“Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” –Hebrews 4:13
I am not an artist. I know I have limited abilities within this area and, as a result, I am
left with limited options. But, I do have enough dexterity to sketch stick people. I can draw both the male and the female varieties. I can also draw stick dogs and trees. With some added determination I can add movement to my drawings by bending a line here and another one there. All in all, I can relay some information graphically but, as is true for most non-artists,
my sketches require a title, or subtitle, so that the picture may be decrypted and depreciated (yes…that’s right; appreciation is far too lofty of a goal, but depreciation…well, that’s quite attainable).
The thing that makes drawing stick figures so easy is that they are one-dimensional. Other than the presence of lines, no other element of art is displayed. There is no form, no texture, no value; no kidding; it’s very simplistic. Unfortunately, that does not make for a great drawing. Neither does it make for great disciple-making. But, true to form (or the lack thereof), too often we tend to look at discipling as one-dimensionally as we look at stick figures. How do I know this? Well…it all came from another lesson from the woods.
The other day I was gathering sticks in the woods. And, as I’ve noticed before, there are always more out there than I first realize. I’ll scan the area that currently lies under my scrutiny and venture out to collect the two or three sticks I see emerging from the leaves. But, on my way, I see one stick after another that wasn’t visible from a distance. I stoop to collect these and, before I’ve even gotten to the first stick I had set my eye upon, my arms are loaded and I have to head back to deposit my collection so I can, again, go after the two or three sticks I first saw. Not only are there always more than I was first aware of, but there are usually larger ones than I expected. Too often it has turned out that the biggest sticks were the hidden ones. Sometimes, I didn’t even know they were present until I stepped on them. Then, as I bent over to collect the newly exposed stick I found that it wasn’t a stick at all but a fully concealed branch. Once again, I trudged back to my starting point with an armload of wood; and, once again, I returned to collect the two or three sticks I initially saw and had still not gotten to.
As this pattern played out again the other day, I thought how truly it displayed the manner in which we (all who, as believers, are part of the universal church) approach the ministry of disciple-making and disciple-mending. Don’t we too often look at people from a distance rather than up close? Don’t we also tend to look at people simplistically as if they were one-dimensional rather than as three-dimensional? I think we do. I think this because I have felt it and, in feeling it, have realized that I too have done the same thing. I minister as well as I draw: stick people….stick methods. As I thought of the relationship between the woods and the world and between sticks and people, I saw several correlations.
First, there is the truth that to really see what (or who) needs to be gathered, one has to go to where they are lying. A scan from the distance won’t reveal all that’s hidden. The greatest needs won’t be known until they are walked among, over, and upon. Personal presence and touch is mandatory. Once the proximity has been shortened, the needs will become more evident. Then, upon their sighting, one must actually bend over and gather them up. In doing so, it’s quite possible that there will be more there than expected. It might be shocking…it might be messy…there might be a fungus (those icky, jelly-type ones that make me ever so thankful for gloves) or insects…or root rot! Yes, this work is not for the faint of heart; it requires energy (we must be willing to go), flexibility (we must be willing to bend), and work clothes (we won’t be wearing our Sunday best because this type of work won’t take place inside the church building). Isn’t all this true for people as well as for sticks? We must be willing to go to where people are; we must be willing to walk among them, around them, and with them. We must realize that what we saw from a distance, when evident, was simply one-dimensional and that there was much more under the surface that, when uncovered, revealed the true three-dimensional nature of who they really are. In the uncovering process, don’t we encounter messes? Aren’t there things that were affected by their covering, things that don’t need to be ignored but rightly handled, even if gloves are needed? In the case of larger branches, the uncovering process will often leave a disruption to the surrounding area. Often, leaves need to be raked back over the site or holes need to be filled in. In the lives of people we see this, too. Repairs may be needed during or after the gathering procedure. This personal interaction is the tell-tale mark of disciple-making: it’s life touching, life-mending, and life-giving; it’s three dimensional ministering.
I think the connection between sticks and people is all too close-fitting, and convicting. I think this so much that now as I pull sticks out from under their leafy coverings I see them as a depiction of “stick people” who are in need of being found, of being seen, of being gathered. I see the woods as the representation of the territory God has called us all to go into in order to minister to His “stick people”; to people who are more than just lines but who have depth of form, intrinsic texture, and eternal value; people who are truly His works of art…His masterpieces.
Jesus’ final words to His disciples, and His continual words to us, were (are) that they (and we) go and make disciples of all nations. He has called us to go into the woods with feet willing to tread upon concealed sticks, with eyes searching for covered branches, and with hands ready to deal with messy surfaces, and with arms ready to embrace all that we’ve found. Then, when we’re unable to carry anymore, we are to lay down our load at His feet and return to the woods that we might collect just one more stick…just one more branch…just one more pile…for His name’s sake and for their soul’s sake.
Let’s not forget what Jesus told us to do and the manner in which we must carry this out: up-close and personal…using our eyes, our feet, and our hands that we may minister as, and to, the three-dimensional beings we are and we see.