Poet, story-teller, and civil rights activist Maya Angelo knew well the power of words and actions; yet it was she who said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Every time I read this quote—as a pastor, a husband, a father, a human—it elicits a visceral “Mmm” of affirmation followed by a deep breath. I know it’s not Scripture, but it’s as if my soul knows it’s true. I also think of the relationships that mean the most to me. It’s not the words of wisdom and the acts of service that stand out. It’s the deeply intuitive sense that I am loved and that my loved ones are with me. I’m convinced this is a longing in us all.
God with us.
Thinking about the mission beyond the transfer of information or the acquisition of a skill—though these are vital to the task—invites us to consider both God’s presence with us and our presence with others.
Our God is with us! He walks with Adam and Eve in the Garden. He covenants with Abraham. He wrestles with Jacob. He meets with Moses. He camps with Israel leading them through the wilderness. He goes everywhere with Joshua, casting out fear. He dances with David—figuratively and literally. Each of these individuals demonstrate a failure to trust God at some point in their lives, yet He remains faithfully present.
As soon as Mary learned of the Lord in her womb, He was called Immanuel, God with us. Despite their missteps, misplaced faith, and eventual betrayal, Jesus remained with His disciples until the end. And in His final words, before His ascension, He gave a pronouncement of His faithful presence, “Behold, I am with you always.” In that same moment, He also commanded them to make disciples through baptizing and teaching, but the mission is so evidently about His presence, He says they are to first wait on His Spirit to be with them.
Us with us.
When we consider what it means to plant a church, to make disciples, and equip disciple-makers, we often think about times of teaching and equipping, but years into the work we’ll inevitably discover the impact we make is more about what others experience outside of those times. In other words, holistic discipleship requires disciple-makers to consider not only what we teach and how to train, but also what it feels like to be present with us.
By God’s design our mission is highly relational, and the only way to be in a relationship is by being with people. More meaningful than the information we offer or the productivity of our actions is the faithfulness of our presence. We experience this in relationships with our loved ones, but it’s also evident all over the Story of God. The Lord shows up faithfully to be with His people with love and grace—ultimately in the person of Jesus. Not only does Jesus come to be with us, but He sends His Spirit to remain with us as we are sent into the world.
It seems clear we are to share in communion with God and one another. We are to be present with Him while being present in the world. We find ourselves becoming like Jesus while being with Jesus. We need to see, hear, and feel Jesus to be conformed into His image. Perhaps, experiencing discipleship is not as much about gaining knowledge as it is being known and knowing Jesus. Disciple-makers ought to be asking, “How can I lead others to see, hear, and experience Jesus?” Beyond the transfer of information, we must seek to transfer the embodied love of God to others—like Jesus did. This requires presence.
Our words and service will bless and encourage. What we teach and how we train is of great importance. But let’s not forget our honest and faithful presence can give life. Whether or not we are with one another is felt, and what we feel, namely the love of God, will always be remembered.