Chapter 1 – Life at Jesus’ Table
I decided to accept Jesus’ invitation, pulled up the chair he had offered me, and joined him and the others at the table.
The next few hours flew by as I became increasingly fascinated at the things that were happening at the table. Every once in a while I looked at the clock on the wall next to the fireplace, and was surprised at how much time had slipped by without me realizing it.
When I had first joined the table, I was happy that the people welcomed me. I was also glad that they invited me to freely partake of the food at the center of the table, since the aroma had stirred my hunger all the more. I found it to be quite tasty and satisfying.
As my hunger subsided, I began to observe a number of very fascinating things. For starters, I was quite impressed at how the people treated each other. I was surprised that there were no arguments, and they did not seem to be competing or trying to outdo each other. Instead, they genuinely seemed to care for each other, demonstrating this in many ways, such as how they were respectful and patient with each other. One person had a stutter and other people did not seem impatient or try to pressure the person to speak more quickly. And instead of superficial conversations, most of the people seemed to share deeply from their hearts, and also listened intently to the others. I could tell they were listening well by the clarifying questions they asked to those speaking, and also by the way the conversation rolled along so nicely. I was especially amazed to see someone stop speaking in mid-thought to allow someone else to share, because that other person seemed to have something more pressing on their heart to share than they did. And this did not happen just once, but a number of times throughout the evening.
Sometimes there was one large conversation. Other times discussion split into multiple smaller conversations. I thought it was especially interesting at the times when Jesus spoke. When there was only one conversation, people seemed to hang on every one of his words. When there were multiple conversations, people seemed to bend an ear toward Jesus from those other conversations. This sometimes resulted in those other conversations joining the conversation that Jesus was part of.
More chairs were positioned near Jesus than by anyone else at the table. I assumed most of these chairs were those that had been borrowed from the adjacent tables. At first I thought it was a bit odd that people were leaning toward Jesus, and occasionally even nudging their chairs closer to him. But, as the night went on, I began to realize that the people seemed attracted to the warmth and care Jesus showed to each of them. His example also seemed to set the tone for how they were treating each other. Overall, I was really struck by how everyone seemed to feel valued and have a strong sense of well-being, and how they seemed to enjoy just being with Jesus and each other. It was as if there was an “otherness” to the whole atmosphere. This was a great contrast to the tensions I had seen in so many relationships – including my own.
I eventually became quite curious to know if my observations were close to the mark, and to also know what things I had overlooked. So, I turned to the older gentleman on my right – who seemed to have shared a few insightful things during the evening – and I said, “I think it is pretty amazing, some of the interactions I am seeing at this table.” I proceeded to share some of my observations, and then asked him what his thoughts were. He then said…
“Whenever Jesus comes to town, I love to go to wherever he is. There is not anyone whom I would rather be with than Jesus! He avoids the ugliness that appears in cliques or when people compete with each other to the point where they become nasty, and instead he shows great love and value to people. It is great to see how others enjoy being loved and valued by him, and I am glad to be a recipient of his love as well. The amazing thing is that, without even a word, others feel the love Jesus has for them. You can see the twinkle in his eyes, but it is more than that – it is as if his whole being has love flowing through it! I have noticed small kids and animals are especially drawn to his love for them. But some older people respond well too, such as those at this table. And when Jesus does speak, he speaks to the heart of the individual. So, the thing I love most about being here at this table is just being with Jesus and watching him interact with others.
“It is also fun being with the other people who have gathered with Jesus – such as those at this table. We love to hear what each person shares from their heart. As they share, we listen intently and pay special attention to what stirs in our own hearts. It often pertains to our own lives or the lives of people we know, and by listening this way, it often provides the clue as to what is on our hearts to add to the conversation. As we share with each other in such a way, we enjoy the richness of the conversation, plus we all wind up being encouraged. And when people have shared burdens and things that have been troubling them, it is nice to listen to them and pray for them. I also appreciate seeing how others have followed the lead of Jesus and the seasoned table veterans, to not talk down to or lecture those people in struggle. Instead, they mostly share those things they have found to be of practical value in their own lives in those same or similar areas.
“Through all of this I have marveled at how our friendships have grown. I highly value these people and count it a privilege to have such deep and precious friendships with them. It brings a quality to our lives that we would not have without our friendships with Jesus and each other.
“You would think that over the years I would begin to take some of this for granted. But especially in light of all of the bad relationships I have seen, I am still amazed at how Jesus has helped to free each of us up toward further places of friendship with him and each other.
“Oh, and one last thing… I think it is fun to observe newcomers, such as you, who join the table and try to piece together and understand how these deep friendships really work. I think it is great when these newcomers are inspired to go deeper toward quality friendships in their own lives.”
I enjoyed the insights this man shared with me and realized there was a quality of life these people had found that I myself was lacking, and it definitely whet my appetite to grow in these good ways myself.
As I listened to this man and to the conversations that evening, it started to dawn on me where I had failed in my own relationships. I tentatively concluded that the discussion at this table tonight and on future nights could really help me to become a better husband and parent, and also help me in my work relationships. In fact, I could see it being helpful for all the relationships of my life!
At the end of the evening, I was very thankful Jesus had extended an invitation to me, and that I had the opportunity to be part of such an experience. I just could not get over how these people had such a sparkle in their eyes and seemed to appreciate and value each other in such a great way. It definitely was beautiful to see such interactions, and it whet my appetite for more. So, in the future, when Jesus comes to town, I definitely want to find the table where he is at and hang out there as much as possible!
***** End of Story *****
I just love this story! It paints a picture of a wonderful place for us all to grow toward – a place of deep, quality friendships with Jesus and each other, where there is a wonderful “otherness” of life that we will experience together.
Jesus Himself says that where two or three are gathered in His name, He is there with them. (See Matthew 18:20.) So although we can experience God’s presence in our lives as individuals, God has designed things in such a way, that only together with others who are also in relationship with Him, will we experience His presence in a greater way. And what greater joy than being with Jesus! The following verses describe the joy we can experience together at this place.
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete. (1 John 1:1-4, emphasis mine)
The Apostle John describes how he and others have experienced Jesus in person – they saw, heard, and touched Jesus! And in verse three, we can see that John invites his readers to join the deep, quality friendships (i.e. fellowship) that he and those other people have with Jesus.
We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:3, emphasis mine)
I find it quite interesting why John says he is writing to his readers.
We write this to make our joy complete. (1 John 1:4, emphasis mine)
If John was being selfish, he may have said, “my joy complete.” But, instead he says, “our joy complete.” Since John hung out with Jesus, it is no surprise that Jesus helped John to love others. And as John had God’s love for the people he was writing to, he wanted them to experience the joy found when all together, they could experience deep friendships with Jesus and each other. It is a small taste of heaven, for in heaven there will be a wonderful sense of well-being and joy as we will finally know and experience Jesus completely! And together with Jesus we will experience being completely loved, have complete intimacy of heart, and know each other completely. On top of all this, we will get to marvel at how awesome and wonderful God truly is all the time, as we see Jesus face to face!
This is a lot nicer than what happens in many relationships where people try to win at the expense of others losing. Instead, as we grow toward deeper friendships with Jesus and each other, it will be good and pleasant, and we will all win together!
How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron's beard, down upon the collar of his robes. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore. (Psalm 133, emphasis mine)
But if we fail to grow toward deeper friendships, we will miss out on so much! On the surface, our lives may look like we are doing good things, but in reality we will be lacking the relational qualities described in the story that began this chapter. The following verses give a strong example of this.
Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' (Matthew 7:21-23, emphasis mine)
At the Day of Judgment, when Jesus evaluates a person from His perfect perspective, it will become very clear if they truly knew Him or not. And “knowing” is an indication of deeper friendship. So if we never grow toward deeper friendships, we can do many seemingly good things, and yet never experience the joy of being with Jesus and each other.
But if someone is growing toward deeper friendships with Jesus and others, they will most likely want to continue to grow in such excellent ways. For example, if a teenager in their rebellious years is growing toward these deeper friendships, then when they get older, they will most likely stay walking with God and continue to be attracted to healthy and deep friendships – even if they eventually leave their parents’ household to go on to other things such as to college or a job at a different location. But, if they are unable to grow toward these deeper friendships, then they may externally conform to their parents’ expectations, but still feel relationally isolated. And since they were not better connected in their hearts, then as they grow older, they will be more likely to walk away from any connection they felt toward God and move toward unhealthy and hurtful relationships.
So, the big question is, “Can we actually grow toward this wonderful place of deeper friendships with Jesus and each other?”
Fortunately, the answer to this question is, “Yes, with Jesus’ help”... but, with the qualification that there will be many challenges in growing in this excellent direction. We can see this in the following verses.
“I tell you the truth," Jesus replied, "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first." (Mark 10:29-31, emphasis mine)
If a person allows Jesus to help them on toward deeper friendships, then they will receive much more relationally in terms of “brothers, sisters, mothers, children” … but also persecutions (i.e. challenges).
In this chapter we concluded the story about the friendships at Jesus’ table, with a more detailed look at the quality of the friendships being experienced there. We also looked at some of the pros and cons of growing or not growing toward such friendships, and overall seeing that it is of great value to grow in such ways – and yet, it will have its challenges.