I’m sitting here, hands cupped around a hot mug, savoring a moment I never take the time to savor when I’m at home and all the world hedges in around me.
A hot cup of tea. Sunshine. And the presence of God.
Not the insistent, task-driving presence of God I don’t realize I too often imagine. Just presence. With-ness. Nothing else.
Why is this so elusive?
I realized something this morning that scared me. For the first time, the past few months, I have not loved what I do. I am so blessed to love pastoring, writing, everything God has given me.
The land you have given me is a pleasant land. What a wonderful inheritance! (Psalm 16.6)
I assumed it would always be like this. The problem is, making that assumption, I naturally assume that more is better. If work is a good thing, why isn’t more work better? Why isn’t adding a dozen more things to my to do list way more fun? Why don’t I want to tackle them with the same excitement?
So I’ve been adding. And adding.
We’ve reached the tipping point. The other side is darkness and burnout, and I am so close to that edge that I can see the jaws of the kraken. It is not a pretty sight.
I’ve been imagining all the things God will need to take away from me to bring me back from the edge. What has to drop off the list? What must I lose to find joy again, to love the written and spoken word for themselves rather than for what they can do for me and the places they might take me? To love pastoring for the call and not the applause?
To love God for moments like these rather than what he can do for me, too.
We have got this so wrong.
I don’t expect time with my husband or kids to “work” for me in some way. I only want to be in their presence. I don’t plan to leave their presence suddenly energized or enabled to carry out some new task in my day.
But we expect that of God. We don’t simply be with him. Maybe this isn’t a revelation. It is to me.
I neglect prayer because it doesn’t “work.” I don’t feel different. Life doesn’t go better. So why spend those precious minutes I could be working in a pursuit that seems to be staring into space, waiting for lightning that doesn’t strike? Oh, I do pray, because I do believe in it.
But I’ve got it so, so wrong if I’m waiting for time with God to “work.”
Why does it have to “work”? Why does God have to “work” for me? Why do there have to be results? Why can’t we just be? We’re cultivating a relationship, not a business partnership. Relationships take time. They take stillness together. The best relationships happen when we do nothing together but sit and stare and feel one another’s existence. We know that, if we’re blessed to have those relationships. We never ask those people to do anything more than they do by being.
I don’t have to ask God to be for me. He already is. I don’t have to ask him to be with me. He’s never anywhere else. I just have to stop long enough to stand in the sunbeam rather than run through it, hoping for something to stick.
It is time to scale back. Back to the basics of just sitting with God. Asking him to rule the to do list. Giving him veto power over my hours and days and minutes. Listening. Sitting. Sipping. Tasting and seeing that he is good.
This isn’t the blog post I planned to write. But it’s the blog post I needed.
We’re in week three of exploring what it would have been like to meet the real Jesus for the first time. What would an encounter have felt like, looked like? How would it have changed us? Who is Jesus, really? We’ve been introduced to him. We’ve met him in baptism.
And now here.
“As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.”At once they left their nets and followed him.
Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.
“Come and see,” said Philip.
When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.
Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”
(Matthew 4, John 1)
The next time we see Jesus encountering people for the first time, he’s calling them. Straight up telling them to follow him. No introductions. No “Hey, what are you doing, do you think you could take a break for a while?” Not even a “Who are you and what’s your resume, anyway?” Just this script which, if we take at face value, we cannot think of as anything but odd.
Jesus has bided his time for thirty years in Joseph’s house making end tables. Now he’s been baptized, beaten satan in the wilderness, and finally, the time has come. He gets to start what he came for. Key is in the ignition, suitcase is packed. And because he’s God and all, he’s smart enough to know what many leaders, Christian and otherwise, have yet to figure out. He needs a team.
He gets a chance to assemble his core, his dream team. I’ve worked in church planting—I know how important your core team is. You live or die by those people. If anyone could compile a dream team, Jesus could.
And what does he do? He goes and snags anyone who happens to by lying around that day with nothing else to do. Fishermen taking a break. People napping under trees. Grown men who can’t join him unless they bring their brothers and friends along for moral support. Seriously, who does this? He’d be fired as a manager.
I know—Jesus prayed and all. I understand all the theology behind this. But looking at it as a normal person would have at the time, which is how were trying to see Jesus in this series, it makes no sense. It’s a desperate, loser move. Jesus’ team is doomed from inception.
Yet something compels these people to follow him. It may be the same thing that compels us.
The disciples knew of Jesus. They would have heard the talk about his unusual “fringe” ways and his ability to handle God’s word. They’d understand people were watching him to be a big deal. They would have known he was an up and coming name.
They would have known no one with those credentials would bother with them.
No rabbi would bother with day laborers and farm workers. They amassed followers from the educated elite of Jerusalem. Peter, Andrew, James, John, Nathanael—they did not imagine any teacher would stop to discuss the things of God with men such as themselves. They had their place—and it was limited.
Yet, one day on the side of the lake, when nothing else is happening, a rabbi calls them. The rabbi calls them. He is not joking. Is it really any wonder they drop everything and follow him? We look at that with such amazement but really, if we realized the gravity of what’s happening, we would not be so surprised.
A rabbi is calling me. Rabbis don’t call fishermen. Rabbis don’t want people like me. I have never been good enough, smart enough, connected enough to be noticed by a rabbi. And now The Teacher has used my name. Mine. I can’t drop this net fast enough.
It would be like Lionel Messi telling some young kid in the vacant lot, “Hey, stop kicking that soccer ball around and let me teach you how to play.”
You know what else is amazing?
A rabbi is calling you.
He’s looking at you, wherever you are, whatever your employment, level of education, lifestyle, or background, and he’s saying, “I want you. Follow me.”
Look at Jesus’ first encounter with potential disciples. Really look. It’s like he just glances at people and says, “You want to come? You’re in.” You skeptical? You’re in. You uncertain? You’re in. You unworthy? You’re in. Whatever, people. If you want to come, you’re in.
Think about that for just a minute, and let it sink in how people must have felt about that. Let it sink in how we should feel about that.
We’re in. We’re called. On those days when you feel all kinds of not enough, put yourself on the shores of that lake and hear those words – follow me. Whoever you are. Wherever you’ve been. No matter what. Be mine.
Jesus’ first encounter with his followers was not a test of fitness but a call toward fullness.
He doesn’t ask for a resume; he asks for a reception.
I think that’s a Jesus we can love.
I think that’s a Jesus we can serve.
I think that’s a Jesus we can follow.
In the words of one of my favorite quotes of 2015:
Jesus created a motley crew, plucking us from every context and inaugurating a piecemeal clan that has only ever functioned with mercy. We should be grabbing hands, throwing our heads back, and laughing that God saved us all, because surely this is the messiest family ever and He loves us anyway. Our shared redemption should keep us grateful and kind, because what other response even makes sense? (Jen Hatmaker)
Since my kidney transplant eight years ago, I have tried a lot of new adventures. So when I saw the Mrs. Disciple linkup for this week of Five New Experiences, I thought this would be easy. Having survived a disease that had killed several members of my family gave me a feeling of empowerment to tackle other scary things. It also made me wonder why I had wasted so much time not trying.
So from those tries,
Five Things I Have Learned about Doing that Scary Thing
1. Have rules to live by
When I’m faced with backing down or trying something new that scares me, I resort to two decision-making rules—two questions I ask myself.
1—Am I likely to ever get this chance again?
2—Will I regret not doing this?
These two questions have propelled me into all kinds of adventures.
Some years ago, on a vacation to Nova Scotia, we discovered a zipline company. It was pretty simple—one long line down a mountain. The girls were eager to try. I was . . . not so much. When we arrived, we discovered that they only accepted cash, and wouldn’t you know, we had only enough Canadian dollars for four. Not five.
We probably could have negotiated a group rate, or offered him American cash, which he certainly would have taken. But instead, I looked at the loooong zipline running to the ground and said, “Um, I’ll make the sacrifice. You guys go.” I wasn’t chickening out. We didn’t have the cash, right?
I was totally chickening out.
And I regretted that decision for years.
They had a glorious time doing something they’d never tried, and I just had to hear about it and wish I had decided differently.
Now, when I look at something like the art museum in the meaner streets of Pittsburgh and wonder, Should I get out of my safe locked car and go in?, I know that I will regret not seeing this thing I will probably never see again. And it gives me courage.
Now, when I am standing at the start of a ropes course that did not look at all scary from the ground, I know I will regret not trying. (And, because I did this two days ago, I also know I don’t need to do it again.)
Now, when I wonder if I should take a random road trip to Austin on the spur of the moment, I understand that this opportunity will not come again, and what’s to be lost?
These two questions have been some of the best two things I’ve ever asked myself.
Am I likely to ever get this chance again?
Will I regret not doing this?
Which adventure leads to lesson #2–
2. Use the Buddy System
When we had another chance in Costa Rica, this time on a course of six lines, I took it. The first line was terrifying. I wobbled off it, feeling unwell and woozy. I considered calling it a day and saying I tried. When the guide saw me tilting a bit, he said, “This next one is the mile-long line. We’re going tandem, you and me.” It was stunning–and fun. I managed the other four lines just fine.
If he had not seen my need and offered me his borrowed strength to get through the next tough spot? I would never have been able to negotiate a mile-long zipline. I’d have been dangling there somewhere above the rain forest canopy praying for God to take me quickly before I died of terror. But with someone else to offer expertise, encouragement, and strong arms for the task? I saw the waterfalls, treetops, and blue skies I otherwise would have missed. I felt the freedom of soaring into the wind and the rush of planting my feet firmly on the platform having done the job.
When a new experience frightens us, we need a buddy. We need someone to tell us we can do it, to threaten us if need be, to remind us that with God and with the gifts he has given, we do not have to be afraid. Grab a friend and do that scary thing together.
3. Don’t underestimate yourself
On our “grand tour” to Europe five years ago, after my husband left to go back home, the four of us ladies (three daughters and I) were left to navigate the continent on our own. In the first few days, we were stalled by a transportation strike in Italy. Stranded in Venice, we hauled suitcases up and down stairs, managed to locate the Grand Canal, hopped aboard the only moving train with no reservations and no real idea of how we would get where we needed to go, and eventually got there.
It was frustrating. It was exhausting. I may or may not have said words a pastor doesn’t say. But you know what else it was? Empowering. We did it. We got where we needed to go, in a strange country with a strange language, and we did it with a sense of humor. When I would normally have leaned on my husband to do the scary hard things, I had to do them myself. And I learned that I could.
In her book Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg notes that “Multiple studies in multiple industries show that women often judge their own performance as worse than it actually is.” Isn’t that the truth in your experience? I know it is in mine. I detest performance self-evaluations. I just don’t want to talk about how well I think I’m doing. Most of us feel more comfortable talking about how much we think we’re failing than how we think we’re crushing it. That’s sad.
Trying new experiences can be a chance for us to say, I can do hard thing. I can do this. And it feels good. Especially when you’re finally on the train and you can put those suitcases down.
Most of us feel more comfortable talking about how much we think we’re failing than how we think we’re crushing it.
4. Not trying is the only failure
Another latest new experience has been becoming a friendship partner to a refugee family. This is so out of my comfort zone. I don’t do strangers. I don’t do small talk. I don’t do situations where I don’t know what my job is supposed to be. I definitely don’t do sit on a couch awkwardly not knowing what to say and not even knowing how to say it in a way a non-English speaker will understand. But it seemed suddenly so minute to worry about my discomfort when faced with masses of people for whom discomfort was quite the relative term.
Honestly? It’s not going well. I keep sending text messages, calling, trying to set up appointments. And I don’t get answers. I’m frustrated. I want to quit. I won’t, not until I know that it’s just not going to work.
Even if I do end up quitting though, there is value in the trying. Learning something from a new experience that didn’t work is not failing. It’s obedience. I hope I works out, and I will continue to work with the organization in other capacities if it doesn’t. But if that happens, I will have tried. I won’t regret not trying. And I will have learned.
5. Listen to the call, not the catcall
I did something brand new this week that is possibly the most terrifying thing ever. I applied to be a senior pastor. I never thought that was something I would do, and I have no idea if it will end up happening. Surprisingly, I am at complete peace with the whole thing. Also surprisingly, I have been having recurring bad dreams about the whole thing. Apparently, my subconscious is not nearly as unafraid as my conscious.
Dreams like, I am asked to preach and find myself in front of a Willow-Creek-size sort of crowd. With my sermon slides projected in Disneyworld-like 360-surround and a giant spotlight on . . . me. I’m not particularly frightened of speaking to crowds, so this has not yet reached nightmare proportions. Until I go to pull out my trusty new iPad with sermon notes, and I find that instead I have a pocket full of crumpled up receipts, paper scraps, and napkins on which those notes are scratched. I am standing there trying to uncrumple twenty papers, put them in order, and read the tiny bad handwriting. In front of thousands of critical people.
Yep, this is where it turns Chucky Doll scary. I do have recurring bad dreams of not being prepared for things. They have escalated.
But see, this is also where I have to pull back and remember a few things. I am called. God has asked, “Yes or no?” And I have answered. I don’t have to listen to the voices that tell me I’m not enough or I will surely fail. I only have to listen to His voice. If He says walk right into this new scary thing, it means He will walk with me. That little word “with”? A tiny preposition in English. You know what it means in Hebrew? Alongside me, behind me, before me, above and below and all around me. Enveloped by God.That’s pretty good assurance to head into that scary thing.
What’s your next scary thing? Maybe it might be a good thing to try.