The Messiness of Relationships & Ministry

“It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”-John‬ ‭13:1‬ ‭NIV‬‬

He loved them…to the end.

If you knew one of your closest companions was about to betray you, another would deny even knowing you, and the others abandon you, what would you do?

If you knew the very people you showed up for and served in their deepest and darkest hour of need would fail to show up in your deepest and darkest hour of need, what would you do?

If you have been alive for more than a few years, or in ministry for even a few years, you have experienced some version of the above relational hurts. I’ve been in “ministry” for over a decade and it is nothing like I thought it would be. I had a glamorous and unrealistic view of ministry. I believed if I prayed enough, revival would always come. I believed if I taught well enough, people would become like Jesus. Some version of the above also applies to marriage and parenting. I was unprepared for the “messiness of ministry and life” and had no idea of the disillusionment I was setting myself up for.

People are people…and people aren’t perfect.

I have been reflecting lately on Jesus’ last hours before he would be led away to be crucified. He knew exactly what was coming. He knew precisely what was about to happen. And it wasn’t just that his enemies were going to mock him, beat him, flog him and have him crucified. Enemies are expected to well, treat you like an enemy!

But it cut deeper than that. It was even more close to home…

He knew that the very men he had poured three years of his life into, were about to abandon him. He knew one was going to betray him. He knew the “rock” (Peter) was about to deny even knowing him…yet He loved them to the end.

The question is how?

The answer lies in John 13:3-5:Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God;so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

Jesus knew who He was, where he had come from, where he was going, and to whom he belonged.

Don’t miss this.

One of the most dangerous conditions and points of vulnerability that can grip our hearts is cynicism and bitterness. This happens when we lose our focus in who God is and who we are in him. But when we are confident in who God is, who we are in Christ, and to whom we belong, we can, like Jesus, continue to serve and love others no matter how they may “fail” us and no matter how much pain they may cause.

Let me be clear, betrayal hurts…even the heart of God. Being abandoned by those closest to you hurts…even for Jesus. But there is a way to rise above and continue to love. There is a way to wrap the towel around your waist and continue to serve, rather than toss in the towel and walk away. There is a way to forgive, not just your enemies, but those closest to you who may fail you, forsake you, or forget you.

When we know where we have come from and where we are going we can find courage. When we know that God is Sovereign and we belong to him, we can find confidence.

And we can also find comfort in the reality that even Jesus, the most perfect friend, teacher and leader; experienced betrayal, being abandoned by those closest to him, forgotten by those he served, and turned on by those he came to save.

What makes us think we who are imperfect are better than him who was perfect and somehow deserve superior treatment?

The real question and test is not whether we will go through similar relational pain, but whether we will respond like Jesus even to those who hurt us, fail us, forget us, or fail us most.

And herein lies a paradox for many of us…including myself. Others may have failed us, but have we failed them by throwing in the towel rather than picking up the towel and embracing the messiness of ministry and relationships? Have we walked away, rather than loving to the end, despite the pain and through the pain? Have we learned to love and serve like Jesus or are we too still learning to be more like Him?

I know I am…

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?”he asked them.“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. -John 13:12-17

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