Jesus says to you and me “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” (Mark 6:31).  He said this to the disciples in the context of all the “comings and goings” of life and ministry that left them exhausted and empty. But how often do you and I heed Christ’s gracious invitation?

 

Truth be told, not often enough. I have learned from growing up as a PK (“priest’s kid”) in the church, and then in almost 30 years of ordained ministry, that the Church will not give us that rest, especially for those who are in positions of leadership. We run the danger of false expectations and disillusionment if we think “the Church” will provide such soul and spirit care.  In truth, we can only find it in time away with Jesus.  Every day, and sometimes in days at a time—just as Christ invited his disciples.

 

This week I took a long overdue private retreat with the help of a mentor (a Godly and wise elder pastor).  I took the time for the purpose of refreshing my sense of calling, reviewing my life, and to hear Christ in a clear and fresh way. Our pattern is for me to visit with him for a morning and share what’s going on in my life. He reflects with me on what God might be saying and ends our time by posing a series of questions that will guide my time alone on retreat. I then go off for a day and I wait on the Lord. Then I come back and debrief with him and we pray together.

 

This time I have to say it was more like a spiritual scavenger hunt than a retreat. Restlessness gave way to prayer and study, going from one scripture/clue to the next, and the next, until I came to a very surprising, unexpected, convicting and refreshing conclusion from the Lord.  When we debriefed, I came away with a deeper sense of God’s grace and love for me, his calling, and a renewed faith and perspective to trust him in all things in the days ahead.  I wish this kind of refreshment for all followers of Jesus—and especially for those leaders that I am privileged to coach, disciple and encourage along the way!

 

As I look over that time there are two things I felt the LORD speak to me about my own life that may have application to our lives today as followers of Jesus Christ in the Anglican way, and to leaders (laity, clergy and bishops) at every level of the Church. So may I humbly offer these two takeaways?

 

  1. Draw on the love of Jesus Christ, and his love for you, in all that you do

I was looking for an answer to the question my mentor put to me: Why are you here?”  What on earth has God called you to do for heaven’s sake?  It’s the question of vocation, of calling. I happen to believe that God has a plan for each of our lives (see Jer. 29:11), and it’s worth taking time to check in and see if we are in step. I also know that the busyness of life and the “comings and goings” of ministry can over time weary us in well doing (Gal 6:9) so that, in our weariness, we can even begin to question our calling.  In the quiet, I found time to pause and hear God’s voice anew. As I journaled, he reminded me of all the little “burning bushes” along the way, each a signpost of calling that added up to a clear and compelling picture of where He has called me to go, and why, and what provisions he has given me for the road ahead. Through Bible study I was drawn again to one of my heroes, the Apostle Paul, whose calling and character as an Apostolic Shepherd and pastor-theologian has been such a wonderful model. But it was in that study that the Lord also reminded me of Paul’s ultimate confessions: “And last of all Jesus appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born” (I Cor. 15:8-9) “Here is  a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance:  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” (I Tim.1:15) “But by the grace of God I am what I am and his grace to me was not without effect.” (I Cor. 15:10)

 

Why am I here? Why are you here?  GRACE.  God’s  love in Jesus Christ, dying on the cross to rescue you and me from sin and death, and rising from the dead to empower us to live as He would, in his love, and in his power, from the inside out. We are here not because of what we do, but because, like Paul, we are the recipients of lavish grace that is not without effect! In that extravagant love of Jesus Christ we find both our calling, and all the resources we need to carry it out, in all we do.

 

  1. Get serious and fight the good fight

Jesus says “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy: I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)  As John Eldredge observes in Waking the Dead:

 

“We live in a far more dramatic, far more dangerous story than we ever imagined… The very thing that was to give our lives meaning and protect us—this way of seeing—has been lost.  Or stolen from us. Notice that those who have tried to wake us up to that reality were usually killed for it: the prophets, Jesus, Stephen, Paul, most of the disciples in fact. Has it ever occurred to you that someone was trying to shut them up?”

 

As I reflected on this I realized that I need what Jesus brought to his downcast disciples—the eyes of our hearts open to see Jesus, to see things as they really are, and to be on fire with that vision (Luke 24:30-32). Or as Paul put it “We fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen…” (2 Cor 4:18)- on the weight of glory and the fight between the Lord Almighty, “The God of angel armies” (Psalm 46:11) and the principalities, powers and spiritual wickedness that rule the darkness of our world. (Ephesians 6:13).

 
But we’ve got to fight for our hearts and make no truce with the enemy and his lies. We must not let the enemy steal and devour our hearts.  We must fight to take captive to obedience in Christ every thought that exalts itself against the knowledge of God. (2 Cor. 10:3-5)  Sadly, sometimes this fight will take us to the Church itself. When it does, that means we must all do our part. For bishops, it means taking their special authority to guard the faith and order of the church against every strange and erroneous thought that exalts itself against the knowledge of God in Christ Jesus. On a daily basis, for all of us, it means that we refuse to make any agreement with those lies from the enemy that undermine the transforming love, grace and hope that we have in Christ Jesus.

 

Let me close with a scripture the Lord reminded me toward the end of my time, in Paul’s second letter to Timothy:  “Keep your head in all situations” (2 Tim. 4:5). It was in the deep darkness of night that Jesus saw his disciples laboring against the strong winds and rough waters in the middle of the lake (John 6: 16-21).  It was too dark for them to see ahead, and too far for them to turn back.  What a perfect picture of where I sometimes find myself in life and ministry—and I’ll bet you can identify with that as well.  We are laboring, exhausted, maybe even fearful and discouraged. We feel alone.  We can’t see the way ahead.  We can’t go back.  We’re in the middle of a place where we desperately need to see and hear Jesus.

 

When he came, they did not recognize him at first. They did not expect him, and they were terrified.  But when they were able to hear Jesus say “It is I; don’t be afraid,” they were willing to take him into the boat.  “And immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.” (John 6:21)

 

When we take time to be quiet, to rest, and to recognize his familiar voice, He will deliver us from our struggles and fears.  He will guard our hearts.  In His hands our hearts will be refreshed and or eyes opened to things as they really are.  No matter where we are—at home, at work, or in leadership in the Church at any level—when Jesus is welcome to be in charge of the boat, we’ll certainly get to the other side!

 

 

Phil-Ashey-2014

The Rev. Canon Phil Ashey is President & CEO of the American Anglican Council.

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