On being silent before the Lord

We are gradually losing the art of silence. Of walking down the street lost in our own thoughts. Of closing the door to our rooms and being quiet. Of sitting on a park bench and just thinking. We may fear silence because we fear what we might hear from the deepest part of ourselves. We may be afraid to hear that “still small” voice. What might it say?

– James Martin SJ, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything.

Reality’s Core Values #7 ~ We are passionate in worship

Let me explain what I mean by “worship.”

We use worship with the sense that the Old Testament uses: as a sacrificial act of devotion. Worship is an expression of our affections. It is sacrificial because our offering is attached to things we deeply value. True worship is costly. We see this in king David, who sought to offer a sacrifice of worship on someone else’s threshing floor. The owner, Araunah, offered the floor to him for free, presumably because of his kingly privileges. But David responds,

“No, but I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver” (2 Samuel 24:24, emphasis mine)

It is devotion because the object of our affections is not us. We are looking away from ourselves, to something (or someone) far more compelling. So given these criteria, so far, what is worship?

Worship is a posture of devotion towards another, expressed in the giving of something very important to us.

A few comments about that other adjective…

Let me explain what I mean by “passionate” worship.

Passion refers to the intensity of our worship. Of course, it means more than mere emotion (although, emotions are certainly a part of what it means to worship). Being passionate in worship is another way of saying that what we do, we endeavor to do with full engagement.

Paul said, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).

Our worship is born out of joy. There is a delight in worship that satisfies the one offering the worship. It is not a reluctant duty, but a glad expression of our devotion to Another. We are passionate in worship. Or put it another way,

We are fully engaged in giving Christ our best.

To be sure, worship includes singing songs during our weekly gatherings. In fact, we are known as a church for having very expressive musical worship that engages the heart. We love that. But put in the way we’ve been describing, worship is also more comprehensive and far-reaching than just singing songs. Remember, worship is fully giving from our hearts to God in devotion. Paul said, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1, emphasis mine). He was basically saying that our spiritual act of worship is in giving our whole selves to God. This includes, not just our physical bodies in worship, but the things our hearts love to keep and protect. Namely, our time, talent, and treasure.

Passionate worship means…

  1. We give our time (Examining where we spend our time, and spending a significant amount of our time for God’s kingdom. This doesn’t only include service for God, but time to be with God in prayer and devotion)
  2. We give our talent (Using our gifts and talents to serve God and others)
  3. We give our treasure (Giving the first-fruits of our finances in tithes and offerings to God, and in participation with His kingdom. It also means being generous to those who are in need)

These are all examples of passionate acts of worship. Yes, we also worship intensely during the musical portion of Sunday mornings. But those are merely expressions of our whole selves being conformed to the image of Christ in all the things that actually matter to us: our time, talents, treasure. If we are worshipping loudly on Sunday, but not giving to him the best that we have to offer, we have given God a sacrifice (singing) that cost us nothing.

Our hope is to become a church who can say with integrity and conviction, “Who has given [God] so much that he needs to pay it back? For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen.” (Romans 11:35-36, NLT)

What does being “passionate in worship” actually mean in daily practice?

  1. It means we are spending significant amounts of time just being in God’s presence for the sake of communion.
  2. It means we are constantly asking God if our time is being well spent for His kingdom. We are discerning and realigning our calendars so that they are being driven more by the important than the urgent.
  3. It means we prayerfully seeking where God would have us serve as a part of the body of Christ.
  4. It means we take seriously the biblical expressions of worship that tell us to sing, lift our hands, kneel, etc. We use these only to the extent that they help us be present with God.
  5. It means we are always assessing whether our talents are being used to glorify God.
  6. We practice the biblical command to give regularly of our tithes (10% of income) and offerings (anything over the tithe) to our local church.

Check out some of our other core values.

Solitude is not the same as “introversion”

By “solitude,” I’m referring to the ancient Christian practice of spending time alone in quiet with God.

One of the most elemental aspects of cultivating the inner life is by intentional retreats into solitude. We get this practice from Jesus, who “often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16, ESV). He went away in silence and solitude before times of testing, such as in the Garden of Gethsemane, when “he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here, while I go over there and pray’” (Matt. 26:36). But it wasn’t only during times of crisis. He was in the regular habit of withdrawing to be with His Father. For example, one writer tells us that “After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone” (Matt. 14:23). This practice seemed so vital to Jesus’ inner life that we would be remiss to exclude it from ours. In fact, Jesus defined his disciples, in part, as those who observe all that he commanded us to do (Matt. 28:20). And Jesus often taught his disciples to “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31, NIV). 

One of the most powerful effects of solitude and silence is its ability to strip us of the noise and business in our lives in order to be alone in God’s presence.

Its basic assumption is that we were made for being more than for doing. Of course, doing rightly flows out of being. And that’s what this ancient discipline helps to realign in our inner life. It is a way of re-centering our souls on God, rather than on our false self, sinful tendencies, and desire to be in control of our lives. It is also a way for God’s people to show their distinction from the values of the world as rightful citizens of God’s kingdom. Yet strangely, it is absent from the lives of many Christian. We who are to depend on God, yet are often just as enslaved to the life-draining narrative our society models of doing anything for the sake of achievement and significance.

Even more surprising to me, is that as I teach about this practice, I often get the sense from others that the discipline of solitude and silence depends on their personality. For example, you may be thinking, “Well, you’re an introvert, Chris, so that makes sense that you need to be alone. But as an extrovert, I need to be active and social.” And that is true. As a generality, introverts recharge while being alone; extroverts tend to recharge from social interaction. But this is only true if we’re limited to speaking about our personality preferences. However, personality is only one part of the human soul. Referring merely to a Meyers-Briggs chart as our only means of growth may end up sacrificing the spiritual component of our soul for the social alone. But both of these parts of you need care. What you need in your social life is different than what you might need in your inner life. And knowing how to care for both will allow your whole life to become integrated. The truth is, the spiritual practice of solitude is not the same thing as getting some introverted alone time.

Here’s what I mean. Solitude and silence is more than seclusion for seclusion’s sake. It is posturing oneself to be with God. As one spiritual director clarifies, “What we have in mind is poles apart apart from isolation. The latter is an unhealthy withdrawal from human society, a turning in on oneself that is only too often a trait of neurosis. Solitude, in contrast, is a healthy turning towards one’s beloved” (The Fire Within, 122). That would mean the practice of solitude and silence is beneficial for all people who want a deeper relationship with God.

People sometimes think that solitude comes more easily to me because I am an introvert. But this couldn’t be farther from the truth!

I find the practice of silence and solitude to be difficult. I think the reason is that while I may be silent in words, my mind never really turns off. I am quiet in words, but loud in thought. I may be cut off from social interaction at times, but that doesn’t mean that my brain is not moving faster than ever. Even in my alone time, I am thinking of all the things I need to do and accomplish; I’m planning for the problems that need to be solved; and I am overwhelmed by it all. What solitude and silence does for me in that moment is challenge me to drop those anxieties into the lap of God and simply be with him. It confronts me with the gospel truth that only God can sustain me, my worth is found outside of my own accomplishments, and rest is a gift. Solitude creates space for this to happen, while silence opens the window for the Father to whisper.

To my extroverted brothers and sisters, it is exactly the same. This spiritual practice is not the same as needing social interaction or alone time. It goes deeper. It comes after the inner conflicts of the soul that we all have.

Both introverts and extroverts have lives that are stuck in a race. One races in their mind, thoughts, and imagination, while the other may race in a sphere of social interaction, productivity, and adrenaline. Coming away to be with our Lord slows both of us down so that our souls may be cared for. In the way that only God can minister to us. No matter how I cling to my imagination, or how you cherish external stimulation, these things are still not enough. We need to return to the abiding presence of God, and bare our hearts to him in vulnerability. To practice solitude is to accept His invitation to simply be with him. No words. No agenda. No outward stimulation. No fleeting experience. Only whatever God may wish to do in your soul, whether seen or unseen. Extroverts may have a difficult time with this. But so do some introverts! And yet how so necessary it is for all of us.

Reality’s Core Values #6 ~ Deeper is better than wider

This was not always the case.

Early in our life as a church, we felt that God was calling us wider. Let me give a working definition first. By wider I mean as many people as God brings into our gathering. Whoever, whenever, and wherever was our only limitation. We really felt an obligation to reach far and wide. Some of the implications (fruit?) of this was having a worship gathering made up mostly of commuters from around the area. Another implication was church planting. We don’t just want to build a bigger church, we want to birth healthy churches. Our burden for the nations is another result of being called wider. God has put in the hearts of the congregation to fund missions, and assembled an international sending team sending 200+ missionaries overseas, cultivating relationships with them, and support for them. So is our most recent calling as a church to reach, not just any nation, but the unreached nations. I mention these things to make sure you don’t get the impression that wider is bad. If God is calling you to a wide space, you best go there! This core value is simply identifying a new emphasis: We are called deeper.

Another working definition. By deeper we mean that it is not enough to reach many, but each one must be developed, cultivated, nurtured. By deeper, we mean depth in every area of a developing Christian: mind, heart, body, soul, relationships. By deeper, we mean that it is not enough to have a wide influence, but we also long for a deep effect.

By deeper, we mean that discipleship matters more than anything else.

After all, Jesus told us all to do this,

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20, ESV)

So if Jesus is our Senior Pastor, we must do well to heed his words and move beyond the surface of Christian activity, and into the depths of Christian maturity. This is the process of transformation for the whole person. And it is part of our calling that drives us a church. It is a core value of Reality.

What does “deeper is better than wider” actually mean in daily practice?

  1. It means everyone has an obligation to grow, and we expect that of each other
  2. It means that we have an obligation to help one another grow
  3. It means we wed evangelism with long-term follow-up
  4. It means we feel deeply invested in ministries that are healthy environments for going deeper (e.g., home groups, discipleship relationships, weekly studies that allow multi-faceted growth, regular serving opportunities, etc)

A post-Easter prayer of forgiveness

Does it ever seem like the battle gets most vigorous after the holidays? Good Friday and Easter Sunday packed the weekend; celebratory music, refreshments with a lot of like-minded believers, after service brunch, family visiting, and crowds each day. It’s maybe a little bit easier to walk in the Spirit when you’re in a good environment surrounded by people who are pursuing the same. But then Monday comes. Tuesday. Wednesday. Maybe you found your flesh to be particularly weak on one of those days post-Easter. If you fell into sin, I want to remind you that the gospel isn’t good because you performed so well over the weekend. It’s good because Christ can hold it together even though you fall apart. And he is still here to lean on, the day after the weekend holiday festivities. So be real with him. And honest. And unafraid. Repent once again of your sins and faults and run INTO the arms of Christ. If you need words to help you start, try reciting this portion of a prayer by Thomas Aquinas below. And rest in God’s love. 

Woe to me, a pitiful soul!

How many,

how great,

and how diverse

are the sins I have committed.

I abandoned You, Lord

I question Your goodness,

by yielding to evil cravings

and weakening myself with harmful fears.

By such things, I preferred

to lose You

rather than abandon what I desired,

to offend You

rather than face what ought not to be feared.

O my God, 

how much harm have I done

by word and deed,

and by sinning

secretly, openly, and defiantly.


out of my weakness I beg You

not to pay heed to my iniquity,

but rather to Your immense goodness.

And I beg you mercifully to pardon

what I have done,

granting me

sorrow for my past actions

and precaution in the future.


May Good Friday sink into our hearts!

The death of Christ is one of the most profound events in human history, and at the same time, the most easy to gloss over when it comes around every year. Like Easter and Christmas, its regularity can deaden our senses to the beauty of it all. Martin Luther argued that we should pray for God to enlighten our hearts to even grasp the gravity of what God has done for us in Christ:

“Therefore you should pray God to soften your heart and permit you fruitfully to meditate upon Christ’s Passion. For it is impossible for us profundly to meditate upon the sufferings of Christ of ourselves, unless God sink them into our hearts. Further, neither this mediation nor any other doctrine is given to you to the end that you should fall fresh upon it yourself, to accomplish the same; but you are first to seek and long for the grace of God, that you may accomplish it through God’s grace and not through your own power.” (Luther, Works. Vol. 1. p. 186, italics mine)

As you venture into church gatherings, family get-togethers, and special dinners and observances of a bad Friday that turned good, ask the Holy Spirit to take its significance and beauty sink it into your heart!

Maundy Thursday

Today is commonly referred to as Maundy Thursday in the traditional church calendar. I used to think that people were confusing days of the week whenever I heard it (i.e., “Monday, no…Thursday!”). Of course, it refers to something a lot more significant.

“Maundy” comes from the Latin word, Mandatum, which means commandment. The term Maundy Thursday means something like, “Thursday of the commandment.” What commandment, you say? Well, the one Jesus famously issued to his disciples the night of the Passover Meal in John 13:1-17, when he taught them what true leadership was. Not only did the most powerful human being in existence point to servanthood, but he catalyzed it by putting on a servant’s garb himself, and washing the calloused, dirt-caked feet of his own disciples. Hence the name, Maundy Thursday, or as it is sometimes called, The Washing of Feet. Below is the passage in full. I invite you to find a quite place of little distraction, and meditate on this Scripture. As you begin to read it, ask the Holy Spirit to open your eyes to see Christ in a fresh (perhaps uncomfortable) way. What is the Holy Spirit speaking to you as you read, meditate, and reflect on it? After reading, spend some time in quite silence and simply rest in the presence of God. This God kneels down to serve. Here is the passage…

Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end. It was time for supper, and the devil had already prompted Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.

When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.”

“No,” Peter protested, “you will never ever wash my feet!”

Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.”

Simon Peter exclaimed, “Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!”

Jesus replied, “A person who has bathed all over does not need to wash, except for the feet, to be entirely clean. And you disciples are clean, but not all of you.” For Jesus knew who would betray him. That is what he meant when he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them. ~ John 13:1-17 (NLT)

Reality’s Core Values #5 ~ Transformation of the whole person

We want tangible signs of growth.

We’re through coasting along in our spirituality. We want to conform to Jesus Christ. And we want this to happen all the time. We want nothing less than transformation of the whole person. This is what Jesus said was the greatest commandment of all,

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ (Mark 12:30, ESV)

Listen to the language Jesus is using (as he quotes from Deuteronomy 6:5). This is language for the whole person. He is using all the elements of the human person to describe an entire takeover. It’s not just the mind, with its intellect and ability to reason; it’s not just the heart and its decision-making capacity; it’s not merely our strength, referring to everything from the body itself to the habits contained in it; it’s the entire person! It is the heart, mind, and body integrated together in perfect harmony under the rule of the Lord Jesus (something the late Dallas Willard called the integration of the soul). Everything that makes you who you are–that is what must come under the conforming power of Christ. Not just one area of your life. Everything. Jesus is here speaking of a deep transformation that seeps into every pore of the human personality. Transformation is basic Christianity.

There are a couple reasons Christian’s don’t experience transformation.

First, it’s easy to think of spiritual maturity as only referring to one part of the human personality. For example, you may go to a lot of bible studies, listen to sermons, take theological classes, and know the Scriptures, but also be emotionally unhealthy. In this case, you are investing in your mind, but not your heart. Or you might be Biblically versed and emotionally healthy, but lose your temper every day when things don’t go your way. In that case, you are investing in the mind and heart, but not the body (habits). Or you might be a seasoned practitioner of spiritual disciplines, and have a rich inner life, but not know basic things about God’s kingdom and the gospel, leading you into error. That is a case of investing in the body (and even heart), but not the mind. In all of these examples, there is a part of your personality that is not coming under the rule and reign of God, and the result is the “disintegration of your soul.”

A second reason is that you may have been told or taught that the gospel of Christianity is mainly about how we can be forgiven. While it certainly includes that, the gospel is the good news that Christ is King (Matt 4:23)Yes, he forgives the penitent, but he also changes their lives. Christ the King invades broken hearts through our union with Christ, conforming us to his image. So while the gospel includes forgiveness, it is primarily about the transformation that comes with God’s kingdom. The gospel shouts loud and clear that the Kingdom of God, in all of it’s transforming power, has been made presently available to anyone who trusts in Him. And to those who trust in him enough to follow him, we are given some outlandish claims in Scripture

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Ephesians 4:11-14

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. ~ Colossians 1:28-29

This transformation is not something we do merely by our own effort. It is by God’s grace. But it is something we must exert effort towards. As Paul says…

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. ~ Philippians 2:12-14

And it’s not a cruel joke by God, transformation is actually possible. We may not perfect in this life, but the Bible leads us to believe that we can become mature in this life. Paul speaks of this in-between tension to the Philippian church…

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way. ~ Philippians 3:12-13

Many Christians can look back on a date where they consciously gave their lives to Christ. It may have been a confession of faith, an inward posture, or a sudden belief. We believe experiences like this can be good, and often mark the beginning, not the end of a long journey following Jesus. It is the beginning of path marked by transformation. And it is our path. The path of transformation for the whole person.

Some of this blog post was adapted from a sermon I gave on the same topic, called, A Description of Spiritual Maturity.

Read more in this series on Reality’s Core Values.

Reality’s Core Values #4 ~ Call-driven not need-driven

This is number four in our series on Reality’s Core Values, and this one may save you from burn-out and aimlessness. 

We are call-driven, not need-driven.

Something I learned early on while working at a church is that there are an overwhelming amount of needs represented in even the smallest communities. And with needs, comes a lot of pressure. Pressure to meet every need. Pressure to fix every problem. Pressure to be there at every ministry function. Pressure to attend to every emotional crisis. But the problem with trying to field every need is that we all have God-given limitations. No one can be or do everything. And that’s ok. In fact, it is a source of liberty if you are able to recognize and embrace it. Knowing what you are limited to allows you to focus. 

Unfortunately many well-intended Christians, passionate for God and people, end up spread thin trying to meet every need that comes their way.

There is strange compulsion in the culture of our churches to do as much as possible, and even faithful Christians can feel less pious if they are not constantly busy with ministry activity. I understand where this comes from. What is a person to say “no” to anyway? Chances are, you’re saying “no” to a legitimately felt need. Saying “no” might require turning someone down that genuinely needs help. Saying “no” means turning down good opportunities to do great things. Perhaps even “ministry” things. And who is willing to do that? And so it goes, from vocational ministry opportunities to relational commitments, the calendar gets overbooked because the well-meaning follower of Christ can’t say ‘no.” Eventually, your busyness will take a toll on your relationship with God and your family, not to mention other important opportunities to which God may be calling you.

Know what the problem is? You’re driven by needs. The person who is driven by needs will always find themselves driven into the ground, because there is no end to the amount of needs around you right now. And if you gauge your faithfulness to God by how many needs you can meet, you’ll quickly burn-out. And you’ll end up disappointed, disillusioned, and maybe even bitter.

And yet we are still called to meet needs around us. But how do we approach them when there are so many?

Look at Jesus.

He loved everyone, yet he was not driven by the needs of the moment. To be sure, he met many needs. But his motivation was in something else. For example, imagine the pressure upon him of saving the world, and yet instead of reaching the more populous Gentile nations (which is what he would later send Paul to do), he came with a smaller, specific mission to the “lost house of Israel” (Matt. 15:24).

Why did Jesus do some things and not others? How did he decide? What drove Jesus’ earthly ministry was His calling as God’s unique Son. Look at what he says to his disciples:

“So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.’” (John 5:19)

“For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak.” (John 12:49)

Jesus did only what he saw his Father doing (Jn 5:9). He only spoke what his Father told him to speak (Jn 12:49). In a context where Jesus was surrounded by endless needs, he, with laser-focus, constantly chose to be only where His Father wanted him. For this to happen, there has to be divine guidance in the moment. Which is why Jesus was led by the Spirit (Matt. 4:1). This constant dependence on the Spirit must have nourished his intimacy with the Father. Indeed, Jesus even gloried in this, saying, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (Jn 14:11). In fact, Jesus would sometimes neglect the pressing needs around him to guard that intimacy with His Father (Matt. 14:23). Obeying the call, for Jesus, meant exchanging good opportunities, like eating food with his disciples, for great ones, like meeting a woman at a well that would alter the course of an entire people group. Yet it wasn’t even the great goal of reaching Samaria that drove him! Because when his baffled disciples questioned him, his response was, “I have food to eat that you do not know about…My food is to do the will of him who sent me” (Jn 4:32,34). It wasn’t simply that Jesus was more strategic than other people, choosing the best things to do and how to do them more efficiently. It was why he did what he did. He was driven by an intimate relationship with His Father. So much so, that it was not the overwhelming needs that drove Jesus to meet them; it was his overwhelming love for the Father that drove him to meet needs. The reason Jesus said “no” to some things, was so he could say “yes” to the right things

Jesus was call-driven, not need-driven.

In fact, Jesus exercised this obedience to the Father even at the expense of his own needs. For when the time came to die, he prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42).

Jesus was call-driven to the very end.

We want to be call-driven too.

What does this mean in daily practice?

  1. It means we seek to be prayerfully led by the Spirit in the decisions we make as a church.
  2. It is the reason we do not have ministries for every feasible need, only the ones we believe God is calling us to.
  3. It means we recognize our limitations as given to us by God, and honor them by not taking on too many responsibilities
  4. It means we are able to focus on the things God is calling us to, and focus our resources and efforts towards that end.
  5. It means we recognize that we are not needed to meet the needs. We are wanted. By God. And this is a priviledge that we will not take for granted.

Snippets from the week: a desire for greatness

It is exceedingly difficult to be obedient to Christ and humble at the same time.

Zack Eswine, in his book The Imperfect Pastor, argues that desiring greatness isn’t wrong in itself, but that our desires often get diluted along the way. What starts with pure devotion to Christ, can end with grandiose pictures of what we can accomplish–or what might happen to us if we did accomplish them. In other words, fame. Devotion turns into a longing for approval.

In that way, the desire to “do good things for God” is often a bit of a double-edged sword. Eswine reasons that on one side, desiring great responsibility is called a “noble” aspiration in the Bible (1 Tim 3:1). On the other, our desires might be simultaneously tainted with more sinister motivations, like “the love of money (Luke 16:14), networking for position (Matt. 23:6-7), the lust for power (Acts 8:18-21), or the advancement of [our] name” (ibid, 20). This is certainly not limited to pastoral work. It can include anything we do while telling ourselves that it’s for God.

I painfully resonate with this because I want to be significant.

I want to be valued, and I often want this at the expense of my desire to do great things for God. Maybe at my best, the two desires are mixed. I’m also an INFJ–the “J” referring to my excessive need for steps and measurements–so basically, I want significance, I want to see tangible (and explosive!) progress, and I want it all immediately. I’ve seen others driven by this same motivation for overnight greatness/significance. Many of my friends in college thought they would rise to fame. The Barna Group found that “one-quarter of teenagers (26%) said they expect to be “famous or well known” by the time they reach age 25” (Barna). Against that backdrop ring these words,

“You will be tempted to orient your desires towards doing large things in famous ways as fast and as efficiently as you can. But take note. A crossroads waits for you. Jesus is that crossroads. Because almost anything in life that truly matters will require you to do small, mostly overlooked things, over a long period of time with him” (ibid, 26).

Indeed, the longer I live, the more I find that the things I remember most in my life are usually without fanfare.

The things my wife admires most about me (when I am at my best, that is) are not worthy of headlines. What makes my son smile the most has nothing to do with my talents or abilities. In fact, as I am writing this, my daughter woke up from her nap and collided into me asking for me to pick her up. Of course, I did. But a little part of me was saying, “But I have to finish this blog so people can read it!” Glad my senses came to me in that moment. Wish that they did more often! The things that matter most in my life sometimes never intersect with what I’m always being told matters. That’s Eswine’s point, I think. Eswine is asking us if we are sure we know what God has in mind when we are thinking of doing great things.

“Our desire for greatness in ministry isn’t the problem. Our problem rises from how the haste of doing large things, famously and as fast as we can, is reshaping our definition of what a great thing is…At minimum we must begin to take a stand on this one important point: obscurity and greatness are not opposites” (ibid, 29).

Sometimes the greatest things are also the quiet things. The unknown things. The boring things.

The more I examine my motives, the more I see my ego surface. My only reassurance is that Jesus is not surprised by this, and can perhaps, by grace, still harness my immature desires for significance, and point them in the right direction again. And again. And again. Until I’m just like Him.

I wish I could bottle obscurity and drink it before breakfast everyday. Because I certainly don’t always want to pursue it. God help me!

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