Have you ever had one of those weeks or moments when you are reminded just how unprepared you are for your job, family, or life in general? You know those moments when you are hit with something from left field and it leaves you feeling completely inadequate? This past week it happened to me.
You would think after 15 years in a ministry position, going to seminary and training events every year that I would be well prepared for situations that you face in the church. Well, I was wrong. This past week has been an emotional and physical roller-coaster. Sparing details, lets just say that it was not a fun week. Every night as I was lying in bed and praying over the situation I was reminded once again how much we can be unprepared for life in general. I truly felt helpless and useless. There really wasn’t anything I could do for the situation because I was the mediator. When you are caught in the middle like that you are reminded just how much you need the Holy Spirit leading and guiding you.
When Jesus sent out the disciples in Matthew chapter 10 He gives them instructions on what to do. Can you imagine how intimidating that is. You have followed Jesus trying to grasp what and who Jesus is and now He sends them out as Jesus says, “Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves.” In fact Jesus then tells them that they will not be liked for what they do and probably face persecutions from officials. Well that is big load of comfort and confidence. I can imagine the conversations they had among themselves, “Really Jesus, you want us to do what???” So the disciples are to go among the people of Israel and heal the sick, drive out demons, raise the dead, and proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven all the while not knowing who will welcome them and who will turn them over to officials. I don’t know about you, but personally I would be a little freaked out.
It is at this point that Jesus then gives them their greatest gift and advice. Jesus says, “don’t worry about how to speak or what you will say, because what you can say will be given to you at that moment. You aren’t doing the talking, but the Spirit of my Father is doing the talking through you.” In other words, Jesus releases the disciples anxiety and stress by helping them understand that they/we are just the vessel for the Holy Spirit. It truly is the Holy Spirit that performs the mighty works of God in His people.
Clark H. Pinnock in his book “Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit” adds to Jesus’ thought in this way, “The first act of the risen Lord was to breathe the Spirit on the disciples and send them forth into mission (Jn 20:21-22; Acts 1:8). This alerts us to the fact that the effectiveness of the church is due not to human competency or programming but to the power of God at work. The church rides the wind of God’s Spirit like a hawk endlessly and effortlessly circling and gliding in the summer sky. It ever pauses to wait for impulses of power to carry it forward to the nations. What a dynamic and hopeful image to cherish in a day when thinking about the church is often heavy and pessimistic. The main rational of the church is to actualize all the implications of the baptism in the Spirit. After the resurrection, God’s kingdom, which had begun to manifest itself in Jesus himself, would continue to transform the world through the community of empowered disciples. The church is an extension not so much of the incarnation as of the anointing of Jesus. Jesus is the prototype of the church, which now receives its own baptism in the Spirit. Spirit, who maintained Jesus’ relationship with the Father and empowered him for mission, now calls the church into that relationship, giving it the power to carry on the mission” (pg. 113-114).
I am grateful that I am inadequate. My inadequacy reminds me of the great mystery that Jesus brings to us; true power is not found in the sword or armies, but in the foolish weakness of the cross. The great mystery of our faith is that Jesus conquered all by sacrificing His life, by dying on the cross, by submitting to the powers of the earth only to show the lengths, heights, depths and power of His love. In that mystery the powerful are made weak and the weak are made strong, the high are brought low and the low are lifted up, the first shall be last and the last shall be first.
As Saint Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 12, “I pleaded with the Lord three times for it to leave me alone. He said to me, “My grace is enough for you, because power is made perfect in weakness.” So I’ll gladly spend my time bragging about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power can rest on me. Therefore, I’m all right with weaknesses, insults, disasters, harassments, and stressful situations for the sake of Christ, because when I’m weak, then I’m strong.” It is in our weakness, inadequacy, uselessness, and helplessness that God’s mighty works are seen and felt. The salvation of the world must be the work of Christ through me/us. Even when things do not work out the way we wanted them and we feel that we have failed, we still have the hope of the resurrection and restoration that the Holy Spirit brings in Christ.
Maybe we need to be reminded more and more of how inadequate we are in life. Maybe we need to be humbled and brought low so that we remember that Jesus is Lord of all and He is the One who fixes all things. I especially direct this reminder to the Church. The more we try to push our agendas, our works, our knowledge, our programs we will be facing the challenge of shrinking numbers and loss of faith. The Church needs to be reminded that it is the Holy Spirit that anoints us to proclaim Jesus is Lord. It is only through the Holy Spirit that the Church can be sent to heal the sick, fight injustice, visit the prisoner, feed the hungry, cast out demons, and spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world.
As I look at the current situation of the Church, especially in the United Methodist Church, in the United States we need now more than ever to rely on the Holy Spirit to both give us God’s truth and reveal our inadequacy about righteousness, sin, and judgment (Jn 16). I do not say all this to discourage study, training, and education. On the contrary. Keep researching ideas, keep studying, keep training, but in our prayers, thoughts, and actions let us hand over all this to the Holy Spirit to fuel the fire that He wants to spread. If we do this with what we know then, when we face a situation where we do not seem prepared it will be that much easier for us to turn over our words and actions to the Holy Spirit and let Him shine through us, so that our inadequacy will become the glory of God…