One of the greatest arguments against deism, the idea that God created the world and then left it alone without intervention, is the fact that I have experienced the successes that I have in this life. Not because I am particularly inept or foolish (although, after my youth pastor fail article, I would understand if you doubt me on this), but because I am very slow in becoming aware of some of my behaviors. Today, the behavior I will attempt to tackle is my propensity to rely on myself first, community second, and when all else fails, cry out to God.
Henri Nouwen has been a great encouragement to me. If you don’t know Henri, I urge you to remedy that. I met Henri at Fuller Seminary twelve years after he died. He was introduced to me through his book In the Name of Jesus, which should be on your reading list. The more of his work that I read and the more that I learned about his life, the further into self-reflection I was able to move. Henri connects with me through his vulnerability and humility, and he beckons me into a spirituality of imperfection. It is this imperfect spirituality that allows me to present Jesus with the areas where I am lacking, and then see His increase. Without the education I have received about myself and God through the words of Henri Nouwen, I would have been consumed by my failures long ago.
Henri Nouwen wrote a paper that speaks to my self-reliance and calls me into deeper trust. In his work Moving From Solitude to Community to Ministry, Henri uses Luke 6:17-19 to explain a useful definition of discipline and allow Jesus to set an example for approaching any ministry task.
17 When they came down from the mountain, the disciples stood with Jesus on a large, level area, surrounded by many of his followers and by the crowds. There were people from all over Judea and from Jerusalem and from as far north as the seacoasts of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and Jesus also cast out many evil spirits. 19 Everyone tried to touch him, because healing power went out from him, and he healed everyone. Luke 6:17-19 (NLT)
Nouwen defines discipline as the effort to make space for God to act. In the above passage, he finds the three disciplines that Jesus used were first solitude, then community, and from there He was able to flow into ministry. Before this teaching began to change my status quo, I had always started a project by doing things myself, and I would invite people into the process only after it was clear that I was not effective on my own. When that failed, I would cry out for God’s intervention and ask him to save my circumstances. Good ol’ Henri taught me that, indeed, there is a better way; I thank God for Henri often.
The example that Jesus gave in Luke 6 begins on the mountain. This was a place of solitude Jesus consistently shared with God, making space for God to speak. Allowing solitude with God reveals our true identity because in quiet prayer we hear from the Father that calls us His beloved son or daughter. This identity is vital; if we know this, we can handle an enormous amount of success and an enormous amount of failure. A favorite Nouwen quote of mine is “Our freedom is anchored in our belovedness.” Take a moment and let that settle on your heart.
After solitude, but before action, comes community. Nouwen defines community not as an organization, but as those people you want to gather around you to proclaim the truth that you are the beloved child of God. Community gives us the arena for forgiveness and celebration to become ancillary disciplines. We find in community the place where pride and selfishness can die, where vulnerability and strength become one. Solitude, as Nouwen points out, comes before community because if we do not know we are the beloved sons and daughters of God, we are going to expect someone in the community to make us feel that way. They cannot. When we expect someone in our community to give us that perfect, unconditional love, they will fail us. And we will fail them.
Solitude reveals who we are. Community gives us the opportunity to live that reality. Ministry then flows from that place in order to share truth with others. For the discipline of ministry, Nouwen says this:
“Ministry is not, first of all, something that you do (although it calls you to do many things). Ministry is something that you have to trust. If you know you are the beloved, and if you keep forgiving those with whom you form community and celebrate their gifts, you cannot do other than minister. Jesus cured people not by doing all sorts of complicated things. A power went out from him, and everyone was cured. He didn’t say, “Let me talk to you for ten minutes, and maybe I can do something about this.” Everyone who touched him was cured, because a power went out from his pure heart. He wanted one thing—to do the will of God. He was the completely obedient one, the one who was always listening to God. Out of this listening came an intimacy with God that radiated out to everyone Jesus saw and touched. Ministry means you have to trust that. You have to trust that if you are the son and daughter of God, power will go out from you and that people will be healed.”
My prayer for all of us in the Vineyard and beyond is that we begin in a place of solitude, fully participate within our communities as the beloved sons and daughters of God, and trust that what overflows will change the world. I pray that we move away from self-reliance and into communal ministry that flows from the intimacy we find in our Father and with each other. Let ministry by way of myself first, community when I can’t do it alone, and God when all else fails die a quick death.