Friday, August 20, 2004

me, or some version of me

i’m not the same person i was last year. nor am i the same person i was four years ago. this is certainly not a new insight, but it is something that i’ve been reminded of all summer. there are things about me that i’ve realized this summer that i’m surprised by, disappointed by, excited by, and perplexed by. something i have known for quite some time is that i struggle with faith. by faith i mean the type of intellectual mindset that we equate with making a conscious decision. during my last few years of college this struggle led me to a reliance on past feelings (or current ones, when they come) to convince me of God’s work or God’s presence. this was a workable solution.

it no longer is.

i don’t think it is good to be addicted to feelings, even good feelings, even God-given feelings. while these can be nice or reassuring, the very fact that they come and go leads me to believe that relying on them is quite unhealthy, and looking for them shoves God—the real God, not the one i think makes me feel nice—into the background. instead, i have come to think this summer, in talking with krispin and jacob, in reading several different books, and in spending time in God’s word, that there is a much better way to persevere through this struggle of faith.

in galatians 5, paul encouraged the people of that church to emulate christ, to “live God’s way” as the message puts it. as i was preparing for my lesson last week i was struck by the wording of this translation and the change in emphasis it produced in my own thinking. it says in verse 25, “since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives.” often the dichotomy of head-knowledge and heart-knowledge is preached in evangelical circles. here, paul seems to be flipping this on its head. while he doesn’t say that these are useless, or that we should not be concerned with them, he doesn’t dwell on them either. our focus should not be on having a perfect understanding or a wonderful feeling, instead it should be on seeing our faith lived out everyday in all the spots of life.

this shift in thinking moves me from a dilemma, trying to understand things, falling back on experience and feelings, then realizing that’s not enough so going back to my head, living out my faith daily. i can do this even when i don’t feel like it. i can do this even when i don’t understand God, his word, or his precise calling on my life. in fact, i have seen my faith strengthened by this process, because it forces me to continue serving God even when i don’t feel like God is there to be served.

this isn’t a blind faith, one that just keeps going because that’s what i’ve always done. rather, this is the type of faith that says, “my actions will reflect what i believe to be true, even though i don’t feel like it or understand how.” this sort of faith also reminds me of God’s grace and love. i know that i’ll eventually tire of living this way if God doesn’t give me some feelings or better understanding. but by his grace he will sustain me until then, as he has done so far, and will reveal himself at that point. and if the “until then” doesn’t come while i live on earth, i know that he will sustain me still.

what this means is that i choose to continue serving God in my everyday life. i don’t see that coming in the form of full-time church ministry. at this point i don’t even see that coming in the form of volunteer church ministry. instead, i think this involves loving God’s people well by living in community and serving the body of believers. it involves reaching out to the poor, the broken, and the downtrodden. it involves worshipping God, whether in front of people or alone, in all circumstances. it involves loving my neighbor as much as i love myself.

i still see myself fitting into the academic community. i still desire to study theology, not so that i can understand perfectly so that my faith will be real, but because thinking about God and what he has done and how this affects all of life is really fun to do. i think God is glorified when i do what he has created me to enjoy, as eric liddell suggests in chariots of fire, and studying is one way to do that.

i also enjoy working with people, and this summer has been no different. but that doesn’t change the fact that i’m very tired of “professional” ministry, if i can use that term. by professional ministry i mean being in charge, getting paid, and seeing what happens in the group as based to some extent on my performance. even if this is a wrong view of ministry, which i think it is, i have felt this way this summer. perhaps my mindset could change, but i see “amateur” ministry, living out God’s love in everyday life, as what God has called me to. this could include getting involved in the lives of junior high or high school students, but is simply focused on being the type of neighbor jesus showed himself to be: one that loves well and proclaims the gospel in word and deed.

this paper was written for the youth pastor i've worked with the last two summers, but i liked it enough to decide to post it here in case people wanted to rip it apart or give me nice feedback.

1 comment:

Krispin Mayfield said...

I really, really like it. It was a beautiful summary of the two points on which Christianity stands, or at least that one stands on in Christianity: faith and action.

I like how you not only admit your doubt, but link your faith to, and even save and redeem it by continuing to act.

I also liked the term 'amateur ministry' and the idea behind it, that our (or your, as the case was) every-day life is the most important, whether involved with a specific church or not.

Lastly, with lines like " no longer is." you were able to make strong points. I really liked the style and skill of writing and how well you were able to express yourself.