Do you ever feel like your life is like one of Jesus’ parables?
Like stuff is happening that God wants to use to reveal Himself and His Kingdom to you through, but you just can’t seem to fathom what He is actually saying….
It could be in the context of a relationship, or its in a reoccurring dream, or its in the thoughts you keep having, or the feelings you keep feeling, or it’s in the context of your work or family life, or in a goal that you can’t seem to reach, or a desire that keeps evading your grasp, or a habit you just can’t seem to kick, or a pattern in your life you just can’t seem to overcome….
Whatever it may be, I think we all get into spaces in our lives where we just can’t seem to comprehend what is going on or how to move forward. We go around in cycles, but we just can’t seem to experience change or freedom. Sometimes we gain a bit of insight, but for the most part we just feel stuck.
In this way, our life feels like one of Jesus’ parables. We see our lives happening in front of us, but we can’t make sense of what it actually means. We ask ourselves….What is God trying to tell me? And why can’t I get it?
Well, one day Jesus’ disciples came to him and asked him why he uses parables to teach the crowds. His answer was unexpected:
“To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:
“‘“You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.’
But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. (Matthew 13:11-17)
Here Jesus differentiates between two kinds of people. People that are blessed with understanding about the Kingdom, and people that are not. Those who did receive deeper revelation about the parables were part of Jesus’ disciples, and those who did not were in the crowds.
Here is an important lesson: Although the message of the Kingdom is for all, understanding of the Kingdom is only for those that actually follow Jesus and commit themselves to him.
So how does this relate to our lives?
Well, I think it is important to realise that although we have committed our lives to Jesus, there are times where instead of engaging with him as a disciple, we engage with him as someone in the crowd. We hear and see what is happening in our lives, but we do not understand what God is speaking to us.
A good example of this is Peter in Matthew 16 who gained great revelation about Jesus being the son of God, and in the next breath tries to stop him from going to the cross. In the first account Jesus commends his insight and says to him, “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven,” and in the very next account he rebukes his lack of insight and says to him, “you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Peter went from having revelation about the Kingdom in one breath to immediately having no understanding of it at all in the next…. and we are the same.
Engaging with Jesus as a humble and committed disciple is not automatic. It is a daily choice. And this is especially true when it comes to our lives, and the difficult things we face in them.
God is always revealing Himself to you through the story your life, but He is doing it in a way that will draw you out from the crowd. And until you leave the safety of the crowd, you will not understand what He is saying to you.
Being part of the crowd means that your heart is dull, your ears are hard of hearing, and in some elements of your life, you have intentionally closed your eyes. You stay at a safe distance from Jesus. You marvel at who he is and what he does for you, you even follow his ministry, listen to his teachings, and receive from him what you can. But unlike a disciple, you do not leave your life behind in order to be near him always.
And this reveals another important aspect of God’s nature and character: He only truly reveals Himself and His ways to those He considers His friends. Those that have left the crowd in order to be near to Him.
If you read the scriptures carefully you will notice that there are no parables that the disciples figured out on their own. Every single one confused them. In each case they had to ask Jesus what they meant. And because they were His disciples He explained their deeper meaning to them. In this way they were given the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven because he considered them his friends (John 15:15).
And this reveals to us the true purpose of the parables. They are designed to be ambiguous and grey. Confusing to the point of causing their recipients to become inquisitive. Inquisitive enough to search out their true meaning. And in doing so, seek out Jesus to explain it to them.
After Jesus left a town, most of the crowds returned to their homes to live their lives. Although they did not understand the parables, it didn’t seem to matter to them. Because their sicknesses were healed, their desire to be amazed was fulfilled (through the many miracles), they listened to teachings from a great prophet, and at times, even their stomachs were filled. They had received from Jesus what they needed.
Only a handful actually realised that there was more to Jesus than miracles and meeting their needs. There was more to his stories and teachings. There was more to his ministry and person. And even though they might not have understood what he was saying, they knew that if they could be near to him they would eventually understand. They would eventually get a deeper glimpse of this “Kingdom” he was referring to. So they left their life and began to follow Jesus wherever he went. They left the comfort and safety of their life and home in order to be near Jesus, and hopefully, discover his Kingdom.
So what does leaving the crowd mean to us today? Jesus is not limited to an earthly body. So leaving the crowd to be near him is not based on literally leaving our home to follow him around Galilee.
He is now in Spirit, and he is still walking around this earth, proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven, ministering to the needs of humanity, teaching about the Kingdom in stories and parables, and calling disciples to follow him. And today, just like during his earthly ministry, there are those that remain in the safety of the crowd, and those that leave everything in order to follow him.
Leaving the crowd can mean different things to us at different times in our lives.
Outwardly, it may mean leaving a specific group of friends or ending a relationship, giving up an unhealthy practice, getting rid of material possessions that have a hold on us, leaving a specific job, or making certain lifestyle changes (to name a few).
Inwardly it often means giving up certain ideas about God, about ourselves, about our family or children, about others, about our past or our pain, and about how we think our lives should be, or should have been.
Relationally it may mean forgiving someone, being honest with someone, having consistent fellowship with some brothers and sisters, opening up your inner life to a brother or sister you trust, opening up issues in your marriage or family life to a loving and godly couple, or beginning to walk in the things the Lord has called you to for the building up of His Body.
Whatever it may be (and it could be more than one thing), it is generally not easy, because it means giving up what is known, what is comfortable, and what we can control in order to draw near to the Lord. It means coming out of our “self-life” in order to walk with Jesus in His life. But if we are willing to open it up to the Lord, He will call us out of it, and give us the strength to obey and follow him.
So how do you know if you are responding as a member in the crowd or as a disciple?
Well, there is a simple way to determine where you stand in any area of you life. Are you gaining understanding about your life that is causing God to turn and heal you? Because according to the portion in Isaiah mentioned above, that is the mark of God’s blessing towards His disciples (those who are near to him). Transformation, healing, and growth. And not just in a general way, but specifically in the areas in which we struggle. It is a life changed.
Jesus has not stopped speaking to us in parables. Because He is now in spirit, he is not limited to his earthly body, nor is he limited to speaking parables within the culture and the context of 1st century Jewish life. He can speak parables to you using any and every aspect of your life today. And if you have ears to hear and eyes to see, it too will be given to you to know the secrets of the Kingdom. Secrets that He has purposefully hidden into your life’s story with an intention for you to discover.
The question is, how inquisitive do the stories in your life make you? How much do you desire to actually come to understand the King and His Kingdom?
Inquisitive enough to leave the safety of the crowd in order to be near Jesus? Inquisitive enough to leave behind the way you have thought, the approaches you have taken, the concepts you have believed, and the way you have lived, in order to know him and make your home with him….
If you stay in the crowd, you will simply remain confused. Jesus will be the guy who’s ministry you followed for a little while, the guy who provides for your needs, does great miracles, to whom you pray, about whom you sing, who’s teachings you appreciate, and who’s disciples you know, but you will not understand or be able to effectively walk in the Kingdom of God today. And eventually, according to Jesus, even the spiritual life that flows from those things you have will come to an end.
However, if you leave the crowd today (in the specific things that are keeping you from being near Jesus), it will be given to you to know the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven. And you will not only gain an understanding of the parables he speaks to you through your life, but even more will be given to you (through your nearness to him), and you will have an abundance (you will be able to enjoy all the riches of the Kingdom that are in Christ).
If there are areas in your life that feel like a parable, here are some steps you could consider taking. Let the Lord guide you as to which you need to take.
- Prayerfully consider areas in your life in which you simply do not gain insight or growth, and ask the Lord what He would like you to do.
- Spend some time seeking the Lord through fasting, prayer, and through reading the scriptures, and trust him to speak to you.
- Spend some time with a wise and discerning brother or sister (in whose life you often see growth), and open up to them the area in your life that seems to be like a parable. Truly open your heart to receive what they have to say.
- Go on your knees and repent for the way you have been remaining in the crowd (in the specific area of you life), and immediately give it over to the Lord. Surrender it completely to the Lord. (relinquish control)
- Confess to brothers and sisters close to you about the area in which you have been remaining in the crowd, and ask them to help you come out, stay out, and remain near to the Lord.