Back in the day, at the beginnings of my ministry life, but far enough along where I’d begun to question my own “omniscience”, I was privileged to intern under a very gifted teacher. I was quite driven, quite passionate, to “get it all right”. I wanted to be perfect, to make no mistakes, to minister the “right” way, with the touch, finesse, and wisdom I saw among so many of my elders.
(Been there? Remember those days?)
From time to time, more frequently than I care to remember, I fell short of this self-imposed standard. I came away from an encounter realizing that while it was “mostly right”, it “could have been better”. One or another place there had been a lack of grace, an injection of ego, or impatience, or my own content and wisdom rather than inspiration. These places would highlight in aftermoments, like “worn spots” or “scuffs” on the surface of an otherwise acceptable textile or leatherwork.
Time and time again, I would take such encounters in review to my mentor, with the question, “How would YOU have handled this? How could this have been better?”
He’d listen, carefully and prayerfully, without interruption… never a grimace of disapproval or disappointment crossing his features. Then he’d usually reach for his Bible and find a passage, and set it aside for the moment. He’d then speak, reviewing my narrative, agreeing and affirming what went “well”, and then highlighting and restating the “scuff mark” I was asking about. He always wanted to be sure that he’d rightly “heard” what someone thought they’d “said”. (These do not always match, I’ve since then learned.)
Then, he would teach two lessons. One was a lesson of “content“. He would, before we finished, address the specific question or issue I had come with. This lesson I had no trouble identifying, understanding, and implementing. But the other lesson… the other was a lesson of “context“. He would point out a fallacy in the way I envisioned the question and teaching paradigm. THIS lesson, this message, I consistently failed to identify, understand, or implement. Not until years later, when “all these words came back to me” and suddenly, it all made sense.
Amazing, isn’t it? Someone can repeat the same words to us, time and time again, but if we aren’t yet “ready to hear” them, they just don’t seem to impress themselves on the brain or in the memory? Such were these words, oft repeated to me…
“You ask how this could be done better, how you could minister more perfectly. That’s a great question, and we’ll address that. But, you ask ‘how would *I* have done this?’ Thank you for that, but that shouldn’t be your first or primary question. There is only One Perfect Minister, and He is within you and you have access to Him. The first question is, ‘how was He doing this…’ for the parts that you sense as ‘right’… and ‘how would He have done this’ for the other parts. A second approach, if we don’t know that answer, is to go to scripture and see how DID Jesus handle parallel situations, as shown through the gospels? I’ve never yet found a situation here, that He did not face there in some form or another. Once we look at THAT, have that exemplar of the Perfect Minister in mind, THEN, if it is helpful we can look at how I, or anyone else you learn from, might apply that lesson.
“Don’t look first at what *I* would do. For I, too, am frail and limited in my understanding. First look at how Jesus handles such things, and then… if application and example from my walk are helpful to illustrate, we can discuss that too. But I am not the exemplar of Perfect Ministry, He is. I am just another learner a bit further along the road.”
And we’d then begin to look at the specifics, look at the text of a parallel situation Jesus faced, and… often… he would share an illustration from his experience in applying the principle involved.
I always “got” the “content lessons”. I tended to make mistakes but once.
(My brother used to say, “The only person who makes no mistakes is a dead man. The trick is always to improve the quality of your mistakes.”)
But it took years before I actually caught on to the “context lesson”. The Holy Spirit who resides within us is the fullness of the Presence of Christ. He is not deaf/mute. He is not passive. He is not uni-directional, aiming and firing His divine nature towards the Father alone. He is Love, He is radiant (like radioactive), and He engages us in every way we are open to.
The more we can relax and flow with the love, care, and nurturance that are innate within the heart of God, the more clearly He can express Himself through us.
“Nothing missing, nothing broken. Graduated, complete and mature.” The meaning of “perfect” as in “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” So to be Christlike, to be Christ-ian, we seek to let Jesus be Jesus in and through us. There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s nothing “proud” or “arrogant” about that. We are not claiming that by dint of our efforts, intelligence, will, or righteousness, we can equal Jesus. Quite the opposite. We’re saying that by embracing our own weakness and “letting go” our own life, He can fill us with His.
So dare to reach towards “perfect ministry”. Don’t let false humility foreclose us at the starting gate. Just let us embrace the template and realization that it will be in the same model as Jesus did, and does. And that is thrilling to explore.
Question: For those who preach, teach, and guide… What would Jesus talk about in your pulpit, your podium, your classroom, or your study… this Sunday. (or this week?).
Open Mike Time………….