In this week’s Whiteboard Wednesday experiment, we explore the “mechanics” of a dependent relationship with Jesus—where the reality of his presence is not confined to the pages of the Bible. Jesus made it clear that the gift of the Spirit means we have an ongoing, real-time, experiential relationship with him. This week we model what it looks like to lead teenagers into relational Jesus experiences with a simple, but profound, practice.
The great 20th-century philosopher Marshall McLuhan famously proclaimed: “The medium is the message.” He meant that the transmitter of a message has a profound impact on the receiver, overshadowing the message itself. For example, when television began to replace the radio as the primary medium for news and entertainment, the conduit itself had massive power to change the way human beings think and feel and experience life. Our brain chemistry changed. The medium itself, not the content it carries, is the true source of transformational power. Today, the medium of texting has fundamentally changed how teenagers communicate with each other, more than the messages they deliver using that medium.
And with Jesus, the medium is truly the message.
The message Jesus brings us is full of hope and promise and redemption. But the medium that delivers that message is what gets past our defenses and into our core. When we get to know the heart and passion and personality of WHO is bringing this gospel message—this good news—then the WHO overshadows the WHAT. In Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of John 1:14, he writes: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (The Message). In other words, the medium (Jesus) became the message—the two became one. This is the truth Jesus tried to explain to his incredulous disciples, who were confused as to how they could follow him to the “place [Jesus] was preparing for them.” So he told them that attaching themselves to the medium would give them all the message they needed: “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
We come to know Jesus many ways—chief among them through the medium of the written word in the Bible. But there are also experiential ways to know Jesus, through the medium of his Spirit. Knowing him through the medium of a book is a different knowing him through an experiential relationship. Jesus is not a book—he’s a person. So, reading about Jesus is crucial, but it’s not the whole of the relationship—it can lead to relationship, but isn’t the same as relationship. This is the reason Jesus is so excited to tell his best friends that he’ll be leaving soon—in the future, he promises them an inside-out relationship with him (their Rabbi), rather than an outside-in relationship.
This is Spirit-embedded living, and Spirit-guided living. It’s living a “dependent” life, where we’re attaching ourselves to Jesus as the source of our life.
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In my book The Jesus-Centered Life, I spend a whole chapter exploring how an “automated” relationship with Jesus replaces doing things with talking about things. I mean, we use our words about Jesus as an effort-reducing substitute for actually living our life with him. It’s safer to explore ideas about Jesus than to actually know him experientially. Our conventional templates for relational growth—almost always some version of an “information download”—are fatally flawed. Jesus modeled experiential living. Rather than…
- describing what it’s like to walk on water, he invites Peter to do it with him;
- helping the “Rich Young Ruler” to understand the benefits of following him, Jesus simply asks him to sell everything he owns and start walking with him; and
- urging his followers to “love their enemies, and pray for those who persecute you,” he accepts dinner invitations from his worst critics.
Simply, the more we experience Jesus, the more we grow. This automating-to-experiencing shift means, for example, that instead of teaching students to pray for others by asking them what they need, then brainstorming their prayers based on what they know, we show them how to ask Jesus first before they pray, then wait for his direction before they open our mouth. This is prayer that’s based on what he knows, and supercharges their prayer time by making it surprising, fun, and experiential. I’ve taught hundreds of teenagers to pray this way, and it communicates two truths in a profound way:
1) Jesus knows and understands our needs beyond our own consciousness of them; and
2) Jesus is real—he’s not a rhetorical character in a fairytale.
Watch our Whiteboard Wednesday video to see what this looks like when you do it with someone who’s never tried it before. An experiential relationship with Jesus is not only possible, it’s the norm… And if your students learn this now instead of later, it will change their life forever.
- Barna: State of the Bible 2016 (American Bible Society)
- LIVE Books of the Bible
- Jesus-Centered Bible
- Pierced New Testament for Teenagers