I can count exactly four lightning bolt moments in my life and this is one of them. The kind of moment when all the theology running circles around your head finally collides and truth explodes in your heart. A sudden paradigm shift presenting a simple choice, continue to live and minister the way you always have or step out into a whole new reality.
The leader divided up teenagers into groups. I, a brand new camp helper, had arrived high on expectations. “You three go with Miss Anisha” the leader called out and I smiled across the room at my little group.
At once, all three girls threw back their heads and with pouty scrunched up faces and stomping feet protested, “No! We don’t want to go with her! Don’t make us! It’s not fair! We don’t like her!”
Heat rose quickly on my insides. What?! They don’t like me? This is crazy! What little brats! They haven’t even met me yet! I’ve given up my time to be here and help these teens and this is the greeting I get! The nerve!
Then I heard it. Cutting straight through the girls’ outward protests and my inward rant came these calm, steady words, “I didn’t ask you to love them because they would like you. I asked you to love them because I love them.”
That instant everything about the way I approached ministry changed.
In a poorly lit church hall, I saw with new eyes. I have a divine invitation to love not because I will be loved in return, but because God, who is the embodiment of love itself, has fully loved me and is looking for people to love the world through.
The implications of this truth are huge.
Because God loves, I can…
Respond with grace and reason when treated harshly.
Continue to pursue relationships with those who are not easily likeable.
Let go of my expectations of how ministry should be done.
Submit to decisions by leadership that I don’t like, see a reason for, or agree with.
Speak up truthfully and graciously.
Work through disagreements with kindness and respect.
Honour my side of a commitment even if the other side doesn’t honour theirs.
Refuse to take up offence.
Live in community.
Serve without fear.
Don’t hear me wrong, I don’t like to be mistreated. I certainly do not purposefully seek out harmful relationships. I’m also not saying that in the name of love we live passive lives towards those that hurt us.
I am saying this: Ministry is filled with painful relationships and situations but these need not derail, discourage, or destroy us because the reality, not just theology, of who we are is rooted in Christ’s love. It is precisely this love that leads us to actively and effectively engage in life and ministry.
Remember when Jesus told the parable about the vine and branches? He said, “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me.”
To put it another way Jesus is like, Hey look, let’s think of life this way. Imagine I am a vine and you are the vine tendrels. If you didn’t belong on the vine the Gardner, God, would have already pruned you away. The fact is you do belong, I’ve already cleaned you up with my words. Now bear fruit, live in a way that the world knows you are connected to the vine. You can’t do it on your own, it’s impossible. So remember who you are connected to. Remember your source.
Consider the Apostle Paul who penned these heart-breaking words to the church in Corinth, “If I love you the more, am I to be loved the less?” Paul poured out his life and heart in ministry for this church only to later have to defend his integrity to them. This in addition to all the persecution he endured. Talk about hurtful. Paul’s explanation of how he can continue to live, suffer, and minister comes together in one simple phrase, “For the love of Christ controls us”.
Recently I was let down by someone who I had been loving and mentoring over the last 8 months. It hurt and I’m sad about it, but this truth of being loved by God and from there reaching out to love others propels me forward.
I have the ability to walk in love, real tangible practical love, not because it’s the natural thing to do or because I will be loved in return, but because Jesus loves and my life is wrapped up by His.
“Eyes on Christ.” a friend and church elder would say every time we met. Really, no matter what life and ministry may bring, that’s the point of it all, isn’t it?
“By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.” 1 John 4:9