This week finds me in the majestic mountains of North Carolina. I’m attending MTW’s “Living in Grace” seminar for missionaries soon going to the field. It’s a required week of gospel saturation — as in, preaching the gospel to ourselves and taking stock of our individual spiritual well-being while in the throes of raising support. Living in grace. Hmm, not exactly the words I’d use to describe my lifestyle if I were to take an honest inventory. Living in… frustration, perhaps. Living in… a bit of disillusionment, lately. Living in… criticism (of self and others) — a recurring state for me, it seems.
In Monday’s lecture series on the gospel, God’s love, and the call to surrender to grace, Paul Kooistra paraphrased Francis Schaeffer’s description of the 3 kinds of people in the world: there are 1) those who build their own kingdoms, 2) those who build God’s Kingdom, and 3) those who say, “God, build your Kingdom and use me.” Ouch. Yep, I fall into Category #2 way too often.
“The gospel is God’s furious love,” defined G. K. Chesterton. Is that what drives me as I share my calling and future work? Or is it just my personal passion? In Jeremiah 20:9, the prophet (whose work was much more difficult than I’ll ever experience) describes why he can’t help but share the message God gave him for Judah: “His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” Jeremiah’s story was brought to mind by Sarah Groves’ song, one that’s been playing in my car and convicting me quite a lot recently:
Jeremiah tell me about the fire
That burns up in your bones
I want to know, I want to know more now
The burning of ambition and desire
It never could come close
To that fire, To that fire
I was looking to myself
And I forgot the power of God
I was standing with a sparkler in my hand
While I stood so proud and profound
You went and burned the whole place down
Now that’s a fire…
My personal ambition and desire for participating in missions work is necessary, but it is far from sufficient and it’s not even primary. It’s a mere “sparkler in my hand,” compared to the consuming fire that is God’s zeal for the nations. Jeremiah felt that zeal in his very bones.
I read a prayer a couple months ago, written by Gertrude, a 13th century German Benedictine, mystic, and theologian. She seemed to know my tendencies exactly when she wrote:
Deliver me from timidity of spirit and from storminess. … From all heedlessness in my behavior, deliver me O Lord.
Ah, storminess. I’m familiar with that state. My mom used to call me “a little storm cloud” when I’d get in one of my moods. I’d keep a lid on it, but man, you could see the storm brewing below the surface. I wish I could say I’d completely outgrown that. But as an adult, I either revert to timidity in an attempt to rein in my frustrations, or I simply act righteous in my storminess. My passion for language and gospel work in West Africa drives me to my soapbox until I’m burned out and disappointed by what I interpret as a lack of interest in those around me.
But it’s not about me and my passion. I am not needed for the Kingdom to advance. And it’s not even about the people and churches I share with. It’s about God and West Africa. It’s about His “furious love” for His chosen ones there and all over the world. That’s a fire which won’t lead to burnout and which can’t be held in or extinguished.
Deliver me from timidity and from storminess, Jesus. Lead me in grace day in and day out, both towards myself and towards others. Show me Your furious love, and may that alone drive me to share it with others.