The Tent of Meeting: Balancing Intimacy and Mission Engagement


Here’s a simple observation. Some of us are activists and some of us are more contemplative. That is, some of us are natively wired to contend for change while others are instinctively drawn to deeper reflection.

Which are you?

Or, more importantly for this discussion, which of these two ways of life sound more like a disciple of Christ?

There are so many ways we describe these streams: abiding v. activity; doing v. being; Mary v. Martha; sacred v. secular. But what if Jesus was actually inviting us into a life that runs deeper and wider than our natural instincts? What if the essence of discipleship was the daily invitation to discover more of the integrated both/and life that we see in Jesus himself?

Think with me about some of Jesus’s declarations:

  • “He appointed the twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and have authority over demons.” (Mk 3:14)

  • “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” (Mt 4:19)

  • “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (Jn 14:5)

  • “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt. 22:37-39)

  • “His sheep know his voice and they follow him.” (Jn 10:3)

  • “If you abide in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.” (Jn 15:5)

  • “This is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (Jn 17:3) [and] you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. (Jn 17:19)

  • “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.” (Lk 8:21)

Prayer and obedience. Reflection and action. Being and doing. Everywhere the invitation of Jesus is to a both/and life.

I see this invitation lived out in the example of Jesus, too. Over and over you find him going off by himself to pray, sometimes spending the entire night with the Father. Then you find him leaving a clamoring crowd who wanted and needed him in order to travel to new villages and new groups of people. After a wave of intense ministry, you hear him tell his disciples, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mk 6:31). You see him miraculously feed a massive crowd of 5,000 men and then send his disciples away from the crowd across the lake while he goes up on the mountain to pray. He demonstrated the constant ebb and flow of engagement and withdrawal, of ministry activity and intimacy with the Father.

I need that invitation. The truth about me is that I am wired as one of those activist types. My native wiring is to make things happen, to get things done, to be on the go. I think about strategy and goals and new challenges and ways we can carry the work of the Kingdom wider into new territory. My eyes are instinctively on the horizon.

But here’s the lie. I used to believe that because I was naturally wired to think wider rather than deeper—if that makes sense—my soul didn’t need the same contemplative practices others spoke of. I was wrong. The older I get the more I recognize that the perspective I need, the peace I can’t live without, and the anchor that keeps me centered when life swirls madly around me are all found in the presence of Jesus.

I am coming to understand that prayer is so much more than informing God about all the things on my list I’m afraid he doesn’t fully understand. Learning to follow Jesus with my whole self—the essence of discipleship—means learning to be with Jesus. Learning to listen for and recognize his voice. Coming to know him deeply in a way that is not possible without extended time in his presence.

Moses demonstrated the coming together of these two “opposites,” intimacy and engagement. A ways out from the camp of Israel, he set up “the Tent of Meeting” as a place anyone could go to inquire of the Lord. He used to go out to that tent and there the Lord “would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks with a friend” (Ex 33:7-11). But that Tent of Meeting was much more than a place of personal intimacy with the Lord. This Tent itself was a place of both/and integration. Moses maintained personal intimacy with the Lord in the Tent, but he also worked through leadership decisions, strategic planning, interpersonal conflict, and even campsite logistics.

What’s my point? In a day when the pressure of our culture is to divorce secular from spiritual, it is easy to separate our private spiritual practices from the rest of our lives. It is easy to adopt a faulty discipleship that firewalls intimacy with the Lord from the demanding activities of our lives and work. It is even easy to divorce the work of ministry from the abiding Jesus spoke of.

Discipleship in the way of Jesus calls for an alternative to cultural norms. For me, it has been developing my contemplative muscles. If you are natively wired on the contemplative side, I would suggest you need to grow in your understanding of the formative power of mission engagement.

Either way, you will discover that the mission of God lies at the intersection of contemplation and contending.

Go Deeper

You can listen to Gary’s workshop on this topic here.



Gary Mayes joined Novo in 1997 after 20 years of pastoral ministry, in order to live out his calling to equip leaders to build the church to reach the world of tomorrow. He’s the executive director of ChurchNEXT, giving leadership to 150 staff who serve on 17 teams worldwide. Gary and his wife Margaret live in the Phoenix area near their two adult children and two grandsons.