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Micah 6:8, Luke 6:12-19
I have sensed – looking at the recent levels of attendance, and even hearing from people themselves – like Jaime’s sermon last week – that many of us are going through a spiritual dry spell. I was going to use the word “suffering from” but upon reflection, I don’t think dry spells are necessarily bad.
There are seasons for all things – there is a season to rest, and there is a season to work. There is a season when there is rain, and there is a season that is meant to be dry.
What do we do when we have a dry spell? I was very moved by Jaime’s faith – that even in the dryness, even in the “silence” of God, she continues following Christ, and even wondering what is the cost she is willing to pay to following Christ.
I, too, reached a plateau. The busyness and business of church life has become routine for me. The work I do was just like the weather we have of late – hazy. I was so immersed on what I was doing – preparing sermons, visiting people in hospital, counselling, giving interviews, having meetings – that I forgot what I was doing all these things for.
My recent trip to Manila to give some training for the MCC Churches in Philippines took me out of what I was used to – the literal and figurative haze – into new situations and helped me relook at many things we have been doing here.
One of the writings we go back to is an article by Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest who wrote a lot about spirituality. We have used this article for our retreat, and it serves as a foundation to what we do. But during the time in Manila, I had new insights.
Henri Nouwen writes:
“The word discipleship and the word discipline are the same word — that has always fascinated me. Once you have made the choice to say, “Yes, I want to follow Jesus,” the question is, “What disciplines will help me remain faithful to that choice?” If we want to be disciples of Jesus, we have to live a disciplined life. By discipline, I do not mean control. If I know the discipline of psychology or of economics, I have a certain control over a body of knowledge. If I discipline my children, I want to have a little control over them. But in the spiritual life, the word discipline means “the effort to create some space in which God can act.” Discipline means to prevent everything in your life from being filled up. Discipline means that somewhere you’re not occupied, and certainly not preoccupied. In the spiritual life, discipline means to create that space in which something can happen that you hadn’t planned or counted on. I think three disciplines are important for us to remain faithful, so we not only become disciples, but also remain disciples. These disciplines are contained in one passage from Scripture with which we’re familiar, but one that we may be surprised to find speaks about discipline.
“Now it happened in those days that Jesus went onto the mountain to pray, and he spent the whole night in prayer to God. When day came, he summoned his disciples and picked out twelve of them and called them apostles: Simon, whom he called Peter; and his brother, Andrew; James; John; Philip; Bartholomew; Matthew; Thomas; James, son of Alphaeus; Simon, called the Zealot; Judas, son of James; and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. “He then came down with them and stopped at a piece of level ground where there was a large gathering of his disciples. There was a great crowd of people from all parts of Judea and
Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and be cured of their diseases. And people tormented by unclean spirits were also cured. Everyone in the crowd was trying to touch him because power came out of him that cured them all” (Luke 6:12-19).
This is a beautiful story that moves from night to morning to afternoon. Jesus spent the night in solitude with God. In the morning,he gathered his apostles around him and formed community. In the afternoon, with his apostles, he went out and preached the Word and healed the sick. Notice the order—from solitude to community to ministry. The night is for solitude; the morning for community; the afternoon for ministry. So often in ministry, I have wanted to do it by myself. If it didn’t work, I went to others and said, “Please!” searching for a community to help me. If that didn’t work, maybe I’d start praying. But the order that Jesus teaches us is the reverse. It begins by being with God in solitude; then it creates a fellowship, a community of people with whom the mission is being lived; and finally this community goes out together to heal and to proclaim good news. I believe you can look at solitude, community, and ministry as three
disciplines by which we create space for God. If we create space in which God can act and speak, something surprising will happen. You and I are called to these disciplines if we want to be disciples.”
The article is found here
http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/1995/spring/5l280.html – if you have not read it before, I encourage you to read it. If you have, I would say it is worth revisiting once in a while.
So this week and next week, I would look at “From solitude to community to ministry” again.
Today, the title is taken from Micah 6:8 – “What Does the Lord Require of You?”
(By the way, today I will enlist the help of Powerpoint slides so you can visualise what I am talking about. I think sometimes I can be too verbal)
Solitude is about our relationship with God. Sometimes, as I recall one sermon that Gary preached, it can also be described as the vertical axis of our faith – the relationship between us and God.
So how do you do solitude? (Ask the congregation) There are many ways. And some ways we don’t even think is solitude. Like the Sunday service – the praise and worship, the prayer, the sermon, the communion – while we are not alone in church, it is in solitude. We experience the moment and what we experience may be quite different from the person next to you. We may be moved by the worship, hear something from the sermon while others in the service don’t.
We also do community here – Community is who we fellowship with – people who support us, embrace us, and hold us accountable. People whom we also support, embrace and hold accountable. It is, to me, another dimension of the vertical axis, and not the horizontal axis. It is the faith community we anchor ourselves in. It is when we are in authentic community that we are honest to ourselves, and honest to others. We can often deceive ourselves easily that we are doing things for God when we are actually doing things for ourselves. It is a wonder sometimes to me how often that the will of God aligns with my will and I have glad to have people around me to remind me that I am deceiving myself!
How do we do community?
Finally, we have the discipline of ministry. It is how we translate our faith, our discipleship into action. It is the service that we do – whether it is volunterring, serving others, advocacy work, social justice work, or even our vocational calling. Some of us here are nurses, counsellors, doctors, teachers – and it is a form of ministry!
This is the horizontal axis of the cross – how we impact the world around us.
So what does the Lord require of us?
Do justice, love mercy / kindness and walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8
Do you see the connection with the disciplines of solitude, community and ministry? Justice, kindness and humility are the core principles that ground these three disciplines.
Definitely, we understand that we cannot do one discipline only.
Solitude alone is a tree that bears no fruits. We walk and walk with God, and? There is no one to hold us accountable and keep us honest. So we easily allow our ego to become God, and do whatever we want.
Community alone is no different than a social club where we hang out.
Ministry alone is just works without faith. And it is doing ministry without support from community.
What happens when we lack one discipline?
When we have community and ministry without solitude, where is God? How different are we from another NGO? Are we having works without faith?
When we have solitude and ministry without community, we are at risk of burning out without community support. Jesus gathered his followers, and then sent them out two by two. We cannot do the work we are called to do alone – we need companions on the journey to do what needs to be done.
There is also the question of accountability and the question – does our ego get in the way?
Do we do ministry to prove our self-worth?
Sometimes we help others as a way of self-affirmation. We can be oversensitive to others’ reactions to our work and our leadership. When we receive negative reactions and criticisms, we can be overwhelmed with a sense of utter failure or will react very strongly against those who are not appreciative. There could be deep-seated insecurities in our hearts about our self-esteem.
Do we do ministry to get people to need us?
Sometimes we serve others to meet our need to be needed. We help them in such a way that they will be dependent on us. We work so hard that we are indispensable to them or to the situation. We may even create situations which gives us a feeling of being needed or being indispensable. It is very difficult for us to let go of or delegate responsibilities to others.
Do we do ministry to compensate our poor communication or relationship with others?
Sometimes, our ministry can be a way to substitute for our weakness in relationship or communication. Helping others create the feeling of fellowship and relatedness. Without a title/ position, it could be difficult for us to have fellowship with others. We might find it difficult to relate ourselves just as a friend to others.
Do we do ministry to get our hunger and thirst for affection and love satisfied?
Sometimes, we may have a strong craving for affection, love and intimacy. We may give much to others and expect much in return for what we have given. Our self-giving love can be very “sticky.” When we cannot get what we expect from those we serve, we could feel “betrayed” or condemn them as being unappreciative. We could give and receive much affection and yet never have enough.
There are often problems when we don’t make the distinction between community and ministry – we often try to find the love and support, compensate for our weakness in relationships, or satisfy our hunger for affection and intimacy from ministry rather than community. This is a recipe for disaster. While the lines are not so distinct and sometimes community and ministry blur into one another, like in church ministries, we need to be very self-aware so we distinguish meeting our own needs and meeting other people’s needs.
Finally, when we have solitude and community but lack ministry – how are we living our calling and our faith? What fruits of faith do we bear? Are we having faith without works?
James 2:17 – Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
Jesus said all the laws and the prophets are summed up in two commandments – love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and love your neighbour as yourself.
Loving God is always tied to loving our neighbours. How are we loving God without loving our neighbours? How is our faith – the cross – complete without one axis or another?
So to sum up – at the heart of solitude is walking humbly, at the heart of community is love kindness, and at the heart of ministry is do justice.
We need to develop each discipline so we have a stable tripod. If the legs of the tripod are not equal, then the tripod is stable. This, I think, is why many of us are in a “spiritual dry season,” many of us are in a plateau and keep getting ourselves burnt out, tired and worn out from the work we do.
We need to remember – in our solitude – in prayer, in reflection, in worship, there is humility – it is not about us!
In community – we have love – so we are rooted, connected, and accountable – because we cannot do it alone!
And in ministry, we have justice, so we connect our faith and our works – so we can be the hands and feet of Christ, living out as the body of Christ.
Let us pray:
God – You have told us what is required of us – To do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with You. May you continue to guide us, inspire us, and lift us up from dry spells and hazy seasons so we see You clearly, so we may live, act, love, and be who you called us to be!