I am more and more aware of my need to test the spirits of this age (1 John 4:1). Being driven, ambitious, and performance-oriented, I’m drawn to eloquent charges to go out and change the world and prone to believe they’re words from God Himself. There are more voices than ever, more platforms than ever, and more and more are proclaiming statements that ring true in my head but chain my heart.
None feel the need to test the spirits of this age more than pastors. I am not one, but my husband is, and I pray earnestly for him to have wisdom and discernment as he guards and shepherds our church.
Because if Twitter were to be believed, the weight of the world hangs on those with the microphones. Pastors, racial reconciliation! Pastors, domestic violence! Pastors, marriage (and singleness and divorce and remarriage and widows and widowers and orphans and miscarriage and infertility and abortion and homosexuality)! Pastors, missions and church planting and evangelism and missional communities! I’m tired just thinking about it, and I haven’t even said anything about preaching, counseling, and leading staff, much less the caring for souls. Or breathing.
I’m not saying these are bad things to focus on, teach on, or preach on. I’m not saying we don’t want to affect our world. I’m saying we–the Church–must test these spirits. Because it all sounds really good. We love action points, we love exhortations that get us fired up, we love dreaming big, we love the idea that God wants to use in miraculous ways, and we rightly want to address the brokenness of our world and change it.
The underlying belief among Christians in this age is that the responsibility for changing the world is ours.
When I test these spirits, I find a weight too heavy for any one person to carry. I find change hinging on what people do and a push toward doing all the right things in all the right ways or all is tragically lost. I find a macro-level call by God to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations brought to the micro level, the individual level, where Iam to go and do it all.
Let me tell you how this plays out in my life, because I think it might help explain what I’m getting at. I’m a pastor’s wife who loves being a pastor’s wife. I love nothing more than seeing lives changed and a strong, spiritually vibrant community. I want so many good things for our church and for the people in our church. I love them. I desire to see fruit in their lives, just as I desire to see it in my own.
But what happens when spiritual growth is slow and even nonexistent, or someone leaves our church (or the Church altogether), or the unsaved are not saved after the billionth gospel presentation, or someone has a deep need that I can’t meet? What happens when I’ve failed someone or my efforts seem pointless? What do I do?
If the macro-level exhortations were to be believed, it is all on me to figure it out and to create change and fix everything. It’s on me, not on the church as a whole, and definitely not on the Head of the church, Jesus Christ. I must have all the spiritual gifts. Ialone must be the mouth, hands, and feet of Christ. And, really, there shouldn’t even be these obstacles and failures, because those are only signs of my own ineptitude and that I need to be trying harder.
This feels heavy, and it’s a weight I place on myself but that also comes from misplaced good desires. Misplaced, because I’ve completely relegated God to the spectator role. I desire good things for people, but I’m placing my faith in my own power and not in the only true power there is–the power of God.
Only God has the power to change a heart, to regenerate and renew. Only God can heal and reconcile. Only God authored the gospel and authors our faith. We are not the gospel; we don’t have to be the gospel. We are His agents and ministers, taking the gospel, but we can’t convict of its truth.
Anything that makes us think that we as individuals have to be the whole Church and change the entire world with our one life and our handful of natural and spiritual gifts is not to be trusted. It is a tweak of the truth, which is that I am to use my one life alongside others using their one lives and, together, we act as the Church and work under the power of the Holy Spirit. Together, we adorn the gospel.
So what does this mean?
It means I don’t need to constantly add things to my list of ways I should be serving God because it’s how others are serving Him. As I present myself to God each day in His Word, I can trust Him to show me how He wants me to adorn the gospel with my one life and with my spiritual gifts, abilities, roles, and circumstances. I don’t have to be the whole church.
It means God values faith in His power more than any self-effort I bring to the table, which isn’t much. This elevates prayer. It reminds me that I can ask for the hand and movement of God simply through prayer. By praying, it also reminds me who is actually in charge of change.
It often means thinking smaller rather than dreaming bigger. It means moving the macro-level call to the micro-level life. Unless God is clearly calling me to make a dramatic move, I can be certain He wants me to be faithful right where I’m at. He wants me to be a faithful wife, a faithful mom, a faithful friend, a faithful neighbor, a faithful mentor, and a faithful writer–because that’s where He’s placed me. I sometimes want the dramatic call because I don’t want to do the difficult work of daily faithfulness.
It means that faithful, everyday acts done for the glory of God that don’t seem like they’re changing the world are the things actually changing the world: prayer, discipling our kids, working unto the glory of God, sacrificing for others, and using our gifts of mercy and knowledge and discernment to edify others in our local Body.
It means freedom, not burden. Because Someone’s already carrying the weight of responsibility, and He’s invited us to play a small (very small) part. He’s faithful to us in the day-in, day-out, so we can respond in faithful love and obedience to Him. And that just so happens to be the Christian life in a nutshell.