What is a young family to do with a desire to follow Jesus more radically? This series of email exchanges I had with Paul Munn over a year ago (starting in April of 2009) attempts to explore some of that. To get caught up with the series, read question #1 and response #1, question #2/response #2 (which are one post), question #3 and response #3, question #4 and response #4, and question #5.
Date: Fri, 15 May 2009 07:10:17 -0700
Subject: Re: work, gift, prayer
Glad you got back safely and were happy with your trip.
I think I’d probably advise against attaching yourself to a “master” (or being a master, for that matter). I often quote Jesus’ words, “You are not to be called rabbi [that is, teacher], for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers and sisters. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ.” (Mt 23.8-10) We can and certainly should pay attention and learn from others, especially those who seem to follow Jesus’ example closely. But I don’t think we should put complete trust in (or become followers of) anyone but Jesus.
The main purpose of life (including the spiritual life), as I see it, is to continue to live by faith, to continue to grow in our dependence and trust in God. To attach ourselves to another human being and depend on them does not help us in this. Jesus himself continually tried to point his disciples (as well as all those he taught and healed) to direct dependence on God, culminating in his leaving them (bodily) and telling them to trust the spirit of God.
I think the specific way God provides for us varies among people and their particular situations. So I can’t give you a model that works for everyone (lest we trust the model rather than God). But I think there are similarities and hearing the stories of others may help us recognize possibilities in our own lives when they are presented. One well-known example that encouraged me was George Muller. And I once wrote in my journal that some of the best examples of people living a gift economy are missionaries and mothers.
The one disappointment I’ve seen with most modern missionaries is how they usually raise their support in advance (and won’t go if they don’t get it), and have to devote a lot of time to fundraising to keep up their work. Also missions organizations have developed more institutional forms of financial security now. Heather and I find George Muller’s approach much more inspiring and closer to Jesus’ example.
Other specific things I’ve learned from experience so far (and we still have a long way to go): I’ve had medical care provided by hospitals or doctors waiving their fees, churches offering to pay the bill, Heather volunteering in a medical clinic and then receiving care from the nurses she knows there, and a dentist offering free care as a contribution to our retreat work; as I said before, living in a closer community setting allows much sharing and reduced living expenses (we live, very well, on a little over $7000 a year right now, and have no car but can always borrow one, usually while doing errands for others); taxes drop to nothing with no property and very low income; all our furniture and bedding for the retreats was donated; we don’t have insurance, which is a conscious faith-based decision, not just an economic one, but we have yet to see how that will play out (with kids also), though the doctor experiences we’ve had so far are encouraging; we work on a volunteer basis on the farm and bakery, setting our own hours (and jobs) and just accepting whatever they choose to give us at the end of the season, and the donated money for the retreat work (including our housing) is held and controlled by the church. I don’t know, any other questions?
I’m glad to hear of your dad’s response. My parents came around very slowly, but they are strong supporters of what we are doing now. There is hope!