Posted by: beattieblog | March 2, 2010

Vision, Love and Power

In my work with Young Adult Ministry, our leaders have been revisiting the vision for the ministry. I think it’s a valuable exercise to examine the biblical examples for how vision is imparted and then shared. In this case I found my way to Ephesians 3. Here’s what I wrote which then became an exercise in imagining what the ministry could be. One note – I cribbed quite a bit from brother N.T. Wright and his book “Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters”. I certainly mention him but as this wasn’t something I wrote for public consumption I didn’t mark page numbers or cited as well as I could have.

Vision and how we receive it, where it comes from, love and power and all the rest…

I want to talk a little bit about vision from God taking a brief look at Ephesians 3…

In Paul’s case he’s sharing the vision that the gospel is busting out now to include non-Jews – this is the vision he’s received from God. He calls it a mystery that was previously not known or revealed but has now come by divine revelation to the apostles and prophets like Paul – namely, we’re in (woo hoo!). The good news of Christ and God’s Kingdom is for everyone, not just Jewish people. We don’t need to go into why this is huge, let’s just agree that it’s a tectonic shift in the understanding of God and his relationship to the world for Paul’s readers. It’s bigger than the iPad. This is a mystery that came through revelation – the result of Paul’s prayers, listening to the voice of God and recognizing that voice when it spoke and the Spirit moved.

Clearly Paul was a student of scripture and a great teacher / intellectual. But, as much as good planning can come through intellectual exploration, there’s no substitute for worship and prayer. N.T. Wright says, “There’s nothing perfunctory (i.e., automatic, mechanical, token action) about Paul’s worship and prayer. One gets the sense, here and elsewhere, that his life revolved around it. This, we may suppose, is part of the secret of the extraordinary power that seemed to flow through his preaching, his pastoral work and his writing.” We’re going to be about good planning and strategizing. But what makes prayer (and what happens when we worship) critical when thinking about vision? Says Wright, “Prayer brings together love and power: the relation of love that grows up between God and the person who prays, and the flowing of power from God to, and especially through, that person.”

“The Conversion of Saint Paul” by Caravaggio (1600-1601)

This is what Paul’s prayer here is all about – that these young Christians would realize that at the heart of what it means to be a Christian is knowing God as the “all-loving, all-powerful father.” It means sinking deeply into that love, being rooted in that love. That we would enter into that love and let that love powerfully enter into us – and ultimately embrace the reality that (1) we are “in Christ”, a part of the Messiah’s family; and that (2) we must allow the living Jesus, the Lord of our lives, to take up residence inside of us. Wright says this is what strengthens us in our inner being (verse 16). If we do this and become “rooted and established in [his] love”, we will get (1) a vision of how wide and long and high and deep God’s love is, and (2) begin to believe that because of the power that lives within us, God can actually do more through us than our imaginations can conjure. Whoa. I’ve got a pretty big imagination. What I would say is that when we’re grounded in God’s love and receiving and sharing his power, we will get a vision of what he wants to do through us. And once we begin to live into the vision we’ve received, at some point we’ll stop and realize that what’s happening is greater than we ever first imagined. We will literally understand the thoughts and feelings Paul had when he wrote verse 20 (ask me about my moment of experiencing this).

When you think about what you want for young adult ministry at First Pres, is what you imagine something that you can accomplish with your human strength – something you can achieve with a few friends, clever marketing and strategic planning? Believe me, we’re going to mobilize and reach out to our friends; we’re going to try and use good marketing based on solid planning. But is there some part of your vision that requires the work of the Holy Spirit to make it happen? Maybe it’s saying, “Right now, there aren’t enough Young Adults coming to make that happen. I don’t have the time and energy to do it all.” Maybe it’s, “Well, I don’t think the young adults we have coming right now are passionate enough about Jesus to really get on fire for something to happen.” Maybe it’s saying, “Wow, with the way the economy is right now, we don’t have a budget or enough staff to do this ministry.” Having done our best to pray and seek God’s vision for our ministry, where are the areas we’re going to take risks and say, “Without God’s power and love working in and through us, we won’t be able to do that.” I would say those are great places to start praying – let’s consider letting those become our very specific, targeted prayer requests to God. And then, let’s believe that in the end, God will do abundantly more than we can ask or imagine. He’s done it before in other times and places – with Paul, in my own life and in countless others. Why not here and with us?

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