The Power of An Invitation

When I was in college I got really into lifting weights for a season. Being an introvert I often prefered to workout alone. If you’ve ever seen “that guy” at the gym with his headphones in, music blaring, and looks slightly ticked off at life - that was me.

One day, a guy ignored my do not disturb vibe and tapped me on the shoulder. Pulling my headphones out to hear him, he asked to work in on the same machine as me. Of course I agreed not thinking much of it. Little did I know this conversation would change my life forever.

As we took turns on the machine he asked me questions about my life that were more genuine than the usual small talk. His name was Joshua and he was a law student. After talking and working out, he invited me to a party that was happening later that week with his church group.

A year ago, I would’ve politely declined and said that’s not for me. But what he didn’t know is that I’d been privately asking God to reveal himself to me. Secretly, I’d been sending up prayers into the sky like a lost balloon, never actually thinking that balloon would be caught and returned to me with an answer. Could God actually be listening to me?

We All Desire to Be Invested In

Whether we are looking for a place to sit at lunch in the junior high cafeteria (so painful) or hoping to be chosen for a certain team - we long to be seen and called up. You can see it with children clamoring for their parents attention as they do their version of a cartwheel, for the 1,000th time. Do you see me? Do you love me?

Victor Hugo, author of Les Misérables said, “The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved.”

This is the question I was asking with my “‘balloon to the sky’ type prayers.” Through Joshua’s invitation, I began to experience this love from God. While Joshua and I might have been at a gym, it was similar to Jesus calling Peter and Andrew on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he [Jesus] saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. - Matthew 4:18-20

Jesus Initiates Us

While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen.

Jesus, God in the flesh, came to meet Simon and Andrew where they were, and he saw them.

God is often referred to as the invisible “man upstairs” in Western culture. A common belief is that God may be “up there,” but does not care or see me, down here. Often, I’ve wrestled with this perception of God myself. Here is where the good news of Jesus surprises me and I begin to worship. In the good news of Jesus he is the clear initiator. In this passage it reminds me that this is who God is, I am again surprised by his movement towards me first, and can only say thank you in return.

Here are a few other passages that remind me about God being the first to initiate.

  • God is Creator and I’m made in His image (Gen. 1:27).
  • God calls me valuable, more than sparrows or the fields. (Matt. 10:31)
  • God knit me together in my mother’s womb. (Ps. 139:13)
  • God knows the hairs on my head and word on my tongue before I say it. (Ps. 139:4)
  • While I was still sinning against him, Jesus died for me. (Ro. 5:8)
  • God sent His Son to pay for my sinful choices and give me his life though he was perfect. (2 Co. 5:21)
  • We love because He first loved us. (1 Jn. 4:19)

Jesus Invites Us

“Follow me...

In these two words Jesus is inviting Simon and Andrew into a significant change. Yes, this is an invitation to relationship, to access, to instruction, and his leadership. This is also an invitation for them to die or let go of their life in order to grab a hold of a new life with Christ.

Who wants to say yes for an invitation to come and die?! Well, it is true that the Gospel is a call to come and die to yourself, it is also a call to the life we were made for in Christ.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. - Matthew 16:24-25 NLT

In Simon and Andrew’s case, they immediately left their nets to follow Jesus. In my case, it meant saying yes to an invitation to a church barbecue as a first step.  What is Jesus inviting you to step into today?

Jesus Invests In Us

...and I will make you fishers of men.”

Bilbo has Gandalf. Luke Skywalker has Obi-Wan Kenobi. The Karate Kid has Mr. Miyagi. It’s a familiar (awesome) plot that resonates with what we know we need - a guide to help us find victory on the journey.

What we learn is that Jesus is the hero of the story, the victorious one on our behalf. As we follow him though, he changes us to be more human, more glorious, more like him. He invests in us to invest in others.

Reminds me of the passage when Jesus sees the immense need in the crowds of people...

Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Matthew 9:37-38

When Joshua worked in with me at the gym and talked with me, he was being a laborer in the field. It can be that simple. Where has God sent you to be a laborer in the field? Who may God be inviting you to invest in?

Martin Luther famously said, “We are all mere beggars telling other beggars where to find bread.” We don’t have to have all the answers, only be willing to show others what we’ve found in Christ.

Thank you to Joshua from the gym!

I did end up going to the church party, and over time became better friends with Joshua. He is now someone I call an older brother that still has great impact on my life and faith. All he did was invite me to a church party, but it might as well have been Jesus calling me to Himself while at the gym. You never know what God could do through the simple power of an invitation.

 

JOE PAOLINO