We have been in our new appointment for exactly one month. We have crossed the Ocean, unpacked our boxes (most of them), and found the best bakery with the best mountain bread. Everything else feels pretty up in the air. The months of July-August are so hot in Italy that Corps activities stop for the entire Summer. Apart from a few visits, organizing the Ri-Shop (Thrift Store), and preparing for Sunday Worship … there is not much to do. This is completely different from the life we left behind in June.
As days turned into weeks and the panic and shock of non-activity slowly settled, I found myself surprised by thoughts and feelings long suppressed. In the quiet of the day-to-day, with time for deep thinking, sins and wounds slowly came to the surface. God’s voice sounds clearer than it has in a while – the noise of my life softer than it has been in years.
My encounters with God are not happening in pockets of time penciled in my agenda; rather they are dispersed throughout the day, constant. As I hang laundry to dry, wash dishes by hand, play in the courtyard with my son, or sit at a coffee bar when the heat finally subsides. There is time here—time for self-examination, for thoughts, for conversation with God.
His invitation for intimacy is here. I timidly say yes, suddenly feeling self-conscious in His presence; the leaves have fallen. There is nothing between us. No meetings, no staff, no programs, no activities. Just plenty of time to heed Paul’s encouragement to “Test [myself] to make sure [I am] solid in the faith.” Paul challenges, “Don’t drift along taking everything for granted. Give yourselves regular checkups. You need firsthand evidence, not mere hearsay that Jesus Christ is in you. Test it out.” (2 Corinthians 13:5-10; MSG)
I think that if we want to be good leaders, we need to lead the way in following Jesus. We need to lead the way in sitting at His feet, testing ourselves, making sure we are in the faith.
Our schedules and lives should never be so frantic that our inner life is left unattended. Over-activity numbs us. It leaves little -if any- room for catching up with ourselves and with Him.
How can we lead others towards Christ and His healing and transformative power if it’s not something we have experienced and are experiencing daily? How will we lead others towards wholeness if we are broken? Monday through Sunday there are activities, pick-ups, administrations, board meetings, Bible Studies, fundraisers, and who knows what else (you do!).
These frantic schedules do not allow us to rest. We may even pride ourselves with not resting. Sabbaths and days off are cut in 1/24th slices and are scattered irregularly throughout the year. We put on our uniform, we passionately live busy spiritual lives for and in the outside world whilst our inner spiritual life with Jesus is completely neglected. We read in blogs and on Facebook of officers so burnt out, so emptied out, so exhausted… And the only answer echoes throughout, “me too.”
We might think, ‘So what?’ ‘Now what?’
With an overpacked schedule, I have put on my uniform and prayed, visited with people, and planned for who-knows-what without even one direct thought to and for God. There was no time for it. Being a pastor is my passion. Those actions happened easily and automatically out of my heart and my dedication to the Mission. I am guessing it’s the same for others.
That’s the first danger for me: putting the uniform on and “living the part” – even if it is with the best intentions; saying and doing all the right things -not hypocritically – but disconnected from Jesus; being so caught in the doing that Officership becomes a job rather than a covenant; numbers-driven rather than focused on being and making disciples; a to-do list rather than a journey that undoes us to make us more like Him. We can excel at praying with others, preaching exegetical sermons, visiting the shut-ins, showing grace to rowdy teenagers but it’ll just be a job if we don’t put Jesus front and centre in our personal lives.
Secondly, I think we run the risk of staying ‘babes in the faith’, always on the surface with Jesus. With no time to be with Him amidst all the doing, we can’t possibly grow. And, consequently, we’ll end up leading a Church that also only stays on the surface with Him. In the ‘safety’ of serving Him with full agendas we never have time to wander into the darker and broken places of our own souls. We are never confronted with our sins and flesh. There is no time or place for it. At night, when the building’s lights are shut off and the keys of the 12-passenger are hanging by the door we find ourselves too exhausted to deal with ourselves.
“Having so long been out of touch with the deepest longing, we fail to recognize the voice and The One who is calling us through it. […] some of us silence the voice by locking our heart away in the attic, feeding it only the bread and water of duty and obligation until it is almost dead, the voice now small and weak. But sometimes in the night, when our defenses are down, we still hear it call to us, oh so faintly – a distant whisper. Come morning, the new day’s activities scream for our attention, the sound of the cry is gone, and we congratulate ourselves on finally overcoming the flesh.”
(Curtis & Eldredge, The Sacred Romance)
I want my defenses to be down. I don’t want my life, full of activities and demands, to live me. I don’t want Jesus to be an after-thought. I don’t want officership to simply be a job I am passionate about. I want to make and take the time to be His disciple first and foremost. I want to respond to the constant loving whisper of God – inviting me to walk with Him.
“Long before He laid down earth’s foundations, He had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of His love, to be made whole and holy by His love. Ephesians 1:4 (MSG)
The Gospel invites us to be restored. It takes time. It takes stillness. It takes stopping and letting our life story emerge from deep within so He can put His healing balm, so He can challenge, so He can encourage, so He can burn, so He can make new.
Jesus doesn’t want our life to be full. He wants us to live it to the fullest. And we can only do that if we spend time with Him. His invitation is for us. He is found in the alternative: lives lived intentionally. Lives that breathe deeply, say yes/no meaningfully, and are attuned to His heartbeat. He is found in intentional seeking, and honest questions and non-negotiable holy rest.
If we want to be good leaders we need to be good at being with Him. We need to take the time breathe deeply- long enough for long lost thoughts and unknown sins and hidden life to come to the surface. Long enough to be changed. Long enough to “steep in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions.” (Luke 12:29-32 MSG).
If we, as a movement, plan to be in the future we need to be found in the present. We need to make finding Him and being with Him a priority. Not as an after-thought, but intentionally. Not for a moment, but taking -regular- full days to seek His face. It’ll require courage to go against the current. It’ll require tough choices when it comes to our schedules. It can be done. It needs to be done. I am convinced that He is calling us to slow down – and that slowing down is necessary for repentance, for salvation, and for the furthering of His Kingdom.
Summer is over and activities, visitations, and programs will soon fill my schedule again. These months have taught me that I need to be more selective with my time – and foremost, I need to be fierce about seeking Him and making time to be with Him: to hear His voice, to enjoy His presence, and to be transformed into His likeness.”
“You liberate me from my own noise and my own chaos / From the chains of a lesser law You set me free / In the silence of the heart You speak / and it is there that I will know You “
(Audrey Assad, “You Speak”)