Are You the One? : a book review

In John’s gospel, John refers to himself as the ‘one that Jesus loved.’ He was also one of the Zebedee boys–the ‘Sons of Thunder’ whose mother asked that they sit on Jesus right and left side when he comes into his kingdom. Far from being outright rebuked for their power grab, Jesus wanted to make sure that they had counted the cost. Robert Crosby begins The One That Jesus Loves by reflecting on John and James’ mother’s ‘outrageous request.’ But his purpose is to encourage us to press into our relationship with Christ, always reaching for more intimacy.

So in forty pithy chapters, Crosby explores the rings of relationship which form around Jesus. The crowds are curious. The five thousand are a needy bunch who come because they are fed. The seventy are those whom Christ commissions as co-workers. The twelve shared life with Jesus for three years, the three celebrated an suffered with Jesus (on the mount of Transfiguration and the garden of Gethsemane. Finally the one laid his head on Jesus breast on the last supper, and was the only one to stick with him through the crucifixion and the one that records Jesus words when he calls us friends.

This is a devotional book, and not a commentary and so lacks some exegetical precision. Crosby uses the social circles of Jesus evocatively to draw us into deeper relationship with Him. Certainly these aren’t the only circles around Jesus. Crosby could have included ‘the four thousand,’ the more than 500 brothers he appeared to after his resurrection (1 Cor. 15:6), the 120 believers who were filled with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (Acts 1:15), the women who accompanied and supported the Twelve in Jesus ministry and mission (Luke 8:1-3), or the four (Peter, James, and John plus Andrew) who ask him about the destruction of the Temple and the end of the age, etc. I would be careful in drawing the lines of these circles too strongly. This was a semi-permeable web of relationships and people around Jesus were always invited to something more. As Crosby notes, even the twelve had a Judas and ‘in the twelve we are doing one of two things: we are following or falling back’ (179).

I applaud this book for focusing on cultivating deeper intimacy with Jesus. Crosby will make you want to press in, to be closer to Christ and whatever ring you find yourself in, you will hear the voice of Jesus inviting you to more. The short chapters make it ideal for personal devotional reading, but he does include conversation starters at the back of the book for use with small groups or in one-on-one discipleship. I give this book three stars: ★★★

Notice of material connection I recieved this book for the purposes of review. I was not asked to write a positive review but an honest one.

What’s in a Word?: Why I don’t have ‘prayer tools’

Occasionally I post these ‘What’s in a word?’ posts because I am convinced that how we talk  is important, and the way we name things and speak of them effects what we see.  Sometimes I think certain metaphors fall short of the truth and end up communicating something damaging. This is how I feel about the language of tools.

I have heard people talk about prayer tools, relational tools, pastoral care tools, missional tools, evangelistic tools, and discipleship tools. In these contexts ‘tool’ is shorthand for strategies, set forms, techniques or patterns of relating. However, by employing the language of tools, we end up saying what we ought not say.  We employ a metaphor and the metaphor reshapes our understanding.

Years ago I attended a church that had a regular healing service. It became a major outreach activity at our church– people would bring family members or co-workers for prayer and through that ministry people experienced God’s healing.  But something didn’t sit quite right with me about it.  The leader of the service had several ways of praying that he encouraged the intercessory prayer teams to pray, different prayer strategies, “Tools in your  prayer toolbox,” he called them. The idea was that by praying in different ways, you might hit the ‘healing sweet spot’ or build the faith of the person enough that God could really do something in their life (God sometimes obliged).  Prayer, in these meetings ceased to be a conversation where we presented our requests before God, but became a technique which would produce a desired result.

This is the problem with the language of tools. What is a tool? In the traditional sense, a tool was something you hold in your hands and  manipulate to complete a particular task efficiently. In our highly technological age, ‘tools’ are what you use to change part of a document or image, or  where set your preferences for surfing the web. In either case, tool is not a relational term (even ‘relational tools) but when used of prayer, relationships, conversations, it reduces it to a formula: if you apply x to y with enough torque,  you get desired result z  or x+y(t)=z.  In Technopoly, Neil Postman characterized our society as being so enamored with the tools we’ve made, that our tools have started to remake us. Shouldn’t we cultivate a sensitivity to the way ‘tool metaphors reshape the way we relate to God or one another?

Strategies and modes of prayer should not be called tools but ways of relating. When we use our ‘prayer tools’ we relate to God in an I-It relationship rather than I-Thou (to use Martin Buber’s typology).  It isn’t that technological metaphors can never be used for aspects of the Christian life, or our relationship with God and others, but it should never be our primary metaphor for life with the Divine. The scriptural metaphors that speak most meaningfully about pray are organic (think Psalm 1 or John 15) or relational (John 10 Shepherd and sheep, Luke 15-the Prodigal Father).  We are living beings and created for relationship and we don’t learn to relate better by depersonalizing prayer and relationships. How you talk about God matters and how you talk about talking to God matters!

Does this mean that we shouldn’t strive to pray effectively or pray strategically? Well yes and no. Sure it matters how you pray for something and prayer methods (i.e. ACTS, prayer books, etc) can be helpful. Certainly I know that if I ask my wife for something the wrong way, I’m never going to get it. But the heart of prayer (and all relating) is not technique but intimacy.  Tools are only effective when appropriately wielded and can only take you so far; prayer is more about faithfulness, trust, worship, speaking honestly without shame and placing your whole person in God’s care.  I don’t know of a tool or technique that gives you that sort of intimacy with God, but I know that God is always there to meet those who keep coming to meet him.