You Shouldn't Do It Alone: Old First E-pistle 05.24.13

“When you think that if you don’t do something, it will never get done…
Or when you think if you don’t do it, it won’t get done the right way…
Then, discipline yourself: try NOT to do it at all!”

This was my “spiritual advice” to a friend recently. Because it’s so easy to think too hightly of ourselves. To get ourselves all turned around and feeling we’re the only one that some whole situation is depending on.

And in that head-strongness or heart-stubbornness, we jump in too early and too deep… and claim too much authority for our will and way. We end up working against THE FLOW that is bigger than and beyond us. We place ourselves firmly in the way of any solutions that are larger than one’s vision, more than one’s capacities. AND we rob others of opportunities they need more than we do.

Thinking yourself the only one who can serve a needed role, you usually become the roadblock or stumbling block to a chain of events, a mysterious relay race of people, series of actions in which God shows how many people can be used in different ways and to effects that are creatively beyond anyone’s plans and even beyond all human thinking. The whole thing may not seem to be moving forward in any rational way (i.e. the way you want!), but sometimes doubling back or taking unexpected turns is part of a plan that’s not ours!

Other times, the problem we see that insists the solution is up to us turns out to be our impatience with others’ pace or different ways of working. Or it can be about how long it takes for a group to get together and coordinated and anything accomplished. But, church, the time it takes and the exercise of learning to work together are probably more important that any of the specific intermediary goals to be accomplished!

Other times, it’s our sense that we’re more “on top of right” than others… Not only are we missing that others have irreplaceable contributions to make. We are failing to see that by ourselves, we cannot possibly see how it is meant to work out.

But, even more challengingly, we also end up doubting God — all the different ways the Divine can use and work through everyone. And, even more so, how God can take separate, even disjointed actions and knit them together nonetheless, making something more of, better than we could come up with ourselves.

An example might help? Consider Joseph’s brothers’ jealousy and deceit in selling him into slavery and then lying to Jacob about it. Not a great day for any ideal of family… that later saved the whole clan from famine.

Here’s a simpler example. I know that since I’m the pastor, the more I talk in a meeting the less others do. That’s a fact resulting from the limited time we have for any meeting (and that if I don’t watch myself, I can have a lot to say!). But it’s also about my role as the pastoral leader.

And when I can discipline myself and remain silent long enough, I’m always gratified and reassured to hear someone eventually saying what it was that I wanted to contribute. Sometimes not exactly how I would have articulated it. Sometimes better.

My point isn’t that I should never speak. There are times when as pastor my voice is needed. But it never has to be the dominant voice. Or the only voice. Likewise, the ministry of our church isn’t what I do, but what we accomplish together. Because God’s gathered a group of us here. And we are to be a chorus that makes something together that is far more magical, even mysterious than what one voice can effect.

Here’s a biblical reference for my point: when Jesus makes the strongly affirmative statement “you are the light of the world,” he wasn’t talking about “you singular,” but “you plural!”

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

A hill city is a whole bunch of people that can be seen from miles away, even from below. He’s talking about the church as a lighted city. I have encountered churches where one person thinks he or she is the whole church. Or the true Christian. Or the one to be in charge. But you know what? There never seems to be much light there…

Each of us has light to contribute, but the only lamp bright enough to be seen in the valleys of the shadow of death (where it’s needed most!) comes of a whole bunch of flames.

You have light to share, but beware that your sharing does not put the basket over an other’s light…

See you in church,

Michael