John 6:22-27 The next day the crowd that had stayed on the opposite shore of the lake realized that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not entered it with his disciples, but that they had gone away alone. Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
The test of relationship comes when the fireworks fade.
“Where are the fireworks?” The question crossed my mind in early 2008 as I sat on a hard metal chair in the middle school gym my church rented out to hold our Sunday services. I wasn’t thinking of literal fireworks but spiritual ones. It was the middle of the 11 o’clock service, the powerfully-performed worship set was over, we had prayed, and the sermon had begun—but unlike other weeks, this week I didn’t “feel” anything. I didn’t “experience” anything. I didn’t “get” anything.” It wasn’t that I had begun going to church again for all the feels; there were other needs in my life and an unmistakable, unexplainable pull towards Jesus that had led me to seek more of him. But the spiritual high of worship was a kinda nice thing to look forward to. However, this week it wasn’t there. Nor the next. Nor the next. I had heard rumors of people who had left churches because they no longer “got anything out of it” and now I understood them. But instead of turning around, I began to explore something deeper. Perhaps “not getting anything out” of worship, of Jesus, was not an indication of distance from him but rather an invitation to closeness with him. Perhaps just like other personal relationships, Jesus was changing our relationship, calling me to go deeper than feelings and fireworks.
The turn-around point for many well-meaning followers of Jesus often occurs when Jesus no longer gives them everything they want. In John 6, Jesus performs multiple miracles—first feeding a crowd of 5000 men plus women and children with no more than a little boy’s filet-o-fish Happy Meal and then walking on the water. It’s clear everyone is impressed with his antics, to the point that boatloads of people from Tiberias join those from the feeding miracle to track him down. But Jesus, knowing they are becoming addicted to the feels, food, and fireworks, challenges them to go deeper, to look beyond the what to the Who, to bigger things, to a Person rather than problem-solver and show-producer.
We may begin following Jesus because of what he can give us and how he can make us feel, but at some point in our spiritual journey, he shuts off the lights and beckons us to follow him into a relationship that is more than surface-deep. Stepping into that deeper relationship requires us to go against our consumer-cultivated instinct to turn away to get our “fix” elsewhere, instead stepping forward in faithful commitment to be with Jesus in the dark. It’s there where we learn the true power he has. It’s there where we come to understand a relationship with Jesus is so much more than fireworks.
On Today's Road: How has your relationship with Jesus changed over time? Do you chase “fireworks” or have you accepted the invitation to an even deeper relationship with him, even when he doesn’t give you what you want?