When something is hard to understand, incredibly complex, high powered with high potential, it usually takes an example or application or utility for it to be understood. When the guys at Bell Labs invented the transistor, almost nobody grasped its significance until the transistor radio showed up. It embodied the transistor and made the radio smaller, more portable, cheaper, and better. In many ways, the internet was like that too. Initially, it was a concept useful only to scientists and researchers…until Google, Yahoo, and Facebook. They embodied the internet and put the reality of its power and utility into regular people’s hands. Tremendous complexity behind it…extreme simplicity and value delivered to the billions of people who use it.
The Old Testament is the story of God trying to communicate His love and power to us. The narrative of the Jews is the narrative of humankind…selfish, stiff-necked, fickle in their faith, always focused on what’s in it for me, forgetful and ungrateful. The narrative of God is uncompromising holiness…its justice and truth, accompanied always by mercy and grace. Over and over, the Jews seem to understand, connect, and submit, only to turn around, reject God, and rebel.
At just the right time, God decided to reveal the embodiment of Himself. Jesus comes into history to show us a working model of God. For the first time, we see what God is like, and we see it in real-time. In human terms. Stories. Pictures. Moving pictures. Decisions He made. Actions He took. How He treated people. How He prayed and followed His Father. How He treated His mother. How He faced death. Jesus didn’t try to act like God, He was God. He lived, died, and lives now as the embodiment of His Father in the lives of Jesus-followers around the world. His disciples weren’t killed for what Jesus taught; they died because they wouldn’t stop talking about who He is…about who He embodied!
Even though I’ve led mentoring groups for decades and have helped countless other mentors and churches start mentoring, I’ve struggled to explain why a mentor can have such impact on a younger person…why regular small groups, Bible studies, and Sunday school classes pale in comparison.
Here’s what I’ve come to see…
The mentor is the embodiment of the Christian life observable and accessible to the mentee.
While anything but perfect, the life of the mentor, transparently exposed and fully committed, shows the mentee a real-life example of what a fully-alive Jesus-follower is like and what it can be for them if they go all-in. In a mentoring group, mentees see glimpses of Jesus in the other members of the group too. A composite begins to emerge…a way to believe, behave, and belong.
So, what does that mean? In real life?
Embodiment starts with grace and gratitude. The mentor has faced his sin and accepted God’s forgiveness. They’re not self-righteous, not a poser, but not self-deprecating either. They’re deeply grateful for their forgiveness, their adoption into God’s family, and their life with God. They know the contrast between their life in Jesus and their life without Jesus. They’ve grasped God’s love for them, which gives them peace and comfort in their skin. They’re connected with the Father, pursuing Him as they live. They’re reading, and learning constantly. Prayer marks their life, not as a ritual of practiced words, but His Presence…smiles, quietness, and personal worship. Their life projects God’s love, peace, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-discipline. When mentees are invited into their life, they see and hear how they navigate marriage, parenting, church, money, work, relationships, health issues, and all the rest. The closer the mentor walks with Jesus, the more their life will embody Jesus, and the more God will use their life to influence the mentees they invest in.
Until recently, I’d have said, “The best mentors will be those who are closest to God…who most embody Jesus.” But that’s wrong and shortsighted because it sets the bar someplace nobody can get to. You must start where you are. Look at Jesus’ disciples. They walked with the man Himself, yet they started their ministries in radically different places. Peter began with the shame of having denied Jesus, Thomas with his doubts, James and John with their ambition, and we don’t even know about the others.
We do know that walking alongside the embodiment of God for three and a half years set them on a course to make disciple-makers and change the world. In the end, they were sought after and killed, not because of what they’d learned or what they were teaching. They were dangerous because they’d seen the embodiment of God in their mentor and friend, Jesus. Through the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, they became the embodiment of Jesus and started to build the church, one city, one ecclesia, one disciple-maker at a time. They couldn’t stop being who they were, and they couldn’t deny what they’d seen and experienced.
If the Holy Spirit is urging you to mentor…to intentionally invest in another person for spiritual purposes…in any shape or form, take the next step toward that call. God will use whatever you give Him. Wherever your embodiment of Jesus happens to be right now, He’ll grow you deeper and faster as you’re helping someone a few steps behind you. Don’t wait until you’ve got it all together. You won’t ever get there. Start from where you are. Start now.
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