Intentionally Chasing Those Who are Running

James Warren - Senior Pastor | Real Life Ministries Indiana, Zionsville, IN

There’s a song that has recently ingratiated itself as a mainstay in worship services. Perhaps you have sang along with the bridge, a driving, repetitious hook that conjures up a humbling image of God’s overwhelming, never-ending love. It proclaims, “There’s no shadow You won’t light up, Mountain You won’t climb up, Coming after me. There’s no wall You won’t kick down, Lie You won’t tear down, Coming after me.” The first time I heard that bridge, I confess I did not envision the steadfast, loving, persistent Savior these words were written to inspire. You know what I thought of? A horror movie. Yes, my should-of-been worshiping brain envisioned a Michael Myers-esque character chasing the protagonist regardless of their sought asylum. They can run, but they can’t hide. It’s terrifying. Then, I repented and struggled to worship without picturing a man in a mask chasing me up a mountain. I failed.

The diversity of relational dynamics within discipleship could eclipse the sum of all the stories that have graced cinematic screens. Best case scenario: Discipleship exemplified as a feel-good family film, complete with happy ending. But, more often than not, it’s more of a comedy or a drama or a brain-scrambling mystery. From the perspective of the one being chased, it may even feel like a horror movie. Think of Jonah! Picture yourself in that man’s shoes. God is calling you. He’s after you! Panicked, you hide yourself in the belly of a frail and battered ship, hoping this dark, damp hideaway will conceal you from God’s pursuit. Then, just when you believe you’re safe, the clouds move in. The rain pours, thunder rolls, the ship begins to toss about! The terrified wails of the crew scratch their way through the cacophony of wind as water cascades down into the hold. Sobriety strikes like a blow to the gut, “He’s found me!” Yet, this is a critical aspect of making disciples: intentionally chasing those who are running from God.

My friend, Jon, is well versed in this scenario. Jon’s life was one gruesome hit after another, extracting a gut-wrenching emotional experience that left him out of breathe and out of hope. His life was in shambles: a tough divorce, a lost job, six kids from infant to “height of rebellion” teenager, depression. Jon said when we first met, “If God exists, He’s got it out for me.” For him, being pursued by God wasn’t an awe-inspiring, knee- buckling experience, and he’s not alone. Whether due to life experience, pride, or a simple lack of understanding God’s loving nature, many lost sheep don’t look over their shoulder and see a tender shepherd coming to rescue them. They imagine something more akin to a man in a hockey mask coming to hack up the only way of life they know, and it’s terrifying. So they run. They hide in shadows, build walls, and shroud themselves in lies. I did the same once, and likely so did you. Whether you’ve accepted God’s love or not, He is quite the intimidating figure! Psalm 90 paints an alarming image of the Almighty. What should we feel like, being chased down by the omnipotent being of whom verse 11 states, “Your wrath matches the fear due you”? And yet, we are chased regardless of how it feels. God’s unrelenting love is not diminished by our fear. He is unfazed. He is unstoppable. He is overwhelming.

When I first met Jon, I was completely lost as to how to shepherd him well. I did not have Jon’s life experiences. To him, every tragic event that unraveled before him was a punishment being manipulated by a vengeful deity. It was the complete opposite my understanding. At first, I tried to fix Jon with my sage wisdom and spiritual prowess. It took mistakes and time for me to realize, Jon didn’t need a perfect pastor, he needed a friend who would get bloody with him. I set aside my expectation of being the hero. His pain became my pain. I crawled down into the pit of his life and sat with him for two years. Daily, I engaged with him, bandaged fresh wounds, begged him to find the strength to swallow just a bit more nourishment from Scripture.

During those years, Jon heard truth and acknowledged areas of his life that needed to be surrendered. Still, he ran. He was hit and miss at small groups and weekend services. He was faithful, then he was reclusive. At times, calling, inviting him out for coffee, and texting to check in yet again was the most draining exercise of my week. This was no Disney musical. After two long years of intentional discipleship, I had seen enough evidence of spiritual growth to hold him accountable for his habitual running from God. So I was honest, firm, and loving when I called him out for his Jonah routine. It was a difficult conversation. I thought he would be furious and embrace his original idea that God was a monster all along. Instead, when we finished speaking, I received the longest hug any man outside my father has ever given me. He loved me for it.

So, happy ending, right? Not quite. Often, Jon still runs when life gets hard. He still wrestles with trusting God as a gentle Shepherd. But you know who he trusts? Me, the one God chose to represent His love to this tired, scared, single father of six. Our Creator foresaw the mistrust Jon would have, so He sent an ambassador to our weary protagonist, so he didn’t have to experience all of life’s trauma alone. My prayer is that my friend will someday realize that he trusts me only because I’ve chased him down the same way God chased me down: with patience, love, patience, honesty, and more patience. I can’t fix Jon, his broken family, or the trials that come with being a single father. That’s God’s part to play. But I can keep chasing, keep loving, keep investing, even if the pursuit looks different over time. It’s been four years since I met Jon and his precious kids. Two years in the pit with him, two years calling him out of the pit. This is what it looks like to intentionally chase someone running from God. More and more often, Jon is showing up at my home and our church, where he knows he is loved, and his family is safe. And that’s right where I will always be for him. Because chasing doesn’t always take the form of pursuit. Sometimes chasing looks like predicting where someone will go and waiting for them there. In the movie ‘biz, they call that a jump scare.

by James Warren
Senior Pastor
Real Life Ministries Indiana
Zionsville, IN