Saturday, December 31, 2016

If the Year Left You Speechless

A litany of reviews of 2016 array social media on the last day of the year. A great year for some, but interestingly, and I quote, “the hardest year” for many. It was certainly the hardest year I’ve known, and that’s saying something — to eclipse 2014, when we lost Nathanael.
In so many ways 2016 has left me speechless, but equally, with a renewed resolve. I don’t pretend for one moment that 2017 will be any ‘easier’, but one thing for sure, I’m readier I think for whatever the new year will throw at me than what I was 366 days ago.
Like the Maya Angelou quote, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,” a year like 2016 has left me a little numb. I won’t forget how this year has made me feel. I’ll never forget how some people made me feel this year. Forgive, yes, I’m Christian, so I do know what I’m bound to do. But forget? Not sure that’s possible or even God’s will. And, besides, I’m thankful that some people made me feel this year; that those feelings brought me to a place where I had to, many times, reach out to God.
If there are facets of this year that are unforgettably real, times you’ve been left so speechless they’ve left a mark on the psyche, a steeling is required — if resilience for hardship is to be embraced.
James certainly knew it when he said, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, when you face trails of many kinds…”[1] that we would find these times are anything but joyful. But he also knew that if we thought about what God was building into us as we faced our despairs, we could consider it pure joy, given that this short life will be over after only a few dozen more New Year’s.
If the year left you speechless, thank God that you shut up long enough to hear Him speak.
That’s the only thing I’m thankful for: that, though 2016 was the hardest year, I’m thankful for the lessons I’ve learned.
If the year left you speechless, thank God you step into 2017 readier than ever to live.


[1] See James 1:2-4 in the New Testament.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Fuel for Your Cup When You Feel Like Giving Up

It can happen any time of the year, but it occurs more commonly at the end of years where outbound despair waits for inbound hope. Whether we ‘do’ New Years’ resolutions or not, we all want to do things differently next year. And some years are so lamentable we wish for a revival. Those years we dearly wish for a resurrection of fortunes. Even if we’ve had a great year we do wish to keep the momentum going in fresh, new ways, because anything contrary is more unpalatable than ever.
This is a message not just for the end of year or New Year.
There are times in all our lives when we feel exhausted of body or spirit (or both) and we ardently deliberate on giving up. And knowing we have no choice but to keep going makes the choice doubly hard, because there is only one viable option.
We must keep going.
How do we do this when we have nothing left in the tank?
The truth of life is many lives are pushed to their limit, but it’s only as we lose hope that life overwhelms us. Yet it’s at that overwhelming point we’re poised to learn life’s most valuable lesson:
Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are.
—Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha
As we encounter ourselves at the end of our tether we come to be ourselves, not in the madness of that instant, but in the quietness of spirit that exists when we can be quiet.
Yes, being quiet of soul is possible even in bristling, swarming chaos.
It’s the time that God gets us to be who we are before Him. Only then are we open to His help and healing. We’re much too stubborn otherwise. That help is the input of courage and strength, and the healing is the ability to use that courage and strength.
Adversity tears every unnecessary thing from us that was never ours in the first place. See hardship’s purpose? Only as we believe in this truth does reason merge with quietude nurtured in our hearts to produce a burgeoning hope; a vision that transcends the overwhelmed feeling.
Our temptation is to face adversities from the standpoint of our own common sense. But a saint can “be of good cheer” [ cf. John 16:33] even when seemingly defeated by adversities, because victory is absurdly impossible to everyone, except God.
— Oswald Chambers (source of quote, here)
This is the truth for believers of God.
We cannot be defeated, for especially in defeat, victory awaits despite defeat. Only by faith can that victory be borne on the wings hope that has learned to smile in defeat.
See the victory?
Victory comes in not being downcast in defeat.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
— James 1:2-4 (NIV)
In defeat, then, is the material of victory, for if defeat cannot defeat us, nothing can.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Francis of Assisi – The Seven Peace and Goodwill Virtues

Francis of Assisi lived from 1181—1226. The legacy of his 45 years is one of incredible spiritual presence. Here is an Admonition of Francis, and below it, a commentary:
Hail, queen wisdom! May the Lord save you with your holy sister, pure simplicity!
O Lady, holy poverty, may the Lord save you with your sister, holy humility!
O Lady, holy charity, may the Lord save you with your sister, holy obedience!
O all of you most holy virtues, may the Lord, from whom you proceed and come, save you!
There is absolutely no person in the whole world who can possess one among you unless they die first. She who possesses one and does not offend the others, possesses all; and he who offends one possesses none and offends all; and every one confounds vices and sins.
Holy wisdom confounds Satan and all his wickedness.
Pure, holy simplicity confounds all the wisdom of this world and the wisdom of the flesh.
Holy poverty confounds cupidity and avarice and the cares of this world.
Holy humility confounds pride and all the men of this world and all things that are in the world.
Holy charity confounds all diabolical and fleshly temptations and all fleshly fears.
Holy obedience confounds all bodily and fleshly desires and keeps the body mortified to the obedience of the Spirit and to the obedience of one’s brother and makes a man woman subject to all the men and women of this world — and not to men and women alone, but also to beasts and wild animals, so that they may do with him whatsoever they will, insofar as it may be granted to them from above by the Lord.
***
My Commentary:
Holy wisdom is a principal virtue beyond summary description. One may study her for their entire lives and never know her more other than to grow into her. God knows it is a supreme gift that becomes us, which is beyond mere knowledge, that beholding a mystery is the essence of holy wisdom. In sum, with holy wisdom, Satan is defeated. Those in whom Jesus inhabits, by the Holy Spirit, are married incontrovertibly with all-conquering holy wisdom.
The purveyor of pure, holy simplicity knows without knowing, that there is nothing of the wisdom of this world or the wisdom of the flesh that ought to be cherished for the acquisition. Holy simplicity has an aversion to both, remaining pure, appearing na├»ve — which, in this way, is God’s hiddenness — to the world.
When holy poverty absorbs us into herself, the folly of cupidity and avarice and the cares of this world is implicit. Not only is there no need of them, again, there is spiritual aversion.
That one with holy humility resists pride and all the men of this world and all things that are in the world with the other virtues: simplicity, poverty, wisdom… and the others. These join together, making humility a super virtue.
Having the other virtues, holy charity has the foretaste and is the foreclosure of goodness, which is the vision of all evil in all diabolical and fleshly temptations and all fleshly fears.
Holy obedience upholds the sanctity in and of all relationships, creating in us the transcendent and the paradoxical; the power of subjugation, where no man or woman could be as Jesus was, and the Martyrs were, and the Persecuted Church are, otherwise.
***
Francis of Assisi, a Saint, was a champion of the poor. As an exemplar of Christ’s teachings, he shows us that peace-and-goodwill is the spiritual virtue of life.
Pax et Bonum (peace and the good) was the motto of Saint Francis. You may counted only six virtues in this Admonition of Francis’. The seventh is the Pax et Bonum that superintends them all.
Through virtue, vice is overcome; virtue confounds vice without vice knowing how or why.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

How Do We Know If Growth is Good Unless It’s Tested?

“Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”
— Exodus 20:20 (NIV)
Whenever we meet the real living God He scares us. Not because God is scary, but because He is so awesome — in the more traditional meaning, not the slang, of that word. That’s the nature of Divine encounter. In coming face-to-face with God, we would not be human if we were unafraid.
He scares us because we know He sees us as we are, and, because He sees us as we are, and because He desires so much that we grow, He is testing us so we meet His approval. Not that we aren’t already approved of through Christ. But there is a difference between our status as human beings and our status as disciples. Those who take up the cudgel of faith agree to surrender themselves to God — to do His will. Doing that will means God will require us to grow.
Approval, in this context, is about improvement for leadership ahead.
Dokimazo (Greek) – Strongs 1381
The New Testament is littered with this word, Dokimazo, which means simply, “tested for the purpose of approval.” It occurs in the gospel of Luke, in many of Paul’s letters, and once each in 1 Peter and 1 John. The purpose of approval is not about being good enough to be a member of God’s church, for which everyone is approved.
Such testing that’s required for the purpose of approval is for discipleship. Interestingly, both words “test” (i.e. prove) and “approve” are from the same root word.
Where This Gets Personal
The first period of testing I was aware of in my own life was in the church that both accepted me with open arms yet also demanded I meet certain behavioural criteria whilst making a way for me to enter leadership, for which they knew I was called, even if I did not yet recognise the calling on my life!
In Exodus 20:20, Moses tells the people not to be scared, because God’s testing is a good thing. It’s designed to keep us from sinning. In other words, God’s testing is a sign of God’s Presence (as it was for the Israelites in the Exodus). Being that God is entirely trustworthy and faithful, we can trust that His testing us is for our own good. After all, how awesome is it that God shows Himself as real, and His Presence is known through testing which is known through the consistency and constancy of things that could only come from God, through belief.
In that first period of testing, I knew all along I was being tested by God, simply because all the events in my life at the time were both hard yet achievable — too coincidental to be random, yet never more relevant to my life in the midst of my own challenges. It seemed that God wanted to show me that I could endure the toughest season of my life, and do it easily, because I knew surrendering to Him was all I could do, because He was with me. It was actually a very comforting feeling knowing that, whilst life was harder than ever, He who could help me like no other could, was indeed helping, and, in that, I knew I would get through! It doesn’t matter when life is super hard if we know we’ll get through; that there’s a purpose in it. It was most comforting because I had a tremendous purpose: God had chosen me for a mission, He was real in my experience, and He had vouchsafed me. He was making for me a way. In this way testing makes us feel very special, which is no small compensation for the adversity suffered.
God was testing me in ways that I could both endure and appreciate, and He was allowing this testing for the purpose of my approval. I was becoming a leader in Christ’s church. And all leaders must be tested, for if leaders aren’t tested how are we to know if they meet God’s holy standard or not?
One Caveat
Legalism can twist what was designed for our betterment and encouragement, and principally our preparation, and make of it, abuse.
God never wills it that a church, entity or individual lord it over an individual in the name of testing. Authoritarian leadership is a power out of line. Always has been. Always will be.
But where we subject ourselves to leadership, God and the church have every right, and certainly the role, to test us. Every leader must be tested and approved. But there is, of course, a fine line between blessing and belligerence. Testing from God is never belligerent. It never maims. It is always something that is highly reasonable, and not impossible to endure, and, because God communicates the purpose of His testing, there is strength to endure adversity.
***
This year has been a particularly testing year for me, personally. There were some fundamentals in the Christian growth journey I’ve needed to stow. It’s been agonising. It’s been frustrating. I’ve experienced much anger; much anguish and sorrow. Time and again I’ve had to learn a new submission; that God is in control, not me.
At this point, though I haven’t always enjoyed the process of testing this year, I have almost always been able to see God’s purpose in it.
Discipleship is growth in the destiny of becoming good. The key process is testing. Unless our growth is tested we don’t know if our growth is good.
Testing is never truly enjoyable, but afterward (Hebrews 12:11) we see it’s benefit, particularly when we saw its benefit throughout the process.

Monday, December 19, 2016

A Tale of Three Kings – A Study in Brokenness

A Tale of Three Kings: A Study in Brokenness by storyteller, pastor and evangelist Gene Edwards’ is a little book.
Separate recommendations: Chuck Swindoll (chancellor DTS) and Prof. Duffy Robins. Youth ministry consultant.
Not about the outward things of impression, but about the inward things of our hearts.
Hard being a Christian? Especially responding as a Christian? What I’m sharing tonight will help.
Hoping this message will help 1 or 2 of you tonight; seeds for others of you.
Saul, with little doubt, was a great leader—everything people today are seeking to be… but, despite Saul’s leadership prowess, God rejected him.
PART ONE – Saul and David (back story of 1 Samuel 18-31)
Two kings: the Lord’s anointed, Saul, who the Lord rejects, and the Lord’s newly anointed, David, who must suffer a mad king (Saul), who throws spears, until the Lord is ready to install David to the throne.
David is anointed with oil by Samuel, and the king-elect gradually grows in stature, but, and this is important:
“his [anointing] led the young man not to the throne but to a decade of hellish agony and suffering… On that day, David was enrolled, not into the lineage of royalty, but into the school of brokenness.” (p. 8)
David was set to learn many indispensable lessons about spear throwing, of all things, from an insane king… Saul.  David’s life was about to get painful.
David served the mad king, and the better David did, the more jealous the king grew.  Saul terrorises David.  Saul: haunted by thought he’s replaced. Saul is insanely jealous, paranoid, suspicious, raving, angry.
We talk in terms of bullying… Saul is the king of bullies to David.
David knew he was now the Lord’s anointed, so we must ask, when Saul threw spears, why didn’t David throw them back? 
David began to understand, that, in not throwing the spears back, God got what God wanted… the book says:
“God did not have — but wanted very much to have — men and women who would live in pain… God wanted a broken vessel.” (p. 12)
... again from the book
“God has a university.  It’s a small school. 
Few enrol; even fewer graduate. 
Very, very few indeed.”
(p. 15)
“… all students in this school must suffer much pain.  And as you might guess, it is often the unbroken ruler (Saul, in David’s case) (who God sovereignly picks) who dispenses the pain.” (p. 15)
“As the king grew in madness, David grew in understanding,” as if sanctified by what he suffered.  David chose to submit under an oblivion of lunacy, and thereby, in his brokenness, spiralled down into a deeper hell.
So David was perplexed… what am I to do when these spears whistle past my head?  Of course, any man or woman’s logic is to grab that thrown spear and throw it right back where it came from… an eye for an eye.
After all, David, you’re a warrior!  Are you chicken?  Goaded by men and by conscience, there did seem something amiss in his logic — to avenge the attack is to avenge one’s kingship.
Yet, David would not throw those spears back.  He was not a king after the order of Saul.  David had learned something absurdly counterintuitive; it is always better to pretend the spears didn’t even exist… and if they did hit, it doesn’t matter, even if they pierce your heart.
Now to change tack: we have to ask ourselves, continually and constantly, if we’re the Lord’s anointed… and, if so, are we after the order of King Saul.  If we are, we’re destined to miss the mark. 
“Am I someone who fights for my own justice?”  “Am I a spear thrower?”  “Do I retaliate?”
Something that pierces worse than Saul’s spear, however, is the searching eye of the Lord, from which nothing is hidden: Saul, he is in you and I!  And there’s nothing we can do about it unless we’re inculcated in the same curriculum as David was.
In that broken place, with spear wounds all over, we must leave the battlefield with not a single friend.  We must leave alone.  David fled Saul more than once.  He always left alone… it’s the only way to leave.
We leave that kingdom without defence… not one spear thrown… wounded… to enter the cave… a very inhospitable place… where we’re inclined to enter a season of bitter pity… pities given to God, in psalms of lament… psalms like 5, 59, 22, 64, 142.  We pour out our hearts to God… and to trusted others.
In our context, when we have the hearts of King Saul, we don’t leave alone; we leave with a posse.  Many churches have been destroyed through splits because the person who decided to leave retaliated… others in tow.
Not David.
For David it was preferable that Saul kill him than for him to learn Saul’s mad ways.  Page 36 has David saying, “I shall not practice the ways that cause kings to go mad.”  See the link between spear throwing and madness?
In David’s darkest hours, as if labour pains of suffering birthed in him humility only possible from brokenness, through being shattered, again and again, he led a band of hoodlums to sobriety.  Nobodies became better people through a peculiar type of leadership.
“David did not lead them,” but they were led by him, alright!  They were amazed, as are we, that true kingship comes when nothing is forced; when the leader submits to violence and allows what God will sovereignly allow.
David, the Lord’s anointed, has no defence.  He insists, there will be no defence!  He insists!!  Sounds crazy.  He trusts God.
Yes, God gives the unruly and the unworthy his power. 
IMPORTANT LESSON!!
“He sometimes gives unworthy vessels a greater portion of power so that others will eventually see the true state of internal nakedness in that individual.” (p. 41)  Spear throwers: not clothed in God’s love within. They appear naked where they should appear clothed in compassion.
In the fact of wicked leadership all are able to see that God is poorly represented.  Selfish leaders are highly conspicuous.
But, remember Saul. Remember where he is… He is in each of us!  We think we’re Davids.  But, in fact, unless we act as David acted, and the vast majority of the time we don’t, we are kings after the order of Saul.
See, David never minded if he was about to be dethroned. 
David had authority, but in that very fact, that fact didn’t ever occur to him.  He who had all power, acted as if he had none.
That’s what the school of brokenness taught David: if you don’t attack from a position of weakness, when you have strength, power is nothing to misuse. David learned a lot in the cave… the King Saul type crushed out of his heart.
Power is the greatest thing abused in this world.
Remember, Saul — he’s in me and you.  We’re kings after his order if we flunk God’s school of brokenness.  It’s our biggest test.
But we’re only halfway through the story…
PART TWO – David and Absalom (story behind 2 Samuel 15-18)
Two kings are profiled: the king in residence, David, who is about to be overthrown, and Absalom, the king-elect in the fashion of his own making.
The reverse of the situation of part one takes place in part two. 
Absalom is usurping the kingship.  Will David treat Absalom like Saul treated David?  And, if so, will Absalom respond in the same way as David did to Saul’s treatment?
In a man who seemed noble and pure, Absalom, a “rebellion was ignited.” (p. 60)
Absalom had the numbers, the ascendency, the favour of the people.
Joab was sought and he and David pondered the imminent rebellion.
Was David to mount a defence?  He only had his experience of youth to draw on.  “What course [of action] was that?” asked Joab. 
“To do absolutely nothing,” replied the king. (p. 68)  Wow.
Alone.                     When you’re about to be overthrown, you’re alone.    Sauls fight that feeling… and retaliate… not Davids… they’re brave enough and broken enough to be still and resist retaliating even if that’s what they’re tempted to do.
David ponders, this time with Abishai: “Shall I be a Saul to Absalom?” to which was the reply: He has been no young David to you.” (p. 70)
Absalom has minor grievances with David, whereas David had major grievances with Saul.  David had never been unfair to Absalom.  Yet David was losing a kingdom.
David refused to learn the ways of Saul, a second time,
given a second temptation. He refused to unlearn the ways of brokenness he learned with Saul.
Absalom, on the other hand, promised to make a splendid Saul.  He was already a Saul, for he had no understanding of the wisdom extant in David’s brokenness.  In Absalom, rebellion had been dormant in his heart for years.  He seemed so faithful until he wasn’t.
“The motives of the heart will eventually be revealed.
God will see to it.”
(p. 86)
Then David reflected over Moses: “At the age of forty, Moses was an arrogant, self-willed man…  What he might have done at forty, I cannot say.  At eighty, he was a broken man.  He was…
“The meekest man who ever lived… [whoever] carries the rod of God’s authority should be.” (p. 87)  David said that.  And Moses had an Absalom in the person of Korah and his 250 followers (Numbers 16).
Absalom claims the kingdom!
David said, “The throne is not mine.  Not to have, not to take, not to protect, and not to keep.” (p. 94)
The book finishes saying, “the true king turned and walked quietly out of the throne room, out of the palace, out of the city.  He walked and he walked…
“Into the bosoms of all men whose hearts are pure.”
Now to Jesus:
Jesus never threw spears.  Much like His ancestor, David, He never even contemplated it. 
On the Mount of Olives, Jesus taught about it.
At Gethsemane, Jesus lived it.  Jesus never threw spears.
Now, this is a Christmas message… the Father gave us His Son, born Incarnate of God; an unconditional offer of reconciliation… that required of Jesus, brokenness… against a humanity that so often rejects His love.
God’s school of brokenness is hard to graduate from, because none of us like submission when we’ve been betrayed.  This school is a sacred school. 
It is a school in the line of David.  It is a school in the line of Jesus.
God used Saul in David’s life.  God used Absalom in David’s life.  David would have hated it, but God used it…  Just like God used the Pharisees, Herod and Pilate in Jesus’ life. 
Consider Paul’s words from 2 Corinthians 12:7 and following:
“… in order to keep me from becoming conceited, proud and arrogant, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, a devilish prod, a teasing goad, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord, I begged Him, to take it away from me; to relieve me of it. 
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, it is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness… my power begins when yours ends!” when you stop fighting and stop retaliating…
Therefore—in my flesh I cannot say this—I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, I, Paul, for Christ’s sake… I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.
“For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
2 Corinthians 12:8-10.
Indeed, more than once Paul said words like:
“When we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we respond graciously.”
— 1 Corinthians 4:12b-13a (HCSB)
God uses the things that would normally make us conceited, and He uses them to produce in us humility, often through bearing humiliation.


4 points to make:
1.              The Insult of Brokenness borne brings in the Ingress of Blessing
Brokenness is a state.
Brokenness is a state of being, blessed from heaven exacted below, throbbing in pain, yet purposed for growth, as brokenness is from God.
Brokenness of being is a state of place in this world, of acceptance, here, so something abundantly better is being forged for later, and certainly in eternity.
Bear the insult of brokenness which brings the ingress of blessing.
2.             Brokenness is only learned when it’s practiced
“There was a time in my life when I would fight and work hard at vindicating myself, [but] through a process of years and the dregs of painful experiences, I have learned that I’m unqualified to do that, furthermore I do not learn when I’m busy about defending myself.  It also distracts me from my calling, which is all part of the enemy’s plan.” 
— Charles R. Swindoll
But, of course, it’s easy to forget all that when there are spears coming your way.
The sentiment of Psalm 37:5-6.
“Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him, and he will act.
He will make your vindication shine like the light,
and the justice of your cause like the noonday.” 
— Psalm 37:5-6 (NRSV)
We have to learn to stop fighting and defending ourselves.
We have to pray, “Vengeance is Yours, Lord,” (Deut. 35/Romans 12).
God loves us all, but He can use the broken, and, because the broken give Him glory, because His glory is visible through brokenness.
We only learn the value of brokenness—to God—when we practice it.
3.             Brokenness is like a Graduate School
Brokenness is the Hardest Thing to Learn
“… solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.”
— Hebrews 5:14 (NIV)
Brokenness is solid food. When James said, “Consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds” he was referring to being in Graduate School.
It’s for those Christians who have already attained their Bachelors degree in the faith—those who know all their theology, who have the right foundation, and who believe in Jesus beyond any doubt.
Brokenness is a Graduate training—it’s a Master’s degree.  God is removing from us every crutch… every reliance apart from Him.
4.             In Our Brokenness and Trust, God’s Sovereignty and Compassion are Made Known
Experiences of momentary brokenness, where we have nothing left to hold from God, where our lives are held open in perfect submission, draw to us the golden experience of compassion only possible in the heart of God’s Presence.
As soon as we’re able to trust God’s sovereignty, wholly and absolutely, we are a testimony of restoration. 
See how God’s sovereignty takes us from brokenness to restoration in a single moment?  Ah… that’s the Abundant Life.
When we trust God, because we believe in His sovereignty, we trust our brokenness to Him, and then we experience God’s compassion.

Review Questions:
·      God’s prophet had anointed David when he was a boy, but for years David saw only hardship and danger. How can a person remain faithful between the promise and the payoff? What might make it difficult to remain faithful even after the payoff has arrived?

·      Are you clinging to God’s promises or to God Himself?  What is the distinction (if any)?

·      In this story, David considered the throne to be God’s, not his own to have, to take, to protect, to keep. He asserted that he desired God’s will more than God’s blessing. Could you say the same about what God has given you? How would you respond if your job, your home, your family were all taken from you?
Let’s Pray:
Thank You, Lord, that You    are the Exemplar of Brokenness; that You show us, even through the life of David, that there is no Kingdom point in spear throwing.
Thank You that, through Your Spirit, we have Your power; Your strength in our weakness, and Your grace     through eternity.
Help us to know how to avoid being hit by spears that would turn us a deep shade of bitter, and, as per David’s example, help us to never     let a spear touch us, even if the spear thrown were to pierce our hearts.
I pray for each one here, in their broken situations both now and coming, that You’d empower them by their cognisance of these truths we’ve pondered tonight. AMEN.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Everyday Relevance of the Wounded Healer’s Ministry

“For all ministers are called to recognize the sufferings of their time in their own hearts, and make to that recognition the starting point of their service.”
— Henri J.M. Nouwen (1932–1996)
Through four open doors does Nouwen invite the minister, in exploring their own intrinsic contribution, as a putty to be moulded, through the hands of God’s Spirit, for the healing of others, not in spite of, but because of their own wounds.
The wounded healer has experienced God’s healing their own wounds, and through that experience they help. Theirs is the embodiment of presence, as in the Presence of God. The experience of healing transforms, not simply for the moment, but forever.
Although Nouwen wrote The Wounded Healer in 1972, as postmodernism was starting, it has stark relevance in this age, perhaps more so.
1.     Ministry in a Dislocated World
Perhaps it is the case that since the industrial revolution began there has been dislocation on a common scale. People feel estranged from safety because family structures and familiarity have been devastated. It’s like we’re in a second fall. As a society, we’ve chosen to taste that apple; to depart from a simple reliance on the land.
Such a quest for knowledge means we run exhausted into the inexhaustible futility of our existence, because somehow, we’ve lost touch with the God of hope and meaning.
It’s strange that what is typical of living in a dislocated world is not despair, but a lack of hope. Something is missing that we feel should be there. Our quest for enlightenment means we’re “caught in the prison of our own mortality.” (p. 19)
Ministry in this dislocated world context comes out of the knowledge that knowledge is not enough, and indeed takes us in the wrong direction. There is unity and spiritual progress is wonder and exploration, in breaking past a legalistic faith and regimented thinking.
2.    Ministry for the Rootless Generations
It’s not just today’s youth that may appear rootless; that consternation has been experienced by youth for some generations now. It’s a fact that should, in the wounded healer, unify us. It’s an opportunity for the older wounded healer to connect with those looking for direction. It’s a prospect for the younger wounded healer to relate with their frail and elderly.
As we gaze into the eyes of those we meet, what do we find? Resignation, hope, despair, vision? Chances are it’s a different thing we’ll see.
Chances are the people we’ll encounter in ministry have an inwardness that is difficult to connect with, a fatherlessness that stems from the breakdown of the family unit, and a destructive convulsiveness that emanates from a lack of inherent vision. It is only as we connect with these lacks within ourselves, and promise to minister through what God changes in us as we accept these facts, that we can help ameliorate these conundrums in others.
The wounded healer is not at war with the modern constraints placed on them in their ministry. They absorb the constraints and become them. They use the very constraints that seem there only to frustrate and they create space for articulation. They teach others how to name their inner events.
The pastoral conversation, then, is about risking; articulating the truth so that people can experience clarity, which in turn delivers hope.
Where pastors have authority, compassion must become “the core, and the nature,” of that authority. “For a compassionate person nothing human is alien: no joy and no sorrow, no way of living and no way of dying.” (p. 45) Compassionate persons offer and allow space for human experience, and the free expression of those experiences, with validation and encouragement, for surely it’s inspiring when human experience can be vocalised and reflected upon, where meaning can be made. It’s the compassionate person who has reconciled their own bitterness, and who may therefore open the doors of others’ narrow-mindedness. Never through telling, but by incarnational example.
Prayer underpins the person in whom God dwells constantly. And such a person is able to, as a contemplative analyst, render to persons who are willing, the spiritual therapies of God — those that are known by the help made manifest in that person by their own assessment.
3.    Ministry to Hopeless Persons
… not that they are hopeless at all, but their perception is of hopelessness.
Leadership, according to Nouwen, is “the encounter between two people.” (p. 55) In the interaction of John Allen, the theology student, with Mr. Harrison, the dying patient, Nouwen shows us that it’s only when we enter the paradox that we are effective at all in this mysterious of all practices: ministry.
The way out of pain into the gorgeousness of healing, for the leader, is also the way back in… “only by entering into communion with human suffering can relief be found.” (p. 83) In this is found the point of hopelessness; that suffering and struggle provide the very impetus to healing.
If there were no grating, excruciating rock bottom there’d be no highway into the vistas of the beautiful unknowns ahead.
4.    Ministry by a Lonely Minister
Instead of denying or neglecting our loneliness, Nouwen commends us to accept it, for whatever pain is embraced is also redeemable in the untold blessings of God.
A minister is no help to others in spiritual exhibitionism (“Oh, I have the same problem; let me tell you about it”) because they lead the person to perhaps the same narrow-minded acceptance of what cannot be transformed into something creative. But a minister who has ventured intrepidly and painfully into their loneliness has sought God in that place, and in that deeper milieu they’ve heard God whisper inaudibly into the soul of their spirit. Such a minister can help, because they open a door for another to step into; that doorway leads to a new path of awakening by the Spirit of God, and God’s actual Presence is learned there in a way no other way works. To such an experience the lonely minister is conversant. They use no other way, for why would we entertain revelry when the true way beckons? The use of loneliness is as essential for healing as oxygen is for breathing.
The Liberator does not promise to lift us out of the doldrums. Instead He sits there with us, with the poor, the feeble, the maimed, and helps us wrap our own wounds. In that, and in not being lifted out of the conundrums of our lives, is healing.
Healing comes not from running from our loneliness, but in making a home for it.
Quotations from The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society.