Twenty-four years ago as newly weds we were privileged to shepherd an incredible group of young people, many of whom we are still connected to. Hardly out of my teen years, I was eager to attend our first youth pastor’s conference and anticipated gleaning much needed wisdom and guidance. Surely there was valuable instruction shared, but the first session knocked the wind out of me and left me gasping for air. Only recently have I fully recovered.
A confident, freshly graduated seminary student opened the session with a simple question, “What are the names of the twelve disciples”. Sadly, as a group we struggled to complete the list. He then pitched a few more questions and our enthusiasm quickly melted away as it became apparent that they were all loaded questions; the obvious and honest answers always wrong. If his goal was to show what lame leaders and Christians we were, he succeeded. He drove the point home by asking, “How can you say you follow Jesus and lead others when you don’t even know the names of His best friends?” This one trivia question apparently proved our merit (or lack thereof) in the Kingdom of God. I don’t recall the full discourse that followed once shame crept in and set up camp; most likely his intention was to encourage us to read our Bibles and be well-studied, important disciplines for competent leaders, but something crucial was missing.
I spent the next two decades desperately endeavoring to be worthy of the leadership roles I continued to find myself in. Countless hours of Bible studies, sermons, books and conferences later I still struggled to feel confident enough to, “always be ready to give an answer” (I Peter 3:15) The internal whispers of condemnation and self doubt drowned out joy and confidence while frustration continued to fester.
The conflict ceased the day I grasped this truth: Jesus never asked me to prove my love by memorizing historical facts or collecting doctrinal knowledge. He never chastised me for my lack of theological prowess, but He continually led me to the end of myself. As I attended the sick and dying and ministered to their families; while I waited on a cold surgical table to have a kidney removed and given to a child; during days, weeks and months of prayer and fasting over the years; when we sold our home, walked away from lucrative careers and lifetime friends, moved thousands of miles away from our precious college kids in order to “go all in”; when I poured out my sorrow and pain in the African savannah carrying the weight of life and death for villages full of needy people; when we opened our home and lives to the lonely, the outcast, the broken,- through out my life God spoke many challenging, examining and convicting words to me. He encouraged me to overcome self, fear and doubt in order to bravely embrace love. Never has He whispered condemnation or murmured shame as I wobbled and tottered toward Him.
Man has complicated what Jesus purposely made simple. “Love the Lord God with all your heart and with all soul and with all your mind and with all your strength; and love your neighbor as yourself.” The sheep and goats in Matthew ch 25 were not separated by who could answer Bible trivia or who had correct doctrine; they were separated by what they did and didn’t do. The works were not what saved them, as my works just mentioned above do not mean anything; they are worthless rags. It is love- love proven by action the Great Shepherd is looking for. Love is what matters to Him.
I believe we were asked the wrong question at that leader’s conference. A better question is this: “What is the last thing Jesus asked of you that you didn’t do?” Did He prompt you to forgive someone who hurt you, pay a debt, parent a foster child, or be more loving to your spouse? Did He ask you to go to Africa or next door and share about Jesus, spend more time with Him, or downsize in order to upsize your giving? Did He ask you to fast, stop watching TV and movies that applaud the devil, visit your lonely grandma, or tithe? Wherever you drew the line and refused Him, there is the measure of your love.
The good news is our love grows as we obey. In God’s kingdom, obedience and submission are actions of faith, rooted in relationship and love. I challenge you to kneel at the feet of Jesus and as an act of worship, do the last thing. This life of unbridled love, this all-consuming pursuit of Jesus, this sold out servant hood is how we become more like Him and effectively lead others. Just do the last thing.