It’s hard to believe, but it’s already been just over a year since I metaphorically donned the clerical white collar. My first year of full-time ministry has been a steep learning curve in which I have become increasingly appreciative of God’s grace and the grace of the incredible team I’m blessed to be a part of.
There’s nothing quite like walking in the call of God for your life. It has a way of stretching you to your humble ends, leaving your flaws and weaknesses lying raw and vulnerable, while at the same time emboldening you to fierce pursuit of His destiny for you and those around you with an inexpressible joy.
No matter your vocation, I hope you’re on your own journey in which you are increasingly stepping into all that you were created and designed for. Perhaps some of what I am learning may be of some use to you in your journey. Here are 5 things that I am learning.
1) People are like onions.
When Shrek was trying to explain to Donkey what ogres are like, he has the following conversation with Donkey:
Shrek: For your information, there’s a lot more to ogres than people think.
Shrek: Example… uh… ogres are like onions!
[holds up an onion, which Donkey sniffs]
Donkey: They stink?
Shrek: Yes… No!
Donkey: Oh, they make you cry?
Donkey: Oh, you leave ’em out in the sun, they get all brown, start sproutin’ little white hairs…
Shrek: [peels an onion] NO! Layers. Onions have layers. Ogres have layers. Onions have layers. You get it? We both have layers.
It makes sense that those created in God’s image and likeness would be wonderfully complex creatures. While this notion creates much awe and amazement in me at God’s creation, I am learning it makes dealing with the stories and struggles of people’s lives complicated, complex, and challenging. There is no ‘one size fits all’ in counselling. While our role as ‘under-shepherds’ is always to point every person in every situation to Jesus, the way we do that is influenced by each of the marvellously unique stories nuanced with a unique history and trajectory.
2) I am a sucky prayer.
Maybe you’re different, but for me, prayer is difficult. Not difficult to do. Just difficult to find the time, and to not get distracted after 14.7 seconds by my phone, or to-do list, or social media, or something else. I had some kind of wildly misguided idea that once I started working for as a pastor all of a sudden I’d automatically have an incredible prayer life.
However, in God’s incredible kindness, He is showing me what a beautiful privilege prayer is and how much I need to develop it.
Some days I’ve allowed myself to get really stressed by circumstances and various pressures. In some occasions I’ve stopped and spent some time in prayer, and during that time realised that God was still on His throne, still in control of all things in the entire universe and that He was not stressed or worried. Those moments have reminded my how dependent I am upon God, and have given me inexpressible peace, and a desire to grow something of a ‘fitness’ in my prayer life.
3) The devil’s in the business of busyness
I think the enemy would do whatever he could to have pastors run down, with empty wells and no measure of intimacy with the Father; to have the shepherds too busy and tired to shepherd their own hearts, never mind to ever shepherd the hearts of the flock.
I also think that everyone is busy. Or, at least, everyone considers themselves busy. I recently drove through a quiet, quaint and quintessentially British rural town. I considered the relaxed, laid-back lifestyle of those (few) who lived there. My first thought, as one living amidst the crazy chaos of London, was that they must all not know what to do with all the time they have on their hands. Then, while my car was stopped (at the towns only traffic lights), I caught site of a man in overalls and wellingtons. He scurried across a pebbled road adjacent to me. His furrowed brow and focused eyes told me he was on a mission. Ok, so perhaps he wasn’t travelling from one meeting to another on the London Underground. Perhaps he didn’t have his day diarised on his iPhone calendar. But He was on a mission. And he was busy. At least, I imagine he considered himself to be busy.
‘Busy’ is a relative concept, and everyone considers themselves busy, and time always seems a foe. I’m learning that time will be your master, unless you master your time. And that rest does not occur naturally or automatically, but is a decision and something that is carefully pursued. It comes not from a holiday, but from a lifestyle of instilling certain disciplines in order to foster beautiful and glorious intimacy with the Father. That’s where rest is found.
4) Leadership is about feet, not followers.
John 13 has made a big impact on me over the last 18 months or so. In an incredibly poignant and climactic moment, in one of his last and most significant and demonstrative lessons, Jesus modelled His version of leadership by taking up the lowest, least glamorous position as he crouched down and washed His disciples feet.
With the world’s version of leadership the bigger your twitter following, podcast subscription, or job title, the better the leadership. And if I’m honest, I get sucked into that. I want a stage. I want a crowd. I want to be known, liked, loved and followed.
But as Jesus holds his disciples dusty feet in His hands, he both convicts me, and draws me towards something much greater.
He calls me, as an elder in this local church, to go under others, and use my resources and whatever God has put in my hands to lift others up. To create space for others to play. To be a floor that people can spring higher from, not a ceiling to keep people neatly contained.
I am learning that this type of leadership bucks against my selfish, self-centred soul, and also challenges my core identity. However, the more I’m defined by His unmerited, unearned love of me as His son, the less I care a about profile, platform, or prominence, and the more ‘washing feet’ is worship that satisfies deeply. I want to please the audience. The Audience of One.
5) I’m a control freak… without control
I like to be in control. In control of my job, of my life, of my finances, my studies, and of the lives of those around me. I want to have the 6 point strategic plan to help a woman out of depression, or to grow a church, or to guide a friend be set free of an addiction, or integrating new believers… I want the map laid out, with the t’s crossed and i’s dotted.
If you’re anything like me, I have bad news. The Kingdom of God just does not work like this. It. Just. Doesn’t.
The way God has created our existence means that we have, at best, a vague fuzzy understanding of the way ahead. We have many of the puzzle pieces and no box with a full neat cover picture.
All we have to look at is Jesus.
Walking with Jesus in any capacity takes incessant trust and faith. Trust that I may not be in control, but I am in intimate and infinite relationship with One who has complete control. And He loves you and I more than I can fathom. As Tozer put is: “His love disposes Him to desire our everlasting welfare and His sovereignty enables Him to secure it.”
I don’t know what the road ahead looks like for me or for you, but I intend to lean further and further into His great arms as we continue this wondrous journey with, for, and to Him.