There is a song that came out a few years that still makes me weep. “I Can Only Imagine” by MercyMe asks us to imagine what I will do when I am confronted with Jesus face to face. Will I even be able to stand in his presence or will I fall to my knees overwhelmed by his grace?
It is a provocative question I don’t ask myself enough because I would rather envision Jesus pursuing me. I am comfortable with an image of him walking alongside of me and holding my hand. I am a little girl and he is a loving father. But, the thought of coming boldly to the throne of God makes my knees wobble and my heart quake with fear. Like Isaiah, I imagine calling out “woe to me, I am unworthy and inadequate.”
I struggle to put together the image of God the Father with God the Son. Jesus is accessible and near to me while the Father is Holy and immense. Somehow, I have associated God the Father with performance and Jesus with unmerited grace, forgetting all too often that they are one.
If spirituality is the means by which we develop an awareness of the Spirit of God in us and the processes, by which we keep that awareness alive and vital, then these questions and contemplations must not be avoided. My interior life demands examination if I am to minister effectively. As the Father and the Son are not separate, my spirituality and service in ministry are also inexplicably tied together.
This last year has provided many opportunities for spiritual growth and transformation as my husband and I left our church after 16 years to start a satellite church, under the umbrella of the mother church. Because I have been immersed in almost every facet of the church plant, either directly or indirectly through my husband, a new obstacle has reared its ugly head…finding rest in the midst of exhaustive church planting.
Where is the line drawn from the demands of ministry and my own need to develop authentic spirituality? How do you leave your work at the job if your church is the job? Where do pastors and leaders go to replenish their spirits if they can’t do it at church? Is this where the desert experience calls out to us?
If the extent one is willing to incorporate the spiritual disciplines or means of grace into one’s life will determine the effectiveness of their ministry, then I am forced to find rest amidst the chaos. This has meant intentional times of solitude, painful reflection and major adjustments as I look differently at the way I give back to God. Once again, God is calling me to move out of my comfort zone and into a place of greater dependence. Any ministry that is beyond our effort requires that we abandon ourselves to the mysterious action that God is able to work in us, and then through us. But this involves a stripping away of the last vestige of hope that we can somehow accomplish the task on our own.
I believe the essence of spiritual growth is this: Our journey is like an onion peeling. Every time you pull off a good chunk there are more layers waiting to be uncovered. At the core of the onion, is a tender childlike faith that has been covered over the years with wounds, pain and fear. As we peel, tears sting our eyes, and we become raw, discarding the very things we have clung to for security apart from God. But our reward is this…to see our Father clearly, without the veil of darkness hindering our vision, moving from blindness into His glorious light.