Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A (Counter-Intuitive) word of encouragement for anyone tired in ministry.

Preparing a sermon on Colossians 1:24-2:5 for Sunday has got me thinking.

I am becoming increasingly convinced that most answers to our deep questions come in counter-intuitive forms. And you'd expect that since we believe in Grace.

What do I mean? Let's say I have a question to answer, or an issue to solve, or something deep and conflicting within my heart that I need resolved. Here is a path I could try:

A. Discern the most intuitive answer, and then...
B. Do the exact opposite.
I want revenge, so I'll seek forgiveness.
I think shopping will make the pain go, so I'll give away that which I hold most dear.
I want to set more boundaries, so I'll say Yes more often.
I want to be first, so I'll plan on being the last.
I want to be great, so I'll plan on being a slave.
I want pleasure, so I'll choose pain.
I want to live, so I'll choose the Cross.

In the spirit of counter-intuition, I offer this reflection for those who are tired in ministry:

My Pastor in Chicago, Bill Leslie, said he often felt like an old hand-operated water pump, the kind still found in some camp grounds. Everyone who came to him for help would pump vigorously a few times, and each time he felt something drain out of him. Ultimately he reached a place of spiritual emptiness, with nothing more to give. He felt dry, desiccated. In the midst of this period, Bill went on a weeklong retreat and bared his soul to a spiritual director. He expected her to offer soothing words about what a sacrificial, unselfish person he was, and then perhaps to recommend a sabbatical. Instead, she said:

"Bill, there’s only one thing to do if your reservoir runs dry. You’ve got to go deeper."

He returned from that retreat convinced that his faith depended less on his outer journey of life and ministry than on his inner journey towards spiritual depth.

From Philip Yancey’s Reaching for the Invisible God .


Pic taken by Brian U on Flickr.


Justin said...

And I forgot to say:

That little thought from Yancey's pastor has got me over lots of humps in the ministry.

Anonymous said...

There's so much paradox in the Christian faith.

Along a similar theme, i have recently been thinking about that proverb "a gentle answer turns away wrath". I can be a hothead so my darling husband has demonstrated this to me a lot! It's amazing how the gentle answer has helped me diffuse a situation even with my extremely strong willed 16 month old Charlotte. There's a place for "No" and "Don't" but sometimes when she's escalating she responds to a gentle word more than anything else.

And then there's that Michael card song, something like ...
"we in our foolishness thought we were wise,
He played the fool and he opened our eyes,
We in our weakness believed we were strong,
He became helpless to show we were wrong".

Nat Jonker

Sharon said...

Hi Justin, your post reminds me of 2 things - Jeremiah 2v13 - where he equates sin to digging our own wells in search of water and living from that water instead of the living water...

11 Has a nation ever changed its gods?
(Yet they are not gods at all.)
But my people have exchanged their [d] Glory
for worthless idols.

12 Be appalled at this, O heavens,
and shudder with great horror,"
declares the LORD.

13 "My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water.

and a quote from Gerald May ....also to be found in Yancey's search for the invisible God ... ‘In reality, our lack of fulfilment is the most precious gift we have. It is the source of our passion, our creativity, our search for God. All the best of life comes out of our human yearning - our not being satisfied’.....I take encouragement from both of these The first one by asking 'Am i digging my own well?' and the second 'what is my expectation?'....xxxx

Megs said...

Wow, Sharon, thanks for that Philip Yancey quote!

justin, i don't know precisely why, but my intuition (oh oops!) says that while the other counterintuitions on your list are all helpful and wise suggestions, the 'i want to learn to establish boundaries so i'll say yes more often' is an unhelpful counterintuition. I think difficulty with boundaries and distrust of one's own intuition go hand in hand, and learning to establish boundaries by saying 'no' and to listen to and honour one's own intuition are incredibly important steps in the healing process of many people. Often it seems to me that 'good' concepts in Christianity, like what you're saying on this post, whilst being helpful to most folk can be very confusing and unhelpful to those working through painful and difficult issues. I think it would be really good if Christian leaders could mention this dilemma sometimes, so as to not ostracise and confuse those to whom I refer. Thanks for this thought-provoking post, and HI to Laurel, The Boy and The Girl!! It's almost exactly a year since we visited you! Wow!

Craig Tubman said...

I understand the water pump.

Helen said...

Hi Justin,
Great post I really enjoyed reading this. i thought the same thing as Megs actually about the boundaries one being for some reason the odd one out to me, and then thought maybe i misunderstood the rest of it! But I think for me personally it could be rephrased as I always want to say 'Yes' therefore I should practice saying 'No!'? but for others it's maybe the opposite?
Thanks for the challenge, I have been thinking about it a lot since reading.

Justin said...

Nat -- Good call!

Justin said...

Sharon -- so great to hear from you. I know its in Blogland! We wish we could get to the UK. But let us know if you are States-bound at any time.

‘In reality, our lack of fulfilment is the most precious gift we have. It is the source of our passion, our creativity, our search for God. All the best of life comes out of our human yearning - our not being satisfied’

Gerald May.
Shall lock that Away.


Justin said...

Megs -- As always, you are thoughtful.

But tell me -- aren't they all like that? Don't they all have the same problem that you are describing?

I thought long about including the boundaries one. (Not too long!). I included it precisely because in the all others, one could simply nod, and not take them too seriously.

But the boundaries one makes it real, right?

You can't ignore that one.

It feels the most counterintuitive for most of us. But it shouldn’t be, right? Surely the ‘to live, you have to pick up your cross’ is the most counterintuitive??

Justin said...

Helen -- I like your thoughts. Maybe thats how this is supposed to work: How do I live?? With or against the flow! How does this work?

By the way, I really do believe in boundaries, just as Jesus did: Mark 1:35-39, but still...

Justin said...

Craig -- Same.

jodi said...

justin, craig - after the week that's just been (well for me any way), isn't it great to know you're not the only one? makes you feel a bit like texas - dry but with other well holes everywhere...