Thursday, March 3, 2011

Trusting God…

Last Tuesday, a lay leader at a wonderful Tampa church said something that spoke deeply to my soul. As you may remember, I join 40 other young adult Disciples pastors every six months for five days of prayer,
fellowship, learning, and on Wednesday, 24 hours of silence. And our sponsor, the Bethany Fellowships, pays for it! I can’t say enough about how central this routine has become to my spirit’s health, and how I appreciate your understanding of that fact.

Anyway, last week we did our typical Tuesday site visit to a local church, this one Hyde Park United Methodist, and four HPUMC members took time to tell us their stories. I was very impressed with how articulate they were about the personal impact of faith! Apparently, they’d put much thought and practice into describing why God and participating in Christian community matters to them, and how God operates in their lives. But one in particular, a mother named Mary, said something, as I mentioned, that greatly moved me. Here it is (slightly paraphrased): “I’m a reluctant leader; never really volunteered for leadership positions, but when asked, at times said yes. And I’ve found, over the years, that when I was presented with something I didn’t initially feel capable of, but then did well, my faith grew and deepened. I’ve learned from those experiences that God does truly provide. Seeing God at work in me, by helping me serve my church and its ministries, built greater trust in God, which assists in elsewhere in life.”

WOW, what an incredible description of faith! It’s not your typical ‘I have faith because I believe …’ statement, but a poignant, personal description of belief grounded in trust. Deepening her faith meant trusting more fully in the substance of her belief grounded in trust. Deepening her faith meant trusting more fully in the substance of her belief- God- not simply stating her ‘beliefs’ more passionately or more often. (Good) Theologians will tell you that’s right on the money. But what struck me most about her words was that I’ve heard asked, and asked myself many times, a related question: How does one gain greater trust in God? Sell all your possessions and give them to the poor? Maybe. Pray more often, more authentically, using fewer words? That’ll help. But I’d never thought to think of what Mary said- Take on a ministry in church you’re not entirely sure you’ll do well, and in the accomplishing of that ministry, step back to see God’s hand working. Guiding you through troubles; delivering insight when necessary. To be honest, that’s probably how I built faith in God, although I’d never said it in so many words until Mary said it for me.

Which presents us with a challenge, church, if I may be so bold. It is our Christian duty to support our sisters and brothers in faith when they step out to do ministry. Whether it’s prepping communion, singing in choir, feeding the poor, or visiting the sick, Christians should support the ministry efforts of their church family members. By ‘support,’ of course, I don’t mean rubber stamp every effort, or never give constructive criticism, or accept less than the God’s best for us. But I do think it’s true that sometimes churches undermine the efforts of leaders and members by being selfish, scared or just not thinking of how actions impacts others’ actions. And if that happens, consider the implications, to use Mary’s insight: Not only does good ministry not get done, but we hold others back from growing in faith, from trusting God more fully. Each person has ultimate responsibility for her/his faith, surely, but we can do damage to others if we’re not careful.

On the flip side, when we support Christian sisters and brothers who’ve said ‘yes’ to doing God’s ministry, we’re helping give God another chance to provide. That bears, I believe, good fruit for us and the church we love, because it deepens our community’s trust in God. I.e. it builds our collective faith. It may even inspire us to say ‘yes’ again to God ourselves. Which leads to growth in our faith, which builds the community, which inspires others… A wHoly virtuous circle. And what our church can be!

Grace and Peace,

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