enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness

First — apologies for my absence — or rather my lack of energy to engage the discussions here.

This reading is basically a prayer. Faced with opposition and threats of persecution, the disciples now apostles do not pray for their opposition to be broken or to win the fight but rather for the courage and strength to fight the good fight.

Indeed, and maybe this is because of my own experiences in ministry playing out here, but the apostles are actually asking for a gift that has already been given them. This passage happens before the prayer:

They were astonished at the fearlessness shown by Peter and John, considering that they were uneducated laymen; and they recognized them as associates of Jesus; but when they saw the man who had been cured standing by their side, they could find no answer.

And after the prayer we read:

After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

On a number of occasions I have stepped forward to take on ministerial roles. There have been discernment of gifts and calling — it seemed like I was moving forward in both faith and faithfulness. And at some point I found myself used up and floundering. As I reflect now on taking on such a role again (and even — with this group and my blog — whether it may be happening to me again) I struggle to understand why — so I may be a servant faithful to the end.

Quakers have a notion for this. Outrunning your Guide. Pursuing the ministry beyond the bound of the vocation. And maybe there has been some of that.

But possibly another understanding is shown forth in this scripture. After I am given the gifts to do the task I stop asking for them. In the course of any ministry that extends in time — snags happen. Opposition from sources unexpected or in a force and kind unprepared for. Sometimes such opposition stops me in my tracks. More often I face it and overcome. And yet, the battle sucks strength from me. I come away discouraged and face a much lesser challenge not with confidence but despair. And then I am undone.

I have not learned — or rather need to constantly relearn — the lessons of the manna in the desert. Give us this day, our daily bread.

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4 responses

  1. Outrunning your Guide.I hadn’t heard of that idea before. I’ve never had your experience of “ministering” but I think I understand, a little, what you mean. Sometimes I’ve had the feeling of being “in the spirit” but it doesn’t last for long. I think one reason why is that it’s paradoxically hard for us to sustain that “movement” (as Ignatius would call it) … it feels wonderful, but it’s seems like it’s not long before a counter-movement bumps us out of the movement … it’s too exhausting or we doubt it, etc.

  2. Indeed! It’s only by taking a really radical stand that we can expect a constant power and direction of the spirit. Like the first martyrs; like Tom Fox or Bonhoeffer: I know they were empowered to do what they did.Me? No; I’ve always followed Christ from the distance.I do remember one moment in my first few awakened months; I prayed for the Lord to just take me on up, not in any material sense but in the sense of being a radical Christian. Very shortly I was trying to unpray that prayer: “no, Lord; I didn’t mean it; I’m just a baby and can only digest milk.” So I have remained through the years: following Christ from a distance.”Are ye able? said the Master; to be crucified with me.” As young people we used to sing that lustily, but we had no idea what we were singing about.

  3. It seems that a movement tends to occur in roughly three parts. We first run under our own power, then realize that isn’t enough. Then we learn to recharge our batteries, and to work from that. The drain grows as fast our capacity to keep up; recharging won’t do, some days. Then, last, we must learn to run directly off the generator; so long as we are connected, the well will never run dry.

  4. Well said Anonymous Julie.Only my experience of the third phase is one of continuously falling back into the previous three. I’m there. I understand. I forget. Start the cycle afresh. I’ve read and heard witness of remaining in that third phase – indeed the early witness of Friends was that it was possible as was the witness of the Christian contemplative traditions. It just doesn’t seem to be where I can get to — yet. Trusting in God in such a way to make that third phase a continuing reality is itslef a grace from God.

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