The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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Jesus the master improviser 1/4 | A long improvisation in the same direction

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, ‘They have no more wine.’

‘Woman, why do you involve me?’ Jesus replied. ‘My hour has not yet come.’

His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water’; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, ‘Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.’ And they did so.

JOHN 2:1–8

Life doesn’t come with a script.

And neither does following Jesus. Yes, we want to live our lives as if Jesus were us – following his ways in our specific time and place. It’s just that our times and places are not blank pages, inertly awaiting our plans.

But neither was Jesus’ time and place. His ministry was full of interruptions, detours, and competing agendas. So how did Jesus adapt and respond to the unforeseen and untimely, while staying purposeful?

That’s something we can learn from him.

Take, for example, the story of Jesus turning water into wine in John 2.* Notice how, responding to his mother’s implied ‘can’t you do something about the fact they’ve run out of wine?’, Jesus initially resists involvement.

Mary chooses to ignore his reluctance and instructs the servants to do what Jesus tells them. And, despite the timing not being right, Jesus gets involved anyway. Then, miraculously, this impromptu act becomes his inaugural sign, ‘through which he revealed his glory’ (v11), setting the tone for Jesus’ exuberant kingdom to come.

The party is all the better for it.

Every day, we must navigate our way through a complex web of people, agendas, and interruptions. And so, every day, we must work with what comes our way. The email that drops in. The order that didn’t arrive. The people who didn’t show up, or the person that did.

Discipleship is neither a science nor an art. It is a practice. More specifically, it is the practice of – to coin a phrase – a long improvisation in the same direction.

Wait, stay with me! Improvising is not ‘making it up as you go along’. Neither is it ‘what you do when all else fails.’

Improvising is using what you have to hand, to make your unique contribution.

That’s what Jesus did at the wedding in Cana. He used what he had (the water and his mother’s complaint) to make his unique contribution (the wine that honoured his mother, blessed the party, and revealed his glory).

In this series we will learn from Jesus, the master improviser. In his ministry we will see creative strategies that can aid our own discipleship. Practised well, this approach not only frees us to make a better contribution. In our actions and reactions, Jesus can be glorified in unexpected and delightful ways.

Isn’t that better than reading from a script?

Let’s get the party started.

Tim Yearsley
Head of Innovation, LICC

What’s your first response to an interruption or untimely request, and what does this reveal about your ability to improvise like Jesus? Join the conversation below

*For more on Jesus as the ‘master improviser’ in the story of converting water into wine, see MaryAnn McKibben Dana, God, Improv, and the Art of Living (Eerdmans, 2020).


  1. I juggle multiple ministry responsibilities; I found this a really helpful way of looking at what can appear chaotic work.

    By Moira Biggins  -  3 Jul 2024

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