Some weeks you can be a sight-seer on the everyday rails of work and life. I felt like that last week. I worked, I rested, I lived with and around people, and all the time had the sense that someone else was working and acting and making all things come together. It’s not an unpleasant feeling. Now that I’m reflecting on the course of the week, it seems a progression of images captured at moments when I realized that God has been at work here, and continues to be. It should be a shock, but when the daily routine of life seems to depend on yourself, and the achieving of goals appears to rest on your own shoulders, it can be very easy to assume that you are on your own in work. I fall into a practical theology that says: God set all this in motion, and he has set you targets and performance indicators, but getting from A to B – that’s all you.
But the reality is, if you take the time to step back from life for a moment, that the sum total of all we are, both as individuals, and in community as God’s children, is far more than the product of all our strivings.
This past week, has been a quieter week around the campus and church. Which, means that for one of those rare times, I feel like I’ve done everything I set out to do, and did it to the standard I should. One of the most difficult parts of full-time ministry is the feeling that you fall short of most of your goals. Having a quieter week also means that I’ve had more time to watch myself and others and look at how we are going, which brings me back to the point – we are more than the sum of our strivings.
Let me give you a picture of some of the things that happened last week…
Perhaps the moment that will stay with me longest was the image of a group of 7-8 girls praying together in the middle of the university campus before our FOCUS meeting on Wednesday. I don’t know if there was a specific reason for them to pray or if it was a spontaneous thing, but I looked over from where I was standing by the FOCUS stall and saw this big group of people praying. They were sitting on one of grass areas in the quadrangle at the center of the Uni, up on a slight hill. It spoke to me of God’s movement by his Spirit in the hearts of people bring them into trust and love with him. Prayer is the most profound demonstration of the new birth we share. It is people acting on their belief that only God knows us well enough to know our good, and the best that we can do for each other is bring our problems to him.
Last week I seemed to be tripping over people praying together. Actually, I literally did nearly trip over a couple of people who were praying together behind the speakers desk in the front of the lecture theatre where we have FOCUS! I don’t know what or why they were praying, but God was working there.
Our regular FOCUS prayer meeting was a highlight as well. We asked people to share things that we could pray for each other then spent some time discussing what we thought God would desire in each situation, before spending the time praying for those things. This was a break from our normal pattern, which is simply to pray without any discussion or sharing of prayer points. Both are good, sometimes we spend too much time talking about prayer and not enough time doing it. Other times, our prayers are shallow and parroted because we haven’t used our minds to seek God’s will in a situation and to pray for that, we merely pray the same right-sounding things. I’m am becoming more aware of the fact that prayer is an activity of God’s Spirit in us, and with our spirits. In simple terms – it’s not from us, it’s God at work in us.
There was also a girls only prayer breakfast on Thursday morning, at my house, but I wasn’t invited obviously. Emma has been hosting it since the start of the term. It’s another great encouragement.
The stall on Wednesday was fun. Last week John Dickson, spoke to the staff team about his understanding that the New Testament usage of the word ‘gospel’ was essentially about the proclamation of the deeds of the Christ, ie, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The best proclamations of the Gospel are the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). A lot of our evangelism, while doing valuable work in addressing people’s concerns and questions about God, and showing the implications of the gospel for people, is not actually proclaiming the gospel (under his definition). It was a thought provoking discussion which I’m still thinking through, however, we decided to have more of a focus in our outreach time on proclaiming Jesus life story to people. Two of the guys created these chalk murals on the pavement near our stall on the campus, that retold the story of the Jesus from the gospel of Mark. The pictures were very clever – I particularly liked the picture of a TV with an SMS viewer poll asking “Who do you think this man is?” – illustrating the question that Jesus put to his disciples in Mark 8. It was a very quiet day around the campus but the pictures and the stall generated interest and some conversations.
Getting completely out of order – another highlight for me was our time at CrossTraining on Tuesday night. CrossTraining is a weekly ministry skills training time that we run as a combined event for the students at UC and ANU. This semester I’m co-teaching a course on Bible Study Preparation and Leadership with Tory Cayzer, one of our MTS trainees. I’m using an adapted version of Col Marshall’s Growth Groups course which I prepared for a Training weekend for UC leaders at the end of last semester. I find Growth Groups a very helpful course, particularly for its emphasis on elements of leadership beyond simply preparing and writing a Bible Study. We are covering the personal godliness of a leader, how to encourage and lead in prayer, evangelism, how to assess the health of a group, how to start and end the life of a Bible study, how to serve people one-to-one. The main way I’ve adapted the course is to beef-up the training in the practical art of writing a study, and to spend a bit more time sharing in the group about things we are learning from the book of Colossians (our ‘text book’). These times of sharing with each other from Colossians have been a real highlight. I’m seeing things in the book that I hadn’t picked up so clearly before. It seems to me to set a very simple and beautiful pattern for ministry: we are to tell people who Jesus is, and to tell them who they are. In Colossians, the two things are intimately related. It’s so exciting and encouraging to see others equally enthralled by the majesty of Christ, and realising that our identities are only fully realised when united with Him.
The world is full of sinful, struggling people. Every where I turn I find people who are struggling with their identity and the endless sense of being out of place
But contrast this with the Christian identity Paul says we have:
“For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete…”
Colossians 2:9-10 (NASB)
As Augustine said in his Confessions, 16 centuries ago, “thou hast made us for thyself and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in thee.”