I am back at home after 8 days of vacation in Manitoba with family. It was a great change of pace. I wouldn't call it a time of rest, exactly, because there was a lot of activity happening (family events and outings almost every day) and I also spoke at church meetings twice. It is always a privilege to address a group of people gathered together to engage with God and with each other, but it also requires a lot of thought and effort on my part. And it should. Being in the position of a teacher is one of the greatest burdens and highest joys I know.
Just over a week ago I spoke at a church in Ottawa. I was still recovering from a bad case of food poisoning and due to this, considered cancelling the engagement or passing the task on to Dean. But when I took the time to listen to God, it became clear that he loves my weakness - that place where I realize I must depend totally on him for strength. Here are a few thoughts from that talk in Ottawa which I entitled: Unscrambling My Ministry.
The term "my ministry" often leaves us puzzled. What exactly is it? Do I really have one? What am I supposed to do to serve the church? Ministry simply means "a person or agent through whom something is accomplished." If I were to explain it, I would say that "my ministry" is actually the ministry of Jesus (doing what he initiates) that I do through Jesus (relying on his strength) for Jesus (serving and loving him in all I do).
In my experience, I have found that there is a winning combination (not in the sense that I win anything, really, but you know what I mean) that positions me closer to the ministry of Jesus. This happens when a few key elements come together.
1. The first one is when my love and compassion exceed my capacity to deliver on them. When I open my heart to God and to the world around me, I often feel moved to help someone, or find myself filled with love for someone. At the same time, I am lost as to what to do about it practically. This gift of love or compassion means that I am in some small way recognizing and receiving the rich love and grace of God present all around me. I have opened my heart. I have opened my hands. I am no longer keeping people at a distance, afraid of getting hurt. I am joining myself with God's desire and Jesus' prayer to be one with those around me. But what do I do about it?
2. The second element is to join this compassion with the weakness always present in me. It is embracing humility. I felt ill-equipped to speak to the people in the church in Ottawa, but my desire to give them a gift and to bless them outweighed my desire to impress them with my oratory skills. I decided to let my weakness be the place where God could show himself stronger and more capable than anything I could come up with. Humility. Honesty. Honour. My responsibility was not to give them the greatest sermon ever, but to honour God and be present generously with them. In fact, the times I stumbled over my words and lost my train of thought illustrated that without the generous spirit of Jesus, there was not much I had to offer. Will I rely on God to bring what I lack? Can I bring what little I have and let my weakness show? Can I put myself out there with my limited love and trust that God will make something out of it? Yes, I have to risk this. Over and over, I must put myself in this vulnerable position.
3. The "my" part of ministry is simply the time and place and space that I dwell in. No one else can occupy my space on this earth - physically, intellectually, emotionally. Only I can be present to all the situations and relationships that I live through. This is uniquely my ministry, my place to serve, to love, and to accomplish what Jesus has initiated. No one else can take this place, so no matter how inadequate or under-prepared I feel, my weak attempts to love others and serve Jesus in my work, my home, my school, my comings and goings, my hobbies, and my neighbourhood are better than the void that would be left if I did nothing. What am I already doing? Where is Jesus present in this?
Weakness is not a limitation nor an excuse to get out of ministry. It is the place where my ministry meets Jesus' ministry, and I get to exchange my fear and inadequacy for his strength and ability. Listen to what Paul has to say about it:
...so I wouldn't get a big head, I
was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my
limitations. Satan's angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was
push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first
I didn't think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did
that, and then he told me,
My grace is enough; it's all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.
Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap
and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ's strength moving in
on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these
limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks.
I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10, The Message).
The photo: Taken at the picnic we had with the group in Ottawa on Sunday afternoon: here is one person from Montreal and one from Ottawa sharing a moment.