Don't give away what CT pastors imply to you
The man who is wise will see his life as a reservoir rather than a channel. The canal pours out what it receives; The reservoir holds the water back until it is full and drains the overflow without loss for itself. … You too must learn to wait for this abundance before you pour out your gifts. Don't try to be more generous than God.
– Bernhard von Clairvaux from "The Two Operations of the Holy Spirit"
I was exhausted. I watered myself all week: preaching on Sunday, meeting on Monday, ministries on Tuesday, Bible study on Wednesday, visiting the sick on Thursday, and preaching on Friday. I had nothing left to give until Saturday.
As a member of a large church, I knew what I was signing up for. I had degrees that prepared me for the rigor of a professional life dedicated to Christ. I had friends on duty, a supportive community, and lots of books, and I knew enough to do retreats every few months. I loved the service and wore my busyness as a badge. I believed that Jesus would give me strength to do everything I had planned to do.
But deep down, I couldn't fight the continued pain of emptiness. After a busy week, I was more than tired and tired. A few vacation days could not alleviate this exhaustion. As a mother of two young children with a working husband who was writing his doctoral thesis, I felt like a traveling miracle. Now I realize that I was more of a walking mess and was slowly unraveling from the inside out.
The break point
This chaotic cycle culminated during a conference in 2015. Pete and Geri Scazzero, co-founders of the global ministry for emotionally healthy discipleship, helped church leaders like me think about discipleship in our churches. But I have heard very little. During a slowdown session to spend time with God, I had an outdoor service to plan and submit noise permits within 24 hours. I was hoping to hear a panel discussion on the value of the Sabbath, but I was already three days behind answering a guide who recently lost a loved one. When Pete and Geri explained what it means to make a living from your marriage or your uniqueness, I started thinking about how to apply these principles across the Church rather than processing them for myself.
I quit during a partner work session to conduct a conference call that I could not postpone. When I got back into the room, Geri invited me to lunch. I was honored and welcomed the opportunity to meet someone I had admired from afar. At lunch with Cuban sandwiches, Geri looked me in the eye and asked, "Do you think what you preach about God's love?"
I was shocked and horrified. Does she even know me? I thought. I had met her briefly during some occasional interactions, but nothing had prepared me for it.
She continued the conversation by asking simple questions like, "Do you think God loves you?" and "Do you think God cares about you as a person?" First I defended myself the most. I have been in a large church with significant service concerns and serious demands. I did what everyone in my position would do.
Then Geri told me her story. When she started on duty, she too had rules that she believed came from God but were driven by society and the ego. But finally she decided to live by God's truth, which told her that she had nothing to prove, nothing to lose, and nothing to fear. I listened patiently, but I couldn't get over the pain that appeared in me, which afterwards was a confrontation from God.
I left this conference angry and restless, shocked by its audacity. I couldn't sleep for a whole week. Then one morning at around 3 am I stopped resisting and began to wonder if what she said was true. What if I was constantly busy because I had to prove deep down that I was worthy of my calling? What if I was really a hypocrite and preaching a love to others that I had not fully preserved for myself?
I could no longer tell the difference between what God had given me for my own edification and what had been given to me to pass it on to others. That morning I decided to surrender to the voice of God because I could no longer deny it.
Bernhard von Clairvaux explained this tension in a sermon about the song of the songs with the title "The two operations of the Holy Spirit". In this proclamation, the 12th-century French monk reflected God's infusive and effective gifts – those gifts that are intended for a person's own development and are intended to be passed on to others – through an analysis of Song of Songs 1: 3, "Your name is poured oil" (ESV).
It's a great idea from such a short part of the script. Following the tradition of the church father Origen from the third century, Bernard interpreted much of the script – including this verse – allegorically and extracted a deeper symbolic meaning from passages that appear simple. According to historical theologian Tony Lane, "his use of this technique earned him the title" mellifluous "(sweet flowing like honey), which means that he was able to extract honey of spiritual meaning from the letter of the Scripture."
While most Bible scholars have moved away from the allegorical approach to scripture interpretation, the "honey" extracted from this short verse agrees with the truth that we find elsewhere in the Bible, and I am determined to do the rest of mine Wrestling with it.
In this verse, a woman describes the overwhelming, seemingly multi-sensory experience of hearing her beloved's name. Bernard saw in this description an allegory for the generous pouring out of gifts by the Holy Spirit on God's people. The spirit is lavish in its blessing, both for those who receive the gifts and for their neighbors. "Any man who realizes that he is endowed with an external grace that enables him to influence others," writes Bernard, "can also say to the Lord:" Your name is poured oil. "
But Bernard is careful here too. "You waste and lose what is supposed to be your own if, before you are fully infused with the Holy Spirit, you hastily pour out your unfulfilled self on others." Without first finding satisfaction in the Lord, any good we do will exhaust or, worse, turn out to be nothing but worldly ambition.
How can diligent followers of Christ pour into others without exhausting themselves? Here Bernard uses a simple metaphor that heals my approach to service: “The man who is wise will therefore see his life as a reservoir rather than a channel. The canal pours out what it receives; The reservoir retains the water until it is full and then drains the overflow without loss to itself. "
Like the words the lovers have spoken in Song of Songs, this feeling of waiting for God to pour in before we pour out is strikingly intimate. From one of the least preached books in Scripture, Bernard draws an undeniable connection between God's heart and our soul.
Bernard lived with God for almost 40 years as a Cistercian monk and practiced strict – and what some consider selfish – practices of isolated meditation and prayer, away from the worries of the world. But Bernard was not your average brother. Lane writes: "Bernard went to Cîteaux (the abbey where he started his monastic life) to flee the world, but here we encounter one of the profound contradictions in his life." He did not seem to detach himself from the main concerns of his time and became one of the most active leaders and recognized names of the church from the 12th century.
In 1115 he was sent from Cîteaux to found a convent community in the French wilderness. He was regularly asked to prevent divisions, to gather support behind one of two rival popes to secure the Papacy of Innocent II, and to publicly fight supporters of medieval scholasticism such as Peter Abaelard.
How did he live so productively without constant fatigue? When I grappled with this question, I realized that my preference for pouring out left little room for God's pouring out. I actually lived like a canal and it made my soul feel empty.
To be received
After meeting Geri, I had to face facts: my work for God left little room to actually be with God. Regardless of my good intentions, my constant doing for others was based on the unspoken belief that the people I served were more worthy of being received than I was. Contrary to Jesus' words, I tried to love my neighbors as I didn't even love myself.
In The Emotionally Healthy Leader, Pete Scazzero describes something that all leaders need: “Slow down for loving union with God,” as reflected in John 15. While the pace of service often requires more emphasis, Scazzero wrote in a blog post: "Your being with God (or the lack of being with God) will outdo you, after all, you are doing for God every time." Bernard similarly writes: "God himself is love, and nothing created can satisfy the person who is made to be the image of God, except for the God who is love, who is above all created natures."
Still, it was pretty difficult for me to stay in God's presence and rest in His love. Sometimes it felt like being with God and receiving from God like divine hoarding. Giving to others what I had not received adequately hurt my soul.
To believe that I am worthy of God's love, I must choose an intentional relationship with him before engaging in relationships with others. This requires a countercultural belief that I am first with God – at least on my to-do list – that feels selfish and wrong. Bernard says: "If I only have a little oil enough for my own anointing, should I give it to you and leave nothing? I keep it to myself. "According to the wisdom of the flight attendants, what would it do to help the people around us before they first secure our own oxygen masks? Life in the reservoir requires the belief that I am also worth feeding from God.
Not how much, but how
When struggling with Bernard's metaphor and example, I also struggle with any kind person who looks at my life with genuine indignation and explains: "You are doing too much!" In some aspects this is true. Ambition and pride often lead me to take on more than I can handle. At the same time, some periods of service and life are simply more difficult than others. Then how can we do what is necessary without emptying ourselves?
Bernard suggests that it's not necessarily how much we do, but how we do it: filled to the brim. Again, Bernard wasn't exactly the type of contemplative leader whose legacy is little more than silent reflection. He moved within his calling and served in a way that shaped history. When I work as a channel, I immediately give out what I get and I'm just as exhausted as when I started. These are the days when I convert my morning prayer into evening Bible study without taking the time to incorporate it.
I am not the only one who had to learn this lesson from Bernard. In his treatise on consideration to Pope Eugenius III. (A former monk from Clairvaux) Bernard wrote:
If you want to make yourself available to everyone unconditionally, following the example of "who has become everything to everyone" (1 Corinthians 9:22), I will certainly greet your neighborly love – provided it is full. But how can your neighborly love be full if you are not embracing it yourself? … Simple and wise, slaves and freemen, rich and poor, men and women, old and young, priests and laypeople, good and bad… everyone drinks from the public well of your heart: and do you want to stand far, even though you are thirsty?
Note that Bernard did not instruct Eugenius to drop his papal duties. He simply reminded his former monk that pouring out for others cannot happen without God pouring it out.
An irritable toddler sometimes lives in the back of the head and explains to God at regular intervals: "I can do it myself!" Bernard has a suggestion to cultivate dependency: "Food causes thirst, so you have to drink, so don't eat good works be moistened with the drink of prayer. "
The simplicity of prayer, even ritual prayer, keeps us dependent on God and lets the fountain of the spirit flow until the given comes from the overflow of the received. Renita Weems writes in “Listening to God”: “Rituals are routines that force us to act faithfully, even if we no longer feel faithful. Until our hearts have time to wake up and return to those we love, rituals make us feel compulsory. "
For me, this is the small and powerful chorus of "I need you" that accompanies good work. Over time, this prayer becomes more devoted to God. Dependency can result in us rejecting some opportunities that do not strengthen our faith, or in accepting a complete schedule at the Lord's request. In all of these things, our obligation to rest in God allows great works to flow from him and not from us.
An ongoing struggle
My story is still being written. Even now I sometimes wonder why I took on so much. I struggle to reconcile family life and service in a way that strengthens my soul and pleases God. It helps to remember that even Bernard had to struggle with the reservoir in his early years. According to Lane
His high standards turned out to be too strict for the frail humanity of his monks. After some time they were no longer able and Bernard had to loosen the reins. In addition, Bernard was stricter with himself than with others, which resulted in his health being permanently damaged.
But Bernard finally discovered an approach to Christian service that enabled him to do more for the Church than almost anyone else during his time, despite his health problems. If there is hope for him, there is hope for me.
As pastors and heads of the ministry, we are too often affected by the pressure to perform, loaded with endless demands from consumer-oriented disciples and by worldly ambition that drives us to take on more than necessary. How can we expect to be filled with the Holy Spirit in a world that is not waiting for anyone?
Bernard suggests that the ministry leaders will always be tempted to "channel" our path through life for one simple reason: it is easier. Being a channel doesn't require me to process or think through my decisions. It does not require my assessment or my conviction. As temporary as it feels, the emptiness of channel life will catch up with us. If we are not careful, we will run empty ministries that will not pass the test of time. For these reasons, I am determined to grapple with life in the reservoir courageously and gracefully, to regularly evaluate my abundance, to persist in what God puts into it, and only to release what God wants to pour out.
Nicole Massie Martin is a director of the United States Department of the American Bible Society and an assistant professor of department and leadership development at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
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