A devotional from Central Presbyterian Church. Find another day here.
Wednesday July 29, 2020
3 John 13-15
I had much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink. 14 I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face.
15 Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends, each by name.
The summer after my freshman year of college I worked as a counselor at a high intensity Christian summer sports camp in the Laurel Highlands about 60 miles east of Pittsburgh. Working at camp was both incredibly rewarding and extremely demanding. Following counselor orientation was a two-week period where the counselors went to camp, and then each camp session lasted 13 days with roughly 36 hours of “free time” in between. During camp, counselors spent the day leading Bible studies and coaching a wide variety of sports and activities like rock climbing, high ropes adventure course, kayaking, and archery and the night in cabins with their designated group of campers. For both counselors and campers, camp was a great opportunity to get away from the technology and day-to-day distractions of normal life to focus on God. Due to its remote location in the mountains of southwestern Pennsylvania, attempting to make phone calls was an endeavor in futility. Even then, counselors were only allowed access to our phones during our designated free-period, which was about an hour once every few days. If we wanted to maintain any sort of regular communication with the outside world, our only option was writing and sending letters. Now, just a few months before camp I had begun a relationship with a girl from my college, and we were both a little disappointed to be spending the summer apart. Nearly every day during our post-lunch rest time, I would sit on my bed writing to this girl, letting her know all the cool things we were doing and not-so-subtly letting her know how much I missed her. To my delight, nearly every day I also received a letter from her, telling me all about her summer and not-so-subtly telling me that she missed me too. As great as it was to get mail and read and re-read her beautiful handwriting, it was no substitute for spending actual time together face to face, of which we were limited to something like 72 hours over the course of 3 months.
As 2020 has reinforced to many of us, there is no adequate replacement for being together face to face with those you love. Having spent the last 13 years with that letter-writing girl from college living at least 600 miles away from all of our immediate family, even though we have employed every form of communication technology you can imagine, there is nothing quite like giving a big warm hug or getting to snuggle up together on the couch. Our home erupts with excitement at the mere mention of picking up grandma at the airport or loading up the van for the all-day trek back north.
Keeping up at a distance is hard, especially so for those whose primary tools of communication are pen and ink. So as John closes his brief letter, he does so by admitting, “I’d rather not be doing this.” Why? Because distance makes the task of discipleship almost impossible. When John became a disciple of Jesus, he left behind everything to follow Jesus. Following Jesus was not a figurative term; John literally followed Jesus’ every step. He walked where Jesus walked, ate where Jesus ate, and slept where Jesus slept. John spent three years listening and watching and soaking it all in. Some of the most amazing and memorable times John had with Jesus were not witnessing Jesus’ many public teachings and miracles, although John did that too. Instead, when we read John’s gospel account of the life of Jesus, we see that John vividly remembers private moments with his master. Writing decades after the events transpired, John recounts Jesus’ incredibly intimate prayers to God the Father and life-altering personal encounters with specific individuals like Nicodemus the Pharisee and the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well. Because Jesus allowed John and the other disciples into His personal bubble, they became convinced without question that He wasn’t just who the people said said He was, but He was so much more than anyone could have imagined.
John closes his letter by expressing his longing for the return of that same sort of intimacy with his spiritual brother Gaius that he had experienced with Jesus. John didn’t just know some information about Jesus, he didn’t know Him in a theoretical, conceptual, or abstract way. John knew Jesus intimately, personally, and it was that intimate, personal encounter which changed John’s life forever. John had come face to face with the Son of God, who had called him by name, called him His friend, and now enjoyed perfect peace through His Spirit.
What about us? Is Jesus something that we have learned about, a theological idea that we believe? Is Jesus someone that we know of only at a distance? Or have we met Him face to face? Have we heard Him call our name? Do we speak to Him as a friend? Have we experienced His peace? God did more than just write letters to tell us how much He cared about us. The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. Full of grace and truth, He lived and died so that we might die and live. We can know Him now just as John knew Him then; personally, intimately, eternally.
Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, You know all of the desires of our hearts. In this time of distance and isolation, more than anything we long for relationship and embrace. Give us the longing to be united together again as a body of believers, but most importantly to be united with You face to face. We ask that You would continue to do Your work within us. Grant us Your Spirit of peace and joy. Comfort us in our afflictions and afflict us in our comforts. Let not our hearts be satisfied unless and until they are satisfied in Christ alone. In Your precious name we pray, Amen.