Best of Daily Reflections: Pursuing God into a Homeless Shelter
A certain ruler asked [Jesus], “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” … [Jesus] said to him “ … Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
The cafeteria was mostly dark. A few dim lights kept me from stepping on homeless men sleeping in orderly rows on the floor. One old man with a Santa Clause beard snored loudly in the corner. Nearby, a “man” in his late teens or early twenties muttered something unintelligible in his fitful sleep. A few church volunteers toiled away in the kitchen, carefully making baloney sandwiches for tomorrow’s lunch.
God was in the room; I could feel the presence of God in the darkness, the way I can sense my wife at the other end of the bed when I wake up in the middle of the night.
I wasn’t the only one who felt it. The staff of that shelter routinely jokes that everyone should take their shoes off when they enter because the ground is holy. They probably would actually do it if the county health department allowed them.
Sitting in the dark, keeping watch over a hundred sleeping homeless men, the mind has time to ask questions that are of profound importance but can be ignored during the day:
- How does one follow Jesus?
- What does it mean to pursue God?
- What would it look like to “go with God"?
I think these questions are at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. Implicit in these questions is an assumption that we are the ones who must move towards God. Few people would argue instead that God needs to move closer to us, and yet every day we ask God to do just that.
Bono—lead singer of the band U2—said that when he was younger he routinely prayed for God to bless his endeavors. A friend challenged him to instead, “get involved in what God is doing—because it’s already blessed.” Bono subsequently started working on ending worldwide poverty.
In the 1950’s, Robert Pierce wrote on the flyleaf of his Bible: “Let my heart be broken with things that break the heart of God.” He went on to create the international charity World Vision.
See a pattern?
For Bono and Robert Pierce—just like the rich young ruler in Luke 18:18-22—following Jesus (or pursuing God) involved caring for the poor. It is, after all, impossible to take the Bible seriously while ignoring the overwhelming command to care for the “least of these.”
Unfortunately, we have serving the poor all wrong.
We often act like serving the poor is the “cost” of grace, as if God is saying, “I helped you, now go help someone else.”
But that’s not it at all!
Serving the poor is an invitation to hang out with God, as if God is saying, “I’ll be in the slum or the shelter until they’re empty. Come on down!”
I have felt the presence of God in beautiful cathedrals, a few times. I have felt the presence of God in homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters, and slums, though, thousands of times!
So, how do you pursue God? The answer is clear: you have to go where God is.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Do I ask God to bless what I care about or do I care about what God has already blessed? Do I ask God to break my heart for what breaks the heart of God? How does serving others relate to following Jesus?
Dear God, we long to be in your presence. We yearn to sit in the same room as you. We want nothing more than to follow you. Tell us where you will be. We will meet you there! In your Son’s name, Amen.
What does it mean to pursue God in all aspects of life? How do we live in such a way that every area of our lives and every facet of ourselves is available to the pursuit of God? Are we living fragmented, viewing parts of our lives as sacred and other parts as secular? What would happen if we let the different parts of our lives exist together in an integrated life, pursuing God in every aspect of who we are at work, at home, and at church? Dictionary.com offers a few definitions of the word pursue, one of which includes the idea of following in order to overtake or capture, but who can capture God? Instead, let's consider an alternate definition that lifts up the idea of following close upon or going with. In this series, Pursue God, we'll consider how to go with God in every aspect of our lives—inviting him to integrate each part of our lives and to be Lord over all.