Today I was amazed that my devotional reading was perfectly exactly what I needed today. Then, as I shared it with my wife, she noticed that I was actually off by a day… I’m not sure when I missed a day and as I expressed my disappointment that I “goofed” somehow and got off in my Oswald Chambers Journal, my wife pointed out, that if today’s message was exactly what I needed, then God actually had me get off somehow so that I would “accidently” read today’s today, instead of when I supposed to. All that to say, even in our mundane mistakes, God is at work.
Today was a difficult day in my private journey as a pilgrim of Christ. I’ll leave it at that as far as details go, but enough to say, of all the difficult days I may experience in life, today will always be one of the most difficult I ever had to face. And yet God’s peace was evident and his mercy flowed freely and his grace was abundant.
My passage today (accidently) was “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37)
Paul is speaking of the things that might seem likely to separate or wedge in between the saint and the love of God; but the remarkable thing is that nothing can wedge between the love of God and the saint. These things can and do come in between devotional exercises of the soul and God and separate individual life from God; but none of them is able to wedge in between the love of God and the soul of the saint. The bedrock of our Christian faith is the unmerited, fathomless marvel of the love of God exhibited on the Cross of Calvary, a love we never can and never shall merit. Paul says this is the reason we are more than conquerors in all these things, super-victors, with a joy we would not have but for the very things which look as if they are going to overwelm us. The surf that distresses the ordinary swimmer produces in the surf-rider the super-joy of going clean through it. Apply that to our own circumstances, these very things – tribulation, distress, persecution, produce in us the super-joy; they are not things to fight. We are more than conquerors through Him in all these things, not in spite of them, but in the midst of them. The saint never knows the joy of the Lord in spite of tribulation, but because of it – ‘I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation,’ says Paul. Undaunted radiance is not built on anything passing, but on the love of God that nothing can alter. The experiences of life, terrible or monotonous, are impotent to touch the love of God, which is in Christ our Lord.
I wrote in the margin, “Be overwhelmed by nothing other than the love of God.”
Life is precious and all too short. And we so easily miss what matters most, and as I have learned this past year, one of the biggest threats to our spiritual life is not sin, but ministry. Ministry that overruns our intimacy with God and family. Hidden behind a passion for ministry can be a desire to please God, impress God, and matter to God… to somehow be worthy of his love, his salvation, and the life and ministry He has blessed us with. Sure, salvation was free, but I want to be worthy of it after the fact, since I know just how unworthy I truly am. And so we set out with DO lots for God, when all he wants, all He died for, was US, not anything we can do for Him. It doesn’t mean that our ministry isn’t sincere, effective, or fruitful, it is just that it is too much and overshadows what is more important. Sure, we try to “make time for God” and “make time for family” – but ministry is what drives us from morning to night. It ought to be that the most important thing daily is our relationship with God and our family, and then we “make time” for service to God. I know I had it backwards, and I doubt I am alone in that, and the result was catastrophic when I finally reached a breaking point.
Here is what I was supposed to read today… and it was fitting as well:
No one is ever united with Jesus Christ until he is willing to relinquish, not sin only, but his whole way of looking at things. To be born from above of the Spirit of God means that we must let go before we lay hold, and in the first stages it is the relinquishing of all pretense. What our Lord wants us to present to Him is not goodness, nor honesty, nor endeavour (ministry service)…. He wants us to relinquish all pretense of being anyting, all claim of being worthy of God’s consideration. Am I willing to relinquish everything and to be identified only with the death of Jesus Chirst?
It is easy to focus on sin in our world, and the more sensational the sin, the better! But it is much harder to focus on the ill-effects of hyper-achieving ministry, and how ministry has a habit of breaking people who are blind to the effect ministry can have when it is out of balance. There is a reason that the average length of a minister’s career is only a few years… ministry, as “Godly” as it is, can be a destroyer of saints who are blindsided by the effects of over zealous ministry, despite how sincerely motivated it may be. We are serving God! People are going to hell! There is no time for anything else… including our intimate walk with God. We can be so busy serving God, that too often sincere saints don’t even see the eroding effect on their spiritual life and family life. I was one of them.
One of the many amazing things I have learned in the past year as I have slowed waaaaaay down is that the world we live in is much more broken then I ever knew. Oh, I knew that those without Christ live broken and hurting lives as a result of their sin, and that compelled me and motivated me to do all that I could to reach them with the Gospel, and I focused on kids because if we can reach them before it is too late, we can save them so much pain and agony… what I was blind to was how much pain and hurt and brokeness exists in the body of Christ. I was moving too fast in the ministry express lane to notice. But as I have met with friends and people over the past year to share with them my own brokeness and the lessons I am learning, so many open up to me and share their own brokeness, things they would have never told me before… because I was one of the naive who was not aware of the way things truly are. My transparency has opened up a whole new world where Christ is the helper, healer, and restorer of so many brothers and sisters in Christ who I assumed had it all together, as they did of me. I have learned that the Church is a place where people are scared to be open and honest about real life struggles, because real life is too shocking for the Church to handle and usually only judgement results or rejection, instead of grace and acceptance. A professional counselor told me recently that he believes the center of grace has moved from the pastor’s office to the counselors office because too many pastors today can’t handle the realities of sin and brokeness, and in response they often judge or cast away those they should be helping. They are shocked by sin, though they shouldn’t be. So people turn to counselors, the only ones they can truly trust because they are legally bound to be confidential and trust worthy. How sad. I am grateful we have counselors, and that there is a safe place available for those who recognize they need help… but for an hourly fee? What happened to the body of Christ?
Let me encourage you to open your eyes to the world around you. Seek genuine friendships where you can be real and open about your own struggles, and be one of the rare few who is open to listen, accept, forgive and offer grace and mercy to the hurting around you. Odds are, there are some people in your life you are assuming are “fine” when they are carrying deep personal pain and hurt and believe there is no one who cares or that they can trust to talk to or who will truly walk with them. The Church talks much about Christ being a friend to sinners, but we are to be friends of sinners too. Not just pass the buck to Jesus. We are to BE Jesus to the hurting around us, and its not just our unsaved neighbors who are hurting and struggling, it is the people in the pews around us on Sunday too. In fact, they are probably hurting more, because they are sincerely trying to live for God, but failing or faultering.
I used to look for those who could be examples to me… who had it together and who I could model my life after… and I hoped I too could be that for others… now I’d rather fellowship with other failures… those who can see their short-comings and understand that only through Christ can we have any hope of not only being conquerors, but Praise God, we can be MORE than conquerors through Christ who loves us with an overwhelming love.
If you are overwhelmed by life or ministry… be overwhelmed instead by God’s love for you and release what God is not asking you to bear. He isn’t overwhelmed, so why are you?
If you are not… (and that’s ok) then open your eyes! Someone nearby you is, and probably not who you expect. Be an encourager for them! Be a real friend who is ok with them being real. When your turn comes (and Jesus promised tribulation!) you will have a friend in return.
If you are a failure.. welcome to the club! The Church isn’t supposed to be a country club for those who are doing “OK” and living in victory, it supposed to be a place where sinners are welcome. And you and I are invited!
If you are in ministry and share the struggle of balancing your walk with God, your family life, and your Call to ministry, I invite you to my other blog The Growing Edge. It is where I regularly write on more serious topics in my journey as a recovering pastor. This blog is normally for more light-hearted fun, humor, and glimpses into life’s adventures, but I was compelled today to re-post this entry on both blogs.