Monday, October 24, 2011

In the book, In the Name of Jesus, Henri Nouwen wrote of the temptations faced by leaders in the church, and by the church as a whole. Those temptations are relevance, popularity, and leading.

The first temptation is to be relevant, to be able to do things, to fix things, to take care of things. All of us, individually and corporately, are called to minister to others. It is easy to think that we have to "make a difference" in the lives of the people we serve, and to fall into the belief that that they need us to change them. This is a trap that I have fallen into more than a few times. Nouwen writes that the way to change this thinking is to spend time contemplating the love of the Father for us and learning to grow in our love for him. Instead of worrying about positions on issues of the day, or trying to figure out how best to solve the problems of other people, we "must be rooted in the permanent, intimate relationship with the incarnate Word, Jesus, and they need to find there the source of their words, advice, and guidance."

The next temptation is to be popular. We all want to be thought well of, to accomplish things that will make folks look at us and applaud. If we were honest with ourselves we would have to admit that a great deal of what we do individually, and a great deal of what is done in the church, is to attract others to ourselves. The answer to this temptation is to remember that "We are not the healers, we are not the reconcilers , we are not the givers of life. We are sinful, broken, vulnerable people who need as much car as anyone we care for." We all need to remain open and vulnerable to those we serve, keeping in mind that what they need is the love of God. We are simply to love God, and let him love others through us.

The third temptation is the temptation to be powerful. This is possibly the temptation that the church has succumbed to the most. The early church had no political, economic, or cultural power; and it turned the world upside down. Since then the church has bought into the philosophy that the way to change the world is through power. While the church has continued to do great things through the centuries, I wonder how much more good could have been accomplished for the Kingdom if Christians had remembered that our power is from the Spirit of God, and that our warfare is spiritual not physical. As someone who has been in a position of authority over my students and athletes over the years, that temptation has been hard for me to overcome. I still struggle with the tension between loving those I work with and exercising authority when needed.

None of us likes to be powerless. We have been taught to not be weak, or even be seen as week. I appreciate what Nouwen says about powerlessness: "Powerlessness and humility in the spiritual life do not refer to people who have no spine and who let everyone else make decisions for them. They refer to people who are so deeply in love with Jesus that they are ready to follow him wherever he guides them, always trusting that, with him, they will find life and find it abundantly."

In my own journey, I am learning more and more to love Jesus, to trust him to guide me and give me that abundant life. May we all realize that we are not the ones that change the lives of others. We are simply the vessels that the Father chooses to flow through.

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