In case you didn’t realise I was away at a conference for the first three days of this week. While I was there I was checking my emails when I saw an urgent message from someone who needed a relatively instant response from me that I was unable to deal with until I got home. It was nothing to do with church stuff but needed attention. Harumph!
I felt a bit helpless and also (if I am honest) a bit put upon. There is nothing I can do about it until tomorrow (Thursday). I can’t change that fact. But the email did not seem to take into account the possibility that I might not be able to do anything until tomorrow and set an impossible deadline for me to comply with. It felt a bit unfair. Because someone else had not got their administrative act together soon enough now I felt under pressure and was being expected to sort things out in an unrealistic time frame. Harumph!
Then I wondered how often I do that to other people. Do I place them under pressure to fit in with me and my plans? Do I ask other people to adjust to me (perhaps even because of my own inefficiency) to dig me out of a hole? Do I assume that everyone else is as available as me? Do I expect other people to put aside what is important for them in order to do what is important for me? Harumph?
At the conference there was a moment where we reflected on a description of Jesus ’emptying himself’ – divesting himself of his divine rights to take on humanity (while not compromising his God-ness – kaboom! [the sound of theological brains exploding as they grapple with it). There is so much in this but one aspect is that of humility: he did the unthinkable and reversed the expectations of the day that were about social climbing and looking down on others. One part of the Christian message is that in Jesus God re-turned humility from being regarded as something despicable into a virtue. hmmm.
With that in mind I decided that I should stop grumpily harumphing and get on with being gracious. And I should try to ensure that I was not expecting everyone else to dance to my rhythm and join in with me on my terms.
Incarnate Christ, not distant or isolated but intimately present among us, help me to be more like you and less self-centred, self-absorbed and self-obsessed.
When I am out and about help me not simply to glance or look at the people I meet: help me to see them as you see them.
When I become aware of noises around me – voices, traffic, music, the sounds of life – help me not to just to hear but to listen with attentive ears to what you might be saying and what they are saying to me.
When I am safely bubble-wrapped in my comfort zone and absorbed in what I am doing help me to break out and reach out – embracing people wholeheartedly as Jesus did.
When I am ready to open my mouth, to speak my opinion, or offer my advice help me to assess whether what I am about to say will bless, build up, encourage or inspire.
When I feel broken, embarrassed, ashamed, hurt, in pain or bruised help me to recognise that in others and empathise with them – sharing grace, love, forgiveness and peace that I have received.
I hope that you did not feel too short-changed by yesterday’s bloggage. I could not resist being a bit cheeky and hope that it might have at least caused the corners of your mouth to curve upwards slightly. Today I am getting a bit more serious…
A while ago I wrote a poem about prayer-envy (it’s the prayer pome if you scroll down on that page). I could have written a similar one about preaching envy, pastoring envy, memory envy and so on… There are so many people whose gifts as Ministers are so much better than mine. I am not saying this out of false humility (my family will tell you that!). I am not saying this because I actually have the envy I have hinted at above. And I am not saying this because I am have issues around self-esteem. I am saying it because it is true: there are many Ministers who are better at these things than I am.
But while I may not be as good as them, God has still called me, equipped me and wants me to get on with being the best I can be as his Spirit encourages, trains, supports, inspires and transforms me. He has given me the array of gifts he has given me in order to fulfil the task to which he has called me: and he wants to help me to make the most of them. He wants me to learn, to grow, to improve, to emulate what I see of Jesus in others and his Spirit is at work in me to help that happen.
And that’s where the rubber hits the road. I should not try to be the other Ministers, I should not try to do things in the same way that they do them. But if I see something Christ-like in them I should ask for God’s help to be like that. It’s not about emulating behaviour, but about character-transformation.
Sometimes it seems to me that we make an unnatural division between spiritual fruit and spiritual gifts. God gives all of us gifts and talents. But believe it or not we can use them in ways that are ungodly – in ways that are unlike Jesus. He wants us to use them lovingly, joyfully, peacefully, patiently, kindly, revealing his goodness, faithfully, gently and with godly self-control. God’s spiritual gifts and fruit are intrinsically linked. If I can do that more and more I will be happy, content and relaxed.