I had an interesting conversation with my friend Kevin a couple of weeks ago that keeps ruminating in my mind. I first met Kevin four years ago when he left a 25-year career of church planting and pastoring to join our local Young Life region to help develop ministries in new communities. As a church planter, it was a natural fit for him.
During our conversation, Kevin was reflecting on his past years of ministry. He said he’s begun to realize, in recent years, that something seemed “off” in his previous 25 years of ministry leadership. He felt like he had been “selling Christianity as a package, with Jesus as one part of the entire product line.” Through his continual engagement with Young Life, he said he’s become increasingly amazed and enamored with Jesus. For him, Jesus has become the whole package that he gets to offer to others.
Enamored. Not a word I use often, but for some reason, it resonated with me. The dictionary definition would point one toward something romantic – affected by strong feelings of love, admiration, or fascination (Merriam-Webster). A synonym that further enhances an understanding of enamored is captivate. Captivate suggests being influenced or dominated by something irresistible.
As you may be aware, when disciplining or mentoring (mostly younger) people, I have them read the Gospels repeatedly – for all kinds of reasons, but mostly to “hang out” with Jesus, knowing its transformative value.* The Jewish understanding of becoming a disciple of a rabbi was to become like the rabbi and join him in his mission. They become captivated and fascinated with the rabbi and pattern their life accordingly. I think becoming enamored with Jesus is the exact right outcome of one spending continuous time reading the Gospels.
I think of Jim Rayburn (Young Life’s founder) always saying that Jesus is the most fascinating person in the universe. What a great starting point for becoming enamored with Jesus. I suspect that our western Christian cultural approach is not to be enamored with the most fascinating person in the universe. Rather, we are enamored with what the most fascinating person in the universe can do for us (i.e., pave a way for us to go to heaven). Does that mean we are more enamored with heaven than with Jesus? Wouldn’t that be a form of idolatry? (NT Wright always reminds his readers/hearers that heaven is big deal, but it’s not the end of the world.)
What does it mean to be enamored with Jesus? Here’s a great question to ponder: What did Jesus’ disciples see in him that caused them to walk away from their work to follow him? I have always suspected that Jesus didn’t “cold call” people when inviting them to follow him – especially when we think of those first ones – fishermen Peter, James, John, and their local tax collector, Levi. I have to believe that Jesus had spent time with these guys, taking an interest in their work and engaging in their world. I suspect that these guys were fascinated and captivated by this different kind of rabbi – they were enamored. Enamored enough to drop what they were doing to discover more. Jesus was irresistible!
How does one become enamored with Jesus?
I don’t think it’s something we can make happen. I think it’s a natural (organic) outcome of focusing on Jesus, the most fascinating person in the universe. Focusing on who he is – his character, mission, interactions – not just on what he can do for us. It’s hanging out with him, becoming more and more fascinated and captivated by him. Like Kevin, it changes our perspective on everything else.
One of my favorite books is Jim Collin’s Good to Great. His team researched companies that experienced a transformation of growth that outpaced the stock market trends of the time. He studied the companies in an attempt to discover the cause of the growth. Most fascinating to me was the chapter recaps describing “unexpected findings.” I suspect an “unexpected finding” for Kevin was becoming enamored with Jesus!
I think that periodically it’s healthy for us to ask the question, “What are we enamored with? What fascinates and captivates us?” The answer to the question will shape the “package” we have to offer the world around us.
* ADDENDUM 1/31/2023: Annie F. Downs has created a podcast that will help listeners experience all four Gospels twelve times during the year 2023. It’s called Let’s Read the Gospels. Enjoy!