Steve volunteered for everything at church: worship group, ministry team, prayer meeting coordinator, you name it. His new faith was fresh and seemingly boundless. Then one day he decided to pack it in. He’d had enough. His efforts hadn’t seen enough people "saved." He wasn’t satisfied.
I don’t know where or what he’s doing now, but I pray for him—God, do I pray for my friend. But, there are others as well, others I know who start the journey, but soon run out of breath, giving up weary and lifeless.
Where is the Church going wrong? Wrestling with this issue I hooked myself into the Bible and came up with this conclusion:
Moses spent 40 years thinking he was someone special, 40 more years realizing he was nobody, and then another 40 realizing what God can do with someone who realizes they’re nobody without Him. After conversion, Paul spent 14 years tent-making (it is thought) before his first real push at energizing the Church in such dramatic fashion (Acts 13-14). Jesus was around 30 before His overt ministry began (despite being the Savior of the world, for goodness sake!). They didn’t rush into ministry, they all had space to serve, observe and build up a reserve. It wasn’t a sprint, it was a marathon (2 Timothy 1).
We may be living in desperate times, but God still has His timescale to bring us forward at the right time. We still have a house to build on the strongest of foundations, and a dependency on Him to recognize and develop.
Taking hold of that thought, we often need space to wrestle with the big issues of faith and life, to allow God’s truth to take root in our hearts. Like Jacob needed to wrestle with the angel of God in order to really know Him, perhaps today we also need:
Space to learn that prayer is not all about how long we can stay on our knees. It is more to do with developing a resonance between our spirit and the Holy Spirit (Romans 8: 26-28) allowing outrageously free intercession. It can happen 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and in this way, there’s no need for it to stop.
Space to realize that some of the greatest sermons we will ever preach seemingly come out of nowhere. On the bus, in a queue, on a Friday night, wherever. We find ourselves articulating the Gospel with compassion, humility, intelligent love and a generosity which offers God’s grace straight to the heart of all who would listen. We realize church isn’t a building, it is God’s people living for His glory.
Space to hear a piece of music and connect to the emotion of a song before we question whether the artist is a fully-saved, churchgoing, sin-rejecting believer. We find a new empathy in our prayers, a humbling of our attitude and a reality check towards this aching society.
Space to admit we can not save the world by ourselves. We need others working with us, encouraging, inspiring and holding us to account. We can’t do all the jobs at church, despite our desire to live "all out for Jesus." We may have to learn the hard way that we are more useful to God whole and healthy, ready for communal challenges confirmed only by a personal call.
I could go on. This isn’t an excuse to let everything go, to give up on the pursuit of holiness. It’s just that God may want us to grow first in wholeness, before going out in boldness; to learn from our mistakes in private reflection, to avoid later facing public humiliation.
Encouraging people to become Christians is an urgent quest, but it is not us who should be keeping track of time. On Palm Sunday did Jesus’ donkey gallop into Jerusalem? Is Jesus recorded as ever running to get to His next healing appointment?
You can’t live in a house built on the rock, if you haven’t built it yet. Someone once said that every nail Jesus nailed in as a carpenter was as much doing the will of God as each nail He was nailed to the cross by. A trembling thought.
When Would Jesus Do? When God said so.