As 2011 warps up in a little over a day and we enter into the whole new world of 2012, I find myself in the midst of the blessed experience of a period of sabbatical and transition. Now sometimes I’ve had to convince myself that this really is a blessing. Stepping down from almost 20 years of leadership that saw Redwood Park Church grow not only numerically but more importantly in missional effectiveness, is a huge personal deal. Myself and my family have invested a great chunk of our lives into Redwood and have watched God create a uniquely flavoured ministry that has caused so many folk to open their lives up to Christ and get excited about being part of a church family that is tangibly making the love of Christ visible to our city and world.
Stepping out of a vibrant high impact ministry as has developed at Redwood creates this instant sense of an enormous void. Rest and transition and waiting on God for what’s next “seems” to pale in comparison to the everyday excitement that comes from life on what one “supposes” are the frontlines of kingdom advance.
What I’ve discovered in this time of sabbatical and transition is that I have tendency to stake too much value in “living for God,” rather than simply “living with God.” That sometimes I forget that God’s greatest work is simply what he’s doing with me and in me. It’s not that “living for God,” is wrong, it’s just that I have tended to err by making mission the irreducible centre of the Christian life and not God himself. I always imagine that God is the centre, but it’s in times like I’m in right now where I’m able to step back and see a bit more clearly.
It was reading Skye Jethani’s, “With: Reimagining The Way You Relate To God,” that I was confronted anew with the tendency I have to turn mission into an idol. As Jethani notes, it’s not that I don’t “long to see more Christians engaged in the good work God has called us to,” but a “life spent for God,” is not the ultimate goal. No, the ultimate goal is “God Himself.” A life spent for God, must take a backseat to a live lived with God. Hence the title of Jethani’s book, “With.”
Passionate activist leaders like myself who love to live life on the frontlines of missional advance need to be careful not to put “the good mission of God into the place God alone should occupy.” In contrast Jethani gives this observation about the Apostle Paul, “He understood that his calling (to be a messenger to the Gentiles) was not the be the same as his treasure (to be united with Christ.) His communion with Christ rooted and preceded his work for him.”
And that’s what makes this period of sabbatical and transition such a precious blessing, that I have the gift of time to recalibrate and make sure that I fully lay hold of this treasure, what it means to live with Christst. It’s a time to see that my calling to serve as an instrument of missional advance flows from and takes a backseat to that “with Christ” relationship.
As we read the New Testament, the Apostle Paul was pretty clear about this priority of living with God. Paul calls myself and all of us, “to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that (we) might be filled with the fullness of God,” (see Ephesians 3:14-19). He challenges us to understand what it means to “have Christ in (us), the hope of glory,” (see Colossians 1:27).
AB Simpson was the founder of the Christian & Missionary Alliance, the church family I’ve served with for well over 30 years. That means I’m old enough remember some of his hymns that are now relics of past worship eras. It seems to me that Simpson as a passionate activist leader also struggled with finding self worth in what he did “for God,” and not always in living “with God.” Let me quote just a few random lines in the middle of one of his better-known hymns called “Himself.”
Once ‘twas painful trying, Now ‘tis perfect trust …
Once ‘twas busy planning, Now ‘tis trustful prayer;
Once ‘twas anxious caring, Now He has the care …
Once ‘twas what I wanted, Now what Jesus says’
Once ‘twas constant asking, Now ‘tis ceaseless praise.
Once it was my working, His it hence shall be;
Once I tried to use Him, Now He uses me.
Once the power I wanted, Now the Mighty One;
Once for self I labored, Now for Him alone.
Yes in the end, it really is all about Himself! It’s all about living with the God who lives in us! It about allowing His love to fill and transform who we are from the inside out so that whatever we do is secondary to what He is doing with and in us. It starts and ends with “Christ in you the hope of glory!” (Colossians 1:27)
Jethani also explores a few other idols we Christian gets caught up in – idols like living under God, or living over God, or living from God rather than living with God. In each case the situation is similar: we allow some good motives which in and of themselves are not wrong, to usurp the priority of simply living with God Himself. And when we do that, we rob ourselves of the ultimate treasure God has for us, and that is “God with us, Immanuel.” How quickly we forget what the real gift of the Christmas we just celebrated is, “Immanuel.” (see Matthew 1:23)
As I look to 2012, I am eagerly looking forward to what God has next for my family and myself. And I do that with the resolve of keeping “Himself” as my treasure, knowing that “life with God” means that having a healthy soul and successful ministry do not have to be mutually exclusive.