I am in Australia with the Wild at Heart team about to begin our four day Boot Camp. A good part of the day is spent preparing my heart and words for the sessions I lead. I often suffer from a spiritual amnesia: forgetting much about God... his faithfulness to me through the years... his heart for me... who I am and all that he's called me to be and to offer to others; and so I peruse my journals for stories and truth. This particular journal entry jumped out.
I've recognized and felt that the presence of God trumps our giftedness, skill, wisdom and best efforts to minister and/or speak for him. I can't count the times I've said, "You could be speaking on world geography and if God shows up people will be blessed, healed, saved... transformed." This weekend exposed that I really haven't believed that to be true.
In seminary I had a class on preaching that involved ten of us preaching at/to one another for a couple of semesters. We’d evaluate, react and encourage one another’s content, style and organization. At the end of the term the prof gave each of us our final evaluation verbally in front of the class.
A classmate, Anthony, was not an articulate or engaging speaker. He knew his material; was genuine; soft-spoken had a string bean stature and obese insecurities. The prof told him that he was actually, in the larger scheme of things, in a good place as a young preacher adding, “Whereas Craig has natural skills and abilities that will make him a good communicator he will be prone to rely on his own abilities and not God. You Anthony, have no margin. You’re not a natural communicator and the absence of those gifts leaves/parks/rivets you in a place of on-going dependence upon God. And Anthony, that’s the best place to be as a preacher.”
Looking back I realize I took my professors remarks regarding me as a form of validation. His comments lit the path to a validation I was starving for. I was talented. I am good at something! A man with a doctorate… a seminary prof thinks I’m a natural!! Eureka!
What was offered to me as a warning, as sagely counsel, I took as direction/an invitation to life. Life apart from God.
I was young, naïve. Foolish.
So, Friday night I’m speaking on “The Centrality of the Heart” and “The Masculine Heart” to a group of 200 reserved Presbyterian men. It was a less-than-stellar session. A film clip I planned to use was botched by the tech guy, I slogged through a point or two, lacked energy, was slurring my speech… it was definitely not a home run, it was a sliding double.
As is common for me after a muddled/unhinged session like that I was growling.
Why isn’t this easier? I’m putting myself out there for you… dealing with the deeper issues of my heart; battling the warfare; refining, tinkering, editing my sessions constantly; praying, consecrating myself and all I have to you… and it seems like it’s always a one star result.* I’ve got intercessors praying for heavens sake! Though I’d love to see signs and wonders I’m not expecting that… it just seems like there ought to be more… and it ought not to be so hard. I mean really!?!%$#? How many willing vessels do you have out there working their fool-ass/buns off to bring the transforming power and truth of the Gospel to others?
I’m such a smuck! Why can’t I do this? What is it about me that makes this so hard? It seems to come much easier for others with less talent, less mature, less self-aware and readily available. My God, watch the parade of whackos on some of the "Christian" television programming… they seem to have some sway with God... What’s wrong with me? I may not be a sea gull, but I feel like an auk, tern or sandpiper.** I will never realize my deepest dreams and desires for my life. (Believe me this is the condensed version).
There’s a silence.
My growling stops and God pops out of nowhere.
In a medley of God’s voice and some older-true-self voice saying…
How astonishingly self absorbed I am! I finish my session and I immediately go to, “How did I do…? Did I deliver God on a silver platter? Are they stunned into repentance and yearning for God? How’d I do? How’d I do? How’d I do?”
And then the voice that was disruptive, convicting, hopeful and liberating…
The vital question/issue really isn’t how I did… it’s more along the lines of “did God show up for the men?”
And in a twinkling of an eye a whole lot of stuff becomes clear.
I’ve been in an eddy concerned about my performance… subconsciously replaying, reviewing; critiquing my points; illustrations, pace, my connection to the audience and their engagement; evaluating, re-evaluating, no audience reaction or response is insignificant… everything is data to adjust, edit and craft the session that will bring the kingdom of God to everyone graced to be under my tutelage.
The truth is I never really viewed myself as more than a journeyman communicator and I realize I have no margins. I need God to show up… I haven’t learned what ongoing dependence upon God looks like.
I can talk about world geography and if God shows up people will be healed, saved, transformed… I can talk about the Centrality of the Heart with everything I’ve got and if God isn’t in it I might as well have been talking about geography.
At some core level I’ve been more focused/passionate about… committed to my being anointed/blessed than I have been on God showing up for the men.
How incredibly self absorbed I am!
I’ve considered myself as indispensable… necessary to the process of their transformation and, as a result bore the weight that “I must come through”… Lives depend upon it.
I depend upon it!
I remember Anthony. I am Anthony.
In that moment, as is often the case when God exposes and then invites, some reorientation takes place. I abandoned my agreement/connection/rooted-ness on my consuming self-absorption, my priestly indispensability.
And somewhere in my Christianity 101-adolescent self I enjoyed myself, God and speaking to a group of wild eyed Presbyterian men more than I have in a while.
* Using the Michelin awards guide of one to three stars to indicate quality.
** I'll have to write about the significance of the reference to being a "sea gull" at another time. In brief my dad, in anger, referred to me as a "sea gull... all you're good for is sitting, squawking and shitting". Needless to say it was a wounding label that I have nothing to offer.