Tomorrow I will lecture on the glorious and inglorious sides of ministry. There’s great glory in watching over souls, of tending to the deepest aspects of a person’s life; glory in ministry’s hiddenness (e.g. the unseen work of prayer); glory in the challenge (what else tests your will, emotions, intellect, tact, patience, imagination, etc. like ministry?). But part of the inglorious side of ministry is seeing behind closed doors, past the facade, to sinful dimensions of life others do not see so clearly. We are invited into the mess of broken, hobbled, crippled, and abused lives–people living with deep addictions and unseemly behaviors.
There’s too much of this inglorious side today. The church is losing its influence in culture, in part, because there seem to be fewer and fewer truly transformed lives. In a recent conference I attended in Beirut, a pastor walked out because it was clear he would not get enough glory—enough presence on stage. What is this about? No wonder we are losing our voice! We have become almost as dysfunctional as this present culture. Too many of our present choices are compromising our call as the church to be a contrast society. We seem to be forgetting who we truly are in Christ.
In his new book, Meditation and Communion with God, John Jefferson Davis, challenges the church to rediscover its identity—to realize the profound intimacy available to us in Christ, and the power that emerges from experiencing it. This will, however, require a commitment on our part to meditate on Scripture, engaging with the triune God who is living, active, and present.
Davis underscores what Eugene Peterson wrote in Practice Resurrection, that life can (and should!) be lived at a whole different level. We can participate in life out of death—life that trumps death, life that is the last word. There are three reasons: First, with the announcement that the kingdom of God is at hand (Matt 4:17), a new age has dawned. The light is arising to take the place of the darkness. Something of the ‘already’ of the new creation is here. We are beginning to experience the realities and powers of the age to come (Heb 6:5). We can live eternity in time.
Second, with the acts of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension, we exist in a radical new order. In our union with Him, we have died and risen (Rom 6:3; Eph 2:6); we have been given victory over sin and death. We have been transferred to another authority (Col 1:13). God has made space for saints to live robustly under the conditions of the resurrection. With His ascension, we live in the power of His intercessory work and His present reign (Rom 8:34). We can experience a personal encounter with God, “mysticism on the highest plain”.
Third, with the coming of the Spirit, we live in the age of the Spirit. Life is profoundly influenced by divine power. We are indwelt by the Spirit. We have been incorporated into a community, the body of Christ (I Cor 12:13). We are a whole new creation (2 Cor 5:17). We are God’s present prophetic voice (Acts 2:17). The very quality of life has changed.
As a result of these, it’s little wonder Jesus declared that we have the power and authority to do even greater things than He did (John 14:12-14).
- We can confront the powers of darkness knowing they have been disarmed. Jesus has armed us with sufficient strength to overcome the perpetual enemies of the soul. We can pray prayers that lay hold of and release God’s willingness and ability to act in accordance with God’s will. We can ask for something of God’s kingdom, God’s rule in the future to enter into our present.
- We can experience the presence of Christ in a new way (Matt 28:20), one that is transformative and interior.
- We can enter into a new depth of intimacy with God—far beyond the OT priest who entered the Holy of Holies. We are in union with Christ, with a connection like a branch has with a vine.
- We can make a significant impact in the world. Life is not only imparted to our souls when we read Scripture. A word saturated, prayer driven life can resist and push back the secularizing forces of modernity and postmodernity.
We seem to have lost sight of much of this, settling for life at a far more inglorious level. We seem to accept the lie that sin has far more authority than it does. We seem to come to the word with low expectations; into worship with little imagination. I need the occasional read like Davis’, that gives some theological clarity and calls me back to living with great expectation. We have overcome the world (I John 4:4).