Monday, June 1, 2015

What being a Christian means to me

I've been thinking about this a lot lately - what it is, for me, to be a Christian-- not in the limited definition of having "accepted Christ as my Savior," although that is obviously the key, but beyond that.  What is my faith about?  Or rather, what does my faith make true about me, not in the external sense-- what others see, because I am not oblivious to how much I fall short in that, but the internal, "me and Jesus" reality of My Walk of Faith.

I know this, how I would define that has change a LOT in the last dozen years.  I look back at that 33-year-old young mom of three and I love her, but I can no longer totally relate to her.  It's funny looking back at the age that was the end of Jesus' ministry, and in some ways I see that in my life too.   At 33 I had a ministry-- in my "gift": teaching, speaking, sharing. I didn't have a "position," but I had respect.  I was looked at as someone who had her life and head together, I knew the scriptures, I could break them down, I was a master at the word picture.  I loved it - I lived for the charge of giving people Truth in bites that they could connect with, walk away with, hold onto.  I was good at it.  And when it was taken away from me a couple years later, it hurt like hell. 

Rebelliously I continued in my gift of teaching and discipleship.  I had a group of young teens that my husband and I ministered to and I had a group of women I ministered to in connecting them to one another.  It was ironic that I was resisted by leadership and even as I was slowly pushed (or pulled?) toward the exit of that church, I was actively helping other women become more connected and plugged in.  Both ministries were resisted, and both ministries were mimicked - neither of the approved replications survived-- it taught me about the difference between a good idea and a God idea.  And so when I say to you that these ministries I helped birth were successful, I do so with the recognition that it was more about my listening than about me doing. Right time, right place, right people-- God led, otherwise if it had been all about me, failure would have been inevitable.  But it wasn't. 

That life lesson was the beginning of my understanding of what my relationship with the Lord was truly supposed to be about-- listening... and obeying. As the reins were pulled tighter and tighter in the "formal" sense of ministry, I fought harder and harder, but it was like beating the air.  I wanted to stand before a large group again and share the Word and share my heart, and share the Jesus that I knew and loved.  I didn't really recognize it at the time, but I was having an idol wrestled from my grip.  My heart wasn't WRONG-- the number one draw for me was how connected I felt to the Holy Spirit when I allowed Him to lead my words and give me the strength and inspiration to share.  I loved that. And I loved watching the women be ministered to, their nods, their tears, their words of gratitude after.  It was exciting.  

Then the Lord taught me this important lesson about ministry, it wasn't about crowds and masses; it was and is and will always be about individuals.  Even if I stood in front of a room of 100 women and it only ministered to one soul, the ministry still mattered-- maybe it even mattered more.  God showed me that even if I somehow managed to minister to all 100 women in the room, they were each ministered to individually.  It makes me think of the accounts in the Bible of Jesus feeding the thousands.  It's important to realize that food went in to each individual mouth, each individual body was sustained.  You could have a "we brought food to the city of..." and if it didn't meet a need in every person, it fell short. 

That was another lesson-- my ministry would ALWAYS fall short.  It does always fall short.  Most importantly though if it isn't Christ-centered, it is completely inept.  That doesn't mean we should always be walking along with "doing this in Christ's name" emblazoned across our t-shirts as we serve and do good, but it does need to be emblazoned on our hearts. In fact I would even dare to say that there might even be times that we don't bring Christ up at all to the one we minister to, we just make it about them, loving them, meeting their needs. It might be seed planting, it might be relationship building, it might be any number of reasons, we just need to be sensitive of what God is asking of us in that moment, for whatever His reason may be. 

His reason.  His reasons.  "His ways are not my ways," the Bible tells us.  We're kind of funny when we start to think we know God so well that we have him all figured out on his whats whens and hows. I just have to laugh at myself when I think about all the times in my life I thought I had God all figured out, and I was so proud and impressed with myself with my ability to tow the line.  I was such a good little Christian. In the words of Adam Ant, "Don't drink don't smoke, what do you do?" For me I sat back in judgment a lot.  I tended to forget from whence I came. I forgot that it was at my lowest, filthiest, most sinful point in my life that I met Jesus and found out about His unconditional love.  And somewhere along the line, I got impressed with all the change I had made in my life... and I decided everyone else should do likewise. 

So as the revelation of what I had forgotten slapped me upside the head, I realized I had spent far too many years trying to make "God's" point.  And then I realized, God didn't need me out there making points and winning arguments for him.  He showed me I needed to be careful about where I wanted to plant my flag, or hang my heart, or pitch my tent, or whatever metaphor explains that God never asked me to be about a cause.  That's not to say I wasn't ever going to be called to speak about Truth, but it did mean I was always going to be called to love people, even... especially the unlovely sometimes.  And for the record, I still fall so short there. 

I fall short everywhere.  I find myself getting really excited these days when I feel like something is going right.  I am no longer the overconfident girl standing up in front of a crowd sharing scripture with authority.  Now mind you, I still love the few occasions I've had to do that, but its importance has declined. I'm just as aware of the importance and value of sitting down and talking with a girlfriend over coffee, or offering a cup of coffee to a homeless woman at Panera, or just listening to one of my kids process out a challenge in their day.  

For me what being a Christian means today is different than what it meant a dozen years ago.  It means my relationship with God (Father, Son and Spirit) ought to be my filter for everything in my life.  It's not, but it ought to be, and it is what I continue to aspire to, but only with His help.  Sometimes that means really hard things, like letting go of offenses, or going places I don't want to go, or doing things I don't want to do-- sometimes major, sometimes trivial.  Being a Christian means saying "yes" to God before He even asks.  It means laying aside a lot of I can'ts, I won'ts and I would never. Being a Christian, for me, means putting things in His hands.  Sometimes it means putting things in His hands twice, or ten times or a thousand times because in my humanness I notoriously do try to take them back, but I aspire to leave them there.  Being a Christian for me means accepting His sovereignty, in the good and the bad, the just and the unjust, the beautiful and the ugly, and in the painful (whether I am the cause or the recipient - because both happen.) His sovereignty is the real rub of Christianity for me, I'm all about it in the good and the blessing, and I need to be just as about it in the hard and the painful.  And finally, and probably foremost what being a Christian means to me is trust. 

Trust means letting Jesus be Lord. It's all tied in to the other things I listed previously, but it goes deeper.  It means being open and vulnerable and willing to struggle, at times even hurt.  Not just before Him, but out there in the world, in life.  It means forgiving because He says so, giving because He asks me too, waiting when I don't want to.  And it means doing all of that without explanation and understanding. (Boy right there is the obstacle of faith that some people never get past and therefore never believe.)  Trust means giving up my right to agree with and understand everything I see in the world around me.  It means accepting "His ways are not my ways."  Man it's hard. But at the end of the day, I wouldn't have it any other way, because it's what makes Him God, and acknowledges that I am not.  And in the end I can't not deny that He knows best, and I do not.  I know that He loves me, and so many times He has proven that His ways are better, and He knows better.  So even when I cannot see that, I have to trust that it's still true, even if I never see it in this lifetime-- which sometimes I won't.  He has earned my trust anyway.

I wish I could come up with a beautiful conclusion to this blog, but I just don't have it.  And I guess that's the reality of My Walk of Faith, or every walk of faith, it's a journey worth making, you just have to learn along the way that it's the journey He is leading you on, trust and follow.