Sunday, July 14, 2013

With All My Heart

I sat for 30 minutes listening to a man who had nothing to say.

I noticed it immediately, the strange disconnect, the old feeling that something was off, wrong.  What is it? I asked myself.  What is happening here?  I looked at his face, noticed his stance, considered his tone of voice.  I examined the strange annoyance that bubbled up in my mind and made the muscles along my spine twitch.

He was taking his time, but he wasn't being compulsively detailed, so it wasn't his pitch or pace that bothered me.  He was ... summarizing.  He was summarizing - not in that "let me set the stage for the point and purpose of my message" kind of way, but in that, "This is all I really have to talk about" kind of way.  It's like he wanted us to hear how much research he had performed.  He wanted us to know that he had really done his homework on it, that he had prepared.  It was like he wanted to distract us from the fact that, though he had spent all this time on something about which he was going to talk, it didn't really matter.  It didn't mean anything to him.  It didn't speak to him.  His message was a summary and his conclusion was an intellectual, theologically sound summation that he could have stated in five minutes or less and it would have made the same impact on him and us.

I'm sure you recognize by now that I'm talking about an experience at church - an experience that I have had regularly at church, in fact.  I confess that I get irritated with it.  I confess that it feels like my time is being wasted.  Where did this inane ritual come from? I wonder.  Why do we sit every Sunday morning and listen to someone ... talk to himself ... about nothing that is even meaningful to him?  

I don't want to confess this to you.  I don't want to speak ill of a fellow minister.  And I understand more than ever how much "pastoring" has become a "job," a set of tasks that must be completed.
  • Read a Passage
  • Write a Sermon
  • Plan a Service
  • Preach
  • Repeat
  • Attend to Other Matters as Needed
  • Oh, and Live up to Everyone Else's Expectations, too.
But I think what is happening inside of me in these moments is less about the perceived failures of the person standing up on the platform that Sunday and more about this deep and unsilenceable question plaguing my spirit, "There has got to be something more."

And that's it, that is what bothers me so much.  It feels like a waste of my time if there isn't something more.  And it feels like a waste of my time because I know there is something more.  

It's there staring out at me from the biblical story like an exotic wild flower in full bloom.

It's there, erupting from the pages of scripture like a rampaging bull, like a government that has just developed nuclear warheads.

It demands my attention.  It captures my heart.  It compels my imagination.

How can you summarize in a moment like this?!?  I want to shake my fist at the pastor.  I feel a little guilty over being angry at him.  He's just a man.  This is just a bad week, a bad month, a bad season.  He can't be hearing from God all the time, can't always have some remarkable experience or some life-changing insight.  Sometimes his job is going to be just that - a job.  

But inside my soul is seriously weeping.

I had a different experience at this same church - once.  And, praise God, I had a different experience at another church just last night.  I have been visiting different congregations now for 9 months, and it has been amazing to experience God speak - not through the voice of one man or woman, but through the voices of more than a dozen different people, bodies, locations, and messages - through lay leaders, friends, co-workers, small groups, testimonies, and acts of kindness small and large.  In all of those experiences, however, there is one that stands out in direct contrast to the Man Who Had Nothing to Say.

In a smaller but vibrant church on the cusp of Nowhere I heard an amazing set of messages from a man whose life had been changed - whose life is continuing to be changed - by the God about which he spoke.  It wasn't a particularly emotional set of messages.  On the contrary, it was a very practical sermon series - so practical, in fact, that it didn't just mean something to the pastor, but it meant something to the lives of the people listening to him.  I rejoiced in the message.  I walked away feeling like, though the pastor hadn't said it the way I would, though there were points with which I would argue or around which I would ask for clarification or more nuanced language, this man knew the same God I knew.  This man experienced the same God I experience.  This man was on the journey, the journey on which I find myself, going in the same direction, and he was offering what he had to help me on the way.

It was a breath of fresh air.  It was a much-needed encouragement.  It caught the sparks of my desire and intimacy with God and stirred them into flame.  There is something more, he seemed to whisper, I can see it, too - there, hidden in that copse of trees just ahead.  Let's go!  Let us chase it with all of our hearts...  Want to?

Dear God, yes!  How I want to!  How I want to chase God with all my heart.

And isn't that what the Spirit of God is whispering to His church, his bride, his beloved?

Do you see it, the delight and desire of my heart?  Can you catch a glimpse of this vision, my heart for you, for the world?  Do you know me?  You can.  You can go with me.  We can run into this together.  Want to?