As a young believer learning to share her God story, I was taught to describe the process of entering relationship with God as “inviting Jesus into my life.”
As a more mature believer teaching Sunday School and VBS, I’ve used the words, “Ask Jesus into your heart.”
Over these years of wanting more of God, asking Him to break out of what I think of Him and show me where my God view doesn’t match up with who He is in the Bible and reality, I’ve moved away from talking about relationship with God in this way.
I’m not sure I have a great suggestion for replacement words, but I have enough of an issue with the concept of inviting Jesus into my life/heart that I won’t use this wording with my own kids.
Because “I invited Jesus into my life” makes it sound like I initiated the relationship. It can fool me into thinking I made the first move. And however you want to describe the beginning of your relationship with Jesus, God went first.
We see this throughout the pages of Scripture: In the beginning, God… (Genesis 1:1)
This is the story for countless Old Testament Hebrews, some God-seekers like Abraham and Job, others running from God like Jonah and Jacob. Their stories begin “Now the Lord said to Abram…” And “The Word of the Lord came to Jonah…”
It is no different in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, where fishermen and tax collectors are minding their own business, doing their day jobs, and Jesus walks up and says, “Follow Me.”
I’m studying the story of Levi/Matthew’s calling this week, and I’ve been captivated by the first line:
After that He went out and noticed a tax collector named Levi sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, “Follow Me.” Luke 5:27
He noticed a tax collector named Levi…
I spent years of my single life hoping to be noticed, longing to be chosen. I spend many of my hidden days, those family days no one sees, still longing to be noticed, wondering if what I do matters.
What does it mean to you that Jesus notices?
He noticed a tax collector named Levi…and He said to Him, ‘Follow Me.'”
The Message paraphrases “follow Me” as “Come along with Me.” Jesus’ notice is not limited to the Spiritual Elite. His attention is not reserved for those who’ve proven themselves, earned His favor.
Jesus’ invitation to live life with Him is given here to the tax collector. The rejected, the despised, the not-good-enough. The outsider.
What does it mean to you that Jesus’ notice of you is not something to be afraid of? That He’s not going to notice you and then find you not good enough?
Levi responds to Jesus’ invitation with a big YES: He walks away from his dishonest livelihood, his identity and his shame, and goes where Jesus goes.
And then Levi throws a big party for Jesus, and invites all his tax collector friends.
This is what we church people want from new believers, right? This is the perfect success story, something we could show and celebrate on a Sunday morning video, a sinner who walks away from his sin, and introduces Jesus to all of His friends.
For all our strategies and programs, this process is usually a lot longer. It can take new believers years to turn away from their livelihood, identity and shame. And it can take even longer years before people learn (usually through some sort of “training”) how to share Jesus with their friends.
Maybe times have just changed. Maybe that’s just life, and it takes longer sometimes, and that is fine.
Or maybe it takes longer because we see ourselves as the ones inviting Jesus.
We don’t see Him noticing us. Choosing us. Welcoming us even as He knows our sin and shame. Inviting us into life with Him not in spite of these things, but because of His great love.
What does it mean to you that Jesus invites you, just as He invited Levi?
Does it change how you think of God to realize that He initiated relationship with you, that He always goes first?
He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world… Ephesians 1:4