Monday, September 12, 2011

Ministry and Love

Have you ever done something with the best of intentions.. but then done it all wrong? Like those times in school where there was a big homework assignment you had to complete---like, say, answering discussion questions 3-8 with a three page response per question---and you dutifully went about answering all the questions, meticulously crafting your answers for the best possible grade, only to find out you had answered questions from the wrong unit or book or whatever? And as a result, you got a big fat F? No matter how hard you work on those questions, not matter how right your answers-- they are answers to all the wrong questions.

I feel like I have been answering all the wrong questions.

For those with eyes to see, there is an infinite amount of work to do in bringing the kingdom. The task of the Church to be salt and light works its way out in a thousand myriad ways, intersecting with cultures and languages and churches and peoples and politics and social justice and war and peace and love and hate and all the problems and hopes of humanity. And though our task can be so large as to be overwhelming, we know that we cannot do anything less than be the Church; we know we can do nothing less than enact God's kingdom.

And so the question I have been asking myself (and the question I feel many of us ask ourselves) is this: what can I do to change the world? What can I do to bring the kingdom? What can I do to contribute to the vocation of the Church?

There is so much right about this question. It sounds so good. Its intentions are pure and honest and heartfelt. But just as tiny miniscule adjustments in the aim of an archer can produce massive differences when the arrow reaches the target, so too these questions, though flawed in a seemingly small way, produce differences in the final outworking of our life and ministry that are huge and noticeable and, to put it bluntly, off the mark. I know. It has happened to me.

I have found that the question, “what can I do to change the world?” sounds like it is about other people, but really just ends up being all about me. The intention is good, but the focus is wrong. I end up living missionally, ostensibly, for myself. I need to be right. I need to be holy. I need to be doing Christianity “correctly”. I, I, I! Me, me, me! I need the world to be changed, for communities to be impacted, for others' lives to be changed-- for myself. For my own justification. For my own satisfaction and sense of accomplishment and, ultimately, self worth.

Jesus said the greatest commandment is loving God, and right behind it is loving people. And I think the core of what it means to be loving is this: to live for the sake of something other than yourself. Our task is to be the embodiment of God's love in the world, and so to bring the kingdom and change the world. But we can't embody God's love by first focusing on ourselves. We can only embody God's love by loving God. Real ministry only happens where we deny ourselves, die to ourselves, sacrifice ourselves to God so that he can rule us, guide us, love us, sanctify us. The question isn't, “How can I change the world?” but “How can I join God in changing the world?” “How can I give myself up to God?” “How can I let God use me?”

In short, it is not about what I must do, but about what I must become.

Not too long ago I was praying, asking God, “What am I doing here? I have been striving and trying and working and thinking and doing, but I see nothing! Where is the fruit?! I thought the harvest was ripe? I know you are doing things here God, but I don't see it! Show me!” And as soon as I got up from praying I was invited to an unexpected place, met an unexpected man, and was witness to God's providence at work as that man was led from belief in God to belief in Christ. It was as if God was saying, “Yes, I am at work here. I am moving here. And this is the only avenue for real change: through me. Won't you join me?”

I will never be the embodiment of God's love to the world by focusing on myself. I will never change the world by trying to change the world myself. Its like trying to swim across the Sahara or run across the Pacific: the goal might be good, but the method is all wrong. The only method for lasting change in the world is love, pure and real, first for God and then for others. May God give me grace as I learn what it means to really love.

~J.L. Smith

1 comment:

  1. 1.I see what you did there. Seriously, I really did.

    2. It seems like He's hitting on this in my life too. And a few other people that I've been discussing with.

    3. Haole.

    4. Thanks for letting God use you and your words.