Settling into the Rhythm

Sometimes I’m amazed at how quickly time moves past us. It’s been 10 days since I last updated this blog. In that time I feel as though very little has happened, and that soo much has happened I haven’t really had anytime to reflect and write about it in the way I need to write a decent post.
The past couple of weeks have taken on the rhythm that I expect will shape the rest of my year. I should point out first, that a year in student ministry is a different thing to a calendar year. The student ministry year is shaped by the university year, which since time immemorial has been a great deal shorter than a calendar year. At present the university year in Australia is around 26 weeks: about half a calendar year. The other 26 weeks are class-free (although exam period encroaches on this). The historical reasons for this flow from the need for students to earn an income during the class-free periods to maintain themselves at University. Students were actively discouraged from pursuing any occupation other than study while at uni. Sadly, this doesn’t really seems to be the case any longer; students work part-time jobs while studying. It’s necessary to cope with the cost of living and studying at Universities that have abandoned collegiate values and the pursuit of knowledge, and have become employment factories. It’s a sad fall for an institutional tradition stretching back to the 12th Century.
(Ranting now over), The combination of these facts make the time that people have at Uni during the year pretty hectic. It means that student ministry is also intense and exhausting for certain times, and much slower at others. This week marks the half-way point for the first term at the University of Canberra.
FOCUS is doing well, there are as many students involved in the group as there have ever been. Encouragingly, more of these students are from backgrounds different from the average Christian student brought up in a Christian family. This presents us with challenges from people who are working through all sorts of different issues about how faith in Christ changes their lives. The students are running more of the group than I have ever seen. I’m concentrating my efforts on meeting with student leaders and equipping them. We are praying more than ever, this is a source of rich blessing for us all. We are reminded of our great dependence on God, we are refreshed and encouraged as we listen and agree with each others prayers, seeing that we are all desiring the same things: the glory of God through the promotion of the gospel. The weekly Bible talks have been brilliant – 1 Corinthians cuts very close to the bone at University. Paul pulls no punches in critiquing the worldly wisdom that fails to lead anyone to the Cross, the point at which God’s wisdom is made known. I am encouraged by the faith, love, and service of the students and trainees. My experience has been that the hardest times in my Christian life, the times of doubt, have not come about through intellectual wrangling with theological aporias, rather its when the Christians who I love do not seem to live up to the calling we have received from God. That’s when I wonder if it really is all just a big, complex self-deception. Conversely, the most encouraging and uplifting times are when I look around at those who I share with in the fellowship of the gospel, and see the ever-increasing glory of people being transformed into the likeness of Christ.
I know that the most important thing for me and for those who lead in our student ministry is to come to grips with these facts: to be aware of how our perceptions of our work are influence by what we perceive of the success of our programmes, and more particularly, the genuineness and authenticity of the faith of those who we serve with. Sometimes my own faith goes up and down on the backs of those who I serve.
I’m thinking these things through know because ministry seems to be going well. I know that it won’t always be this way, and it maybe that I am doing everything right, but people are not growing as Christians, are not committed to fellowship with each other, and are not gripped with the gospel agenda to reach the world. When this happens, our understanding of the sovereignty of God will hold us through. Let me explain,
I’ve treasured for a long time the passage from Philippians 1:6
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
It’s easy to lose sight of exactly what it is that Paul is confident here. It is most certainly a confidence in God power to preserve his saints for the day of Resurrection. But it is also a confidence in God’s power to transform their lives and shape them into the image of his Son. You can see it put beautifully in 2 Cor 3:12-18
“Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one* turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord* is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord,* are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
The theological richness of this passage and its context is hard to appreciate without a long quiet morning, a pen and paper, and prayer, but verse 18 contains some of the most daring and dramatic language in the New Testament. Paul really is very bold. Read it, think about it, think about the unfolding revelation of God through the Bible, look at the passages in the Old Testament when God shows himself to people (Moses, Elijah, etc), reflect on the theological significance of terms like “image” and “glory”. You’ll begin to see what I mean. But what I’m loving at the moment, what I believe Paul clung to through the most difficult parts of his ministry to the foolish Corinthians, is the end of verse 18. “we all… are being transformed in to the [image of Christ] from one degree of glory to another.” The work is the Lord’s and he is able to do it. The is no Christian who is born of the Spirit who does not feel the pressure of the Spirit to pray when he is prayerless, or to evangelise when he is silent. When I witness the changes in peoples lives, as they are transformed with from one degree of glory to another, to serve, love, revel in the Scripture, pray with hearts after God, I am witnessing the unstoppable work of God through his Spirit. The power of resurrection. I number of times at the end of a Wednesday on campus, when we come out of prayer meeting in the afternoon, and I’ve spent all day talking and praying with people, I get chills over the transforming power I am witnessing. The challenge and prayer is that when ministry is difficult and the changes don’t seem to be happening, that I will continue to trust in that resurrection power of God at work, unseen, transforming people’s faces to reflect the glory of God.

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