I’ve been asking God over the past few months a recurring question—what are you saying to your church during this pandemic? Is this an act of divine judgment? Or, is it something else? The Lord has impressed upon me from his word such warnings as “pruning branches” so we may bear more fruits (John 15), and renewing our “first love” (Rev. 2). I have focused on these teachings from Jesus, as sources of my personal repentance and renewal. Unless the church knows what God is saying and doing, we are in no position to provide a prophetic voice to a world in crisis.
In the recent week or so, I have been drawn to Mark 3:13-14: “Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve—designating them apostles—that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach.” The message is clear from this story of Jesus’ calling of his disciples. He called “those he wanted” and appointed them to be with him. And then he sent them out to preach and do ministry. The sequence of actions is important in that we must cultivate our spiritual life with God before we do work for God.
Dr Tan Kim Huat, in his commentary on Mark, writes that being with Jesus “defines succinctly what discipleship means. By being with Jesus they can know him intimately and understanding his teaching.” In other words, if we reverse the sequence, we are bound to run dry spiritually or give up serving Christ all together. Our spiritual life or relationship with Christ is the foundation upon which our service is built. Our daily devotions and prayer life matter more than anything you do in terms of public ministry.
In the context of Singapore, where life is extremely busy and the church is mostly about running programmes, we can glean an important lesson from this passage on the priority of spiritual formation. David Garland, in his commentary on Mark, gives a good description of what being with Jesus is all about. He writes, “The task of being with Jesus is harder than it might first appear. The twelve will have to learn that there is a difference between hanging around Jesus and truly being with him. The latter means that they must follow wherever he leads and share the toil of the ministry, the harassment of the crowds, and the same bitter draught of suffering.”