I wonder if you have any idea of how profoundly, how brightly, you bring Jesus.
That was all she said. Well, actually, all she wrote – since we were still in silence at the time.
It touched me so much then and has continued to come back to me since. I think it is so powerful because it is what I want to be true of me. In a time which is more about learning to be than to do, a period of withdrawal from the busyness and activity which characterises my daily life, it sounds perhaps all the more loudly.
I want to be an icon of Jesus. An icon, or eikōn (the Greek word used for image in the New Testament), points to the reality of the greater thing which it images. When you see an icon, you see it and yet you also see through it to something which is far more real. I like to think of it like a window. You can see the window but your eye is drawn most of all to what you can see through the window. That’s exactly what I want – that when you are around me, you would see me but not just me. I want to bring Jesus to whomever I am with. I want to bring Jesus when I preach and teach. I want to bring Jesus when I write.
And I want to bring him profoundly and brightly.
I’ve been struggling lately with how difficult it is not to operate out of my gifting, my own strength. I struggle so because it seems that if the gifts are there, I ought to be using them intensively. If I can read and write and say something new, why would I not be giving the whole of me to the pursuit of that? If I can lead and care for and teach, how could I do anything but do this in every place and at every opportunity he gives? To the extent to which I have been gifted, how can I not also to that same extent pour myself out in service?
Yet, at the same time, I’ve been struck by how the best of me comes from the place of stillness, of being. And this competing longing is strong. The longing which calls me again and again simply to sit at his feet in what I fear others will assume is an un-productivity too great to justify in light of all that I have received. I wonder whether anyone will see this as ministry, perhaps even ministry more significant than all my usual output.
Truly, though, perhaps my wonderings are engendered more by my doubts as to whether I can choose to see it so. Can I believe that it is greater to sit quietly in that place of listening and waiting, to hear what he will say? Or do I need to keep up this tremendous stream of doing in order continually to re-posit myself as of value?
This time of sabbatical withdrawal has lifted much of this to the surface again. There is nothing like a time of stepping back and stepping out to make things clearer than ever they have been! In the four weeks since those words were shared with me, I have had three confirmatory experiences which reminded me that the most powerful ministry really does come from the place of his life in me. All three of them have related to teaching, as it happens.
One was a man who has believed in me since I first started out with this lecturing thing, who first opened a door for me. He told me that the students know whether you are living what you talk about – especially when you teach spiritual formation! – and that he knew students would see that what I teach about the centrality of Jesus and the nature of a life lived with him is expressed also in my own living and being.
The other two were in fact students in my formation classes. One had been impacted by a recent lecture of mine on servanthood and leadership, to the extent that they felt God had spoken to them very clearly on more than simply an academic level about a situation in their own leadership context. This encouraged me so much. You see, I don’t really care how much of the lecture content they walk away with. Well, actually, I do care quite a lot because that stuff is important when it comes to loving Jesus with all our minds…but I care about it nowhere near as much as I care that those students saw Jesus more clearly and were inspired to desire more of him for themselves.
The third confirmation came through a student whom I have known for a couple of years. They shared that they had discovered this blog and ended up spending hours reading as God spoke to them powerfully through it. It turns out that God had used this thing which is not so much output as it is the fruit of my walking with and listening to him. And he’d used it rather than any other of my more intentional ‘ministry output’. This student also told me that in the time I had spent with them in a one-to-one context (which, by the way, had been truly minimal and spontaneous!) and as I had encouraged them about some of the potential and calling I saw in them, they had felt seen and named in a world which largely has not made a place for them.
If ever I’d needed confirmation, I’ve had it this month! Far better is what comes from the place where I’m quietly listening at his feet. This listening is both to the Word and in prayer, a listening the hermeneutic of which is the collective Spirit-inspired wisdom of the community of the saints (as I read that wisdom in their well-worn books and hear it over coffee and cake and too much laughter). And the thing I’m learning over and over is that the best of me always comes from this place. The gifts he’s given are precious but – and hear me right here! – they don’t really matter that much. They too will pass away. And all that will matter in the end is how much I brought Jesus.
It makes me wonder what needs to change in how I ‘do’ ministry, whether I need to spend more time in solitude with the Bible, the books, the study and the space for listening to his Spirit, so that when I leave that place I bring him more profoundly, more brightly. And it makes me wonder too: when this sabbatical ends, will I revert to operating out of my gifting, my own strength? Or will I have the courage to make the tactical changes which will allow me more time with him, that I might grow as an icon of Jesus, that I might bring him as profoundly and brightly as I yearn?
This is a post in my sabbatical series.