Fanning into flame…

prayer1I was praying for a renewal of passion for the gospel, fervency in prayer, and increased effectiveness in ministry amidst God’s people.  In many ways it was a prayer that I hadn’t prayed in quite the same way for some time, but I had to come to it again because I can’t function without God’s intervention and equipping.

Thing is…whilst I love the work I do, I find it incredibly draining of every resource I have.  Ministry has both given and taken everything many times over in the past.  It’s not an unusual thing…the apostle Paul knew what it was to be spent for the ministry of the gospel.  Thing is, there is a difference between being spent on the gospel and being spent on running churches, but thats not what I’m talking about today.

Whatever was going on in Timothy’s life, Paul had to write this to him:

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. 12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.  13 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you – guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

This has been an important text to me for some years, because

a)  I’m forgetful of my need to replenishing (v6) and the fire of my passion dwindles without regular stoking
b) I’m naturally timid and introverted, and God uses that, but I can’t operate in ministry without his power, love and strength for self-discipline (v7)
c) I’m a creature who prefers his comfort and I’d rather not suffer for anything, thank you very much.  Salvationist theology, as one who fully bought it, was demanding and the call to mission, holiness and sacrificial living was so contrary to the patterns of the world and even to the patterns of the ‘church’.  (v8 – 10)
d) I’m undeniably, like every Christian, called to such a passioned life.  I mean, sometimes looking at the church you’d never guess that we’re called into such a radical experience of mission and discipleship.  We get tired, we lose focus, life happens, and its easier to hunker down and wait for the storm to blow over….and yet, there’s a task that we’ve been entrusted with.  We’re ambassadors for the gospel.  And there are truths to be taught, shared and lived (v11 – 14).

It is easier to not pray for the ability to respond to this stuff.  Easier to fix my mind on smaller things.  It seems easy, like Jonah, to get on the boat for another direction.  And yet, in recent years where I’ve desperately wanted to run in the other direction, God continues to spit me up on the shore of some unsuspecting church where he asks it all of me again like a mad Father standing at the edge of the raining track as his boy gets ready to thunder to the other end of the field.

At heart, I’m a very reluctant church leader/pastor/thing.  Privately speaking.  But this is not the Spirit that God gives.  And so if I am to be anything beyond my very own limited self, it has to be Him who does the job.  I’m not up to it.  And lets be honest, God knows this very well!  He knows the inconsistencies, the doubts, struggles, fears, pains, inadequacies and all the rest and yet he STILL pushes us on.  It feels a bit like that passage where Mary pushed Jesus into responding to the wine shortage at the wedding.  Jesus snaps back at her, but like a good Jewish boy he goes and does what his mother tells him anyway!

Thing is, it turns out beautiful.  In the moment, when looking back on it, you can see the hand of God just taking our determined and uncertain obedience.  I guess I’ve enough instances in the bag now to trust that regardless of how qualified or unqualified I feel, God is the source of all I need.

My response is to keep praying the prayer, bowing the knee, relying on the grace.



Winter Pastor

Taking time to draw the warmth of the Spirit deep within us.

Maybe it’s just me and my own personality/spirituality, but I find winter to be a deeply reflective time.  Perhaps it is the longer hours indoors, the longer nights, or simply just the need to adjust our lives to the natural rhythms of our world.  If a winter internal withdrawing is good enough for the tree, pulling its life resources deep inside to survive the winter, it’s good enough for me!  But then that’s what feeds me, so I have no problem with a shift of pace.

Our world, of course, races on at its own pace and our electricity to light the dark, the connectivity and the 24 hour society, demand constant production, activity, and movement.  I observe many people rushing around here and there, the amazing frenetic activity…but for what?  I know the mortgage needs paid, the loan needs tending to, the holiday needs booking and the kids school trip needs paid for… but is there no time to dig deeper into your own life and God’s work of grace in you?

Perhaps, at times, the role of ‘the pastor’ is to be subversively countercultural.  I say this tongue in cheek, of course, because what I really mean is that a pastor should be radically countercultural…no perhaps about it.  Someone has to take the slower pace:  to stop, to listen, to take note, to reflect, to hear, and then having heart, to speak.  And, ultimately, to be with the other.  ‘Running a church’ is a part of the ‘day job’ – but its far from the primary task.  I’d venture to say that its the thing that can even get in the way of ‘the task’ if the institutional expression of our community life gets out of hand.

My view of ministry has taken radical shifts over the years (‘thank the Lord’, I hear some of you say!) and I’m increasingly convinced that however good my preaching, biblical knowledge, strategic visionary leadership, administration, and worship leading is, it counts for very little if we lose relational connectivity to people.  We don’t just do these things to people, but alongside and in connection.  We take on the ‘monastic’ values of availability and vulnerability.   And I don’t just mean an institutional availability like a voice at the end of a call centre number…

How am I to know what to preach about unless I hear what people are facing?  How am I to know how the heart of God for a people unless I take the time to listen to their hearts as well as God’s?    And how are they to trust me if I can’t open up my heart and life to them?  Ministry doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  And it is not a generic one size fits all.  You just can’t do the same year 17 times (or however many times) over…ministry is always incarnational to specific settings and people and is different in each collection of God’s people.  ‘But’ I hear you say, ‘the gospel never changes and Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever’.  This is true.  And Jesus himself took his eternal nature and submitted it to the earth and to people in a particular time and setting, entered into their lives and, as Peterson puts it, ‘moved into the nighbourhood.’  Jesus travelled less miles than my mother…and that’s saying something.  But yet, he took the biggest journey of all for the sake of his people.

To do this, I also need to prepare my own heart through knowing what God is doing in me.  I need to know how God and life is shaping me, and what they’re teaching me.  I also need to be aware of my own ‘internal furniture’ that has the potential to be bumped into as I am with others.  Hurt people hurt people.  I need to do the inner work, cooperating with grace, so that I can truly be available to others in whatever ‘condition’ they are in.

But I close with this:  people aren’t projects to be fixed or resources to be used.  “If only they weren’t going through relational challenges…they’d be so good in [insert your own] ministry”.  “If only they weren’t so short tempered, they’d be ideal for …” The Grace  of God produces redemption, restoration and sanctification at Gods speed.  Tell me one biblical character other than Christ who had it altogether perfect before being allowed to participate in God’s redemptive purposes?

The pastoral role is one which has the capacity to subvert the usual rat race, overachievement and fuss, and with prophetic intentionality, it has the possibility of pointing people to deeper stories, deeper rhythms and deeper paths ahead…if only we’d dare to tread them ourselves.

And this is what knitting a sock taught me today.