This is week 4 of 7 in our season of prayer and preparation for the launching of Intentional People. We're also nearing the formation of a new missional community, planted out of Christ Journey in preparation for the starting of a new church planting movement in this area. By the way, I’m actually in the process of writing a short post describing the distinction between forming a new missional community (or house church, or whatever you want to call it) and the starting of a church planting movement.
Throughout this first month of prayer, I have been blessed to witness multiple examples of God working in our lives through this process. Timing that could only be described as divine; conversations and developments that I've been waiting and praying for...it has been amazing.
Last night was one such experience.
Our prayers this week are focused on spiritual formation and discipleship, and yesterday I posed the question to our praying community, "What specific spiritual practices have been beneficial to your own spiritual formation?"
I arrived at work last night (6pm to 6am security shift in Saginaw) a little flustered and frustrated. I realized about the time it was too late to turn around that I'd left my phone at home. This meant I'd have to borrow someone else's phone to clock in and out, and if there was anything to report to the police during my shifts, I'd have to rely on the other guard working with me.
To be honest, I wasn't really in the mood to spend much time talking to the young guy that I was working with from 6 to midnight. But...I tried to check my attitude and give him my attention when he rolled over to talk.
He started asking questions which arose from a conversation he'd had with another employee the night before. This other employee is a Christian and was telling him that if a Christian sins, there is forgiveness through the blood of Jesus. But if they willfully sin, knowing its wrong and doing it anyway, there's nothing left for them because they're in open rebellion to their Lord.
He wanted to know what I thought about that...and phrased it in very hypothetical terms.
I asked him if God holds us to a standard that God isn't held to. We are told by Jesus that if our brother commits a sin against us repeatedly and comes back asking forgiveness, we should offer it, not even seven times but seventy times seven. If this is the case for us, how much more so is it likely to be true of God? However, this is not a license to sin (which is the point behind Paul's whole argument regarding whether we should continue to sin so that grace may abound...by no means!)
The danger comes in when we stop caring that we sinned. When we give in to our weakness and afterwards, rather than feeling remorse and seeking forgiveness...we just don't care, we feel nothing.
He was quiet for a minute and then said, "What do you do when you've fallen into that kind of rut? What if you want to get out, but don't know how? What if your faith just doesn't seem to matter any more...but you want it to?"
Suddenly our hypothetical theology conversation had a whole new air about it.
So I asked him, "Is this still hypothetical, or are we talking about you now?"...
And so here, on this day, of all days, he asked me what practices could help cultivate and rekindle his spiritual formation.
Over the course of the rest of his shift (with frequent intermissions so that we could do our job) we talked about the need to pray and meditate on Scripture, worship and share struggles with others are trying to take Jesus seriously, and to devote ourselves not only to studying and talking about these things, but actually getting out and living this kind of life on mission with God.
I encouraged him to find others who were asking similar questions and who would be willing to participate in this kind of life together. He responded by saying that sounded like a great idea but he didn’t have the first idea how to go about finding such people.
I shared several stories from our experiences in prayer and discernment where we prayed that God would bring us into contact with someone in whom God was at work and that day, “randomly” someone would come stumbling up asking questions. I suggested that he spend some time each day for the next week asking God to bring him into contact with people who asking similar questions - and then open his eyes expecting an answer. “This isn’t the kind of prayer that you have to wonder whether or not God is going to answer affirmatively,” I told him.
He became very excited, but then stopped and said, “But, even if I find other people, how will we even know what to do when we get together? What if we just end up being something unhealthy and cynical? I don’t know how to lead a group like that.”
In my head, I was shouting, “Seriously God? This is a bit over the top, don’t you think? He asks about spiritual practices and then asks about church planting?” To him, I happily grinned and said, “If you’ll pray and be willing to bring together the folks that God connects you with, I’ll help y'all figure out what to do next.”
He was shocked that I would be willing to drive to Denton to do so, and eagerly agreed. As he left to head back home, he’d already thought of 2 or 3 people he wanted to talk to about it all - though an hour before he didn’t know anyone who might fit this description.
All I could think as he drove away was, “Wow. Didn't see that one coming...but I probably should have.”