? And why do you think I could help you with that?”
He: “Because it has been prophesied over me by a great man of God, a true apostle of the Lord, that I will have a wonderful ministry of signs and wonders, healings and miracles. I believe I am ready for this and I believe the Holy Spirit has told me to speak to you about it.”
Me: (thinking Lord I’d really appreciate it if I could have a little forewarning on these things….just occasionally, You know?) “He has?”
He, (apparently concerned at the blank look on my face): “I think about nothing else, day and night. I feel I will almost die if I don’t fulfil these things that have been promised. Already I have planted and overseen many churches, but I am so hungry for the greater works of God. Tell me, what must I do to make this happen, mum?”
It was, thankfully, at this moment the Holy Spirit graciously equipped me with His answer.
“And if it should be that you have to wait for this thing that you desire, or if it should never be granted to you, will Jesus be enough for you?”
He looked back at me as if I’d just broken into some strange foreign language he’d never heard and couldn’t follow.
“What do you mean?” he asked, not sounding at all sure he wanted an answer.
“Exactly as I said: Is Jesus enough for you, no matter what happens in your life or your ministry? I cannot tell you how to perform signs and wonders, because I don’t know. I can only present you with what I consider to be the more pressing issue. If you never achieve signs and wonders, will Jesus Christ be enough for you?”
I waited, desperately wanting him, willing him even, to answer in the affirmative. I longed to see those intense, questioning eyes illuminated with sudden Light; everything within me ached to hear the words: “Yes, mum, I understand, and yes, He will always be enough, no matter what.”
But it didn’t happen as I so fervently hoped that day.
We parted soon after that – he disappointed in my response, me heartbroken at his inability to comprehend the question I’d asked. It was 2005 and I was on my third ministry trip to East Africa – so long ago now it feels. But I still sometimes stop what I’m doing to think of that zealous, young, African pastor and the many like him I have met before and since. I can’t remember him without tears. And I wonder where he is and what he’s doing now.
A similar young man approached Jesus one day, asking ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?”. He too was intense, determined and confident in his ability to handle any answer he might be given, and “Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” “Sell whatever you have and give to the poor. And take up your cross and follow Me!” Jesus replied. And then the gospel of Mark simply records this profound statement:
“But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” (Mark 10:17-23)
Jesus, looking at my young friend that day as we drank tea in a café in remote Western Kenya, loved him….greatly. This I know beyond doubt. But as Jesus in Himself was not enough for the wealthy, young Israelite, neither was Jesus in Himself enough for the charismatic young African. It could be said of him: “But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great ambition.”
The gospel is so much simpler than we imagine it. It is simply Jesus, in His sufficiency, filling us, sustaining us, satisfying us. He longs to do that. He longs to be our all in all. But we build into our Christian theology so many optional extras that our Christ following becomes more ‘Jesus Plus’ than Jesus, just Jesus. The pluses we add in don’t have to be as grand and spectacular as the signs and wonders that consumed the heart of my young friend. We can be just as equally consumed with Jesus plus ministry, Jesus plus family, Jesus plus career, Jesus plus my book being published, Jesus plus finding a marriage partner, Jesus plus an easy, comfortable life. Please feel free to fill in the blanks here.
It‘s not wrong to desire these things, but we can build things into our walk with Christ that unconsciously consume us more than He does. Inevitably these ‘add ons’ become serious stumbling blocks. In time we will find out, often painfully, that none of these additions, if and when achieved, actually fulfil us as we had blindly assumed they would.
I have been as guilty of furnishing my life with these ‘add ons’ as anybody else, especially in my younger discipleship days. But as my journey with Christ continues I find myself increasingly brought back to the directness of that simple but profound question: “Is Jesus enough for me?” If this thing I had hoped for, or that thing that I had assumed, or this other thing that I planned, does not come to pass, will I be satisfied with Jesus, and Him alone? Will the fullness of the One who fills all in all, fill me, satisfy me and fulfil me more than anything I hoped, planned or dreamed could ever do?
I believe the answer is yes, and I believe He will prove Himself to be much more than enough, if we are willing for it. There are empty, aching places in us, spaces the world had promised to satisfy and fulfil, but the promises were lies. So we find ourselves still searching, still hungry, still scanning the horizon for whatever it is that will fill us up and fully satisfy our longing souls.
I am learning to surrender those empty places to Jesus, asking Him to pour Himself in and fill them to the brim. I am asking Him to be my sufficiency, my very great reward, my all in all, even more deeply than I may have known in the past. To allow Him to do that takes some painful letting go of some lifelong dreams; it takes prizing off my hands from some hopes I had held very tightly; it requires some re-evaluating of some privileges I had assumed were my birthright.
Trusting Jesus to be our ‘enough’ may mean even greater depths of surrender from those who have already surrendered all. So I leave you with the very same question I left with the young pastor.
If that thing you’ve been holding so tightly to never happens, will Jesus, just Jesus, be enough?
Please don’t answer hastily – it’s highly probable there’ll be a test on this.
*‘Mum’ is commonly used in Africa respectfully as a form of address to an older woman, especially a teacher or leader.
© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2014 Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included. To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.