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Hope for Believers (and Churches) Burnt Out, or Just Going Through the Motions

Concordia Lutheran Church – Cerritos, Ca , at dawn on Easter Sunday

Devotional Thought of the Day:

11  God was performing unusual miracles through Paul. 12  Even handkerchiefs and aprons he had used were taken to the sick, and their diseases were driven away, and the evil spirits would go out of them. 13  Some Jews who traveled around and drove out evil spirits also tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus to do this. They said to the evil spirits, “I command you in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches.” 14  Seven brothers, who were the sons of a Jewish High Priest named Sceva, were doing this. 15  But the evil spirit said to them, “I know Jesus, and I know about Paul; but you—who are you?” 16  The man who had the evil spirit in him attacked them with such violence that he overpowered them all. They ran away from his house, wounded and with their clothes torn off. 17  All the Jews and Gentiles who lived in Ephesus heard about this; they were all filled with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was given greater honor. 18  Many of the believers came, publicly admitting and revealing what they had done. Acts 19:11-18 (TEV)

We need to “go out,” then, in order to test and experience our own anointing and its power and redemptive efficacy into the “outskirts” where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness longing for sight and prisoners under so many evil masters.

It may sound harsh, but I wonder today if the church is more like the sons of Sceva than like the Apostle Paul.

We go through the motions, we say the right things (at times) we have a good intent, but we lack the faith, the trust in a God we know, to truly minister to others the way we should.

As our efforts don’t result in any significant change, we slowly give up our our outreach. We begin to rely on what others have said or written, rather than express our awe of God directly. We rely on canned presentations, Bible studies written by someone we’ve never met, who doesn’t know the people we study with and/or teach. Prayer and meditation on scripture become things we will do “when we have time”.

And we wonder why we ministry seems a drain, why people don’t realize the blessing that church should be, and why they never are free of their demons.

The more we do, the more the church gets focused internally, the more church politics rips us to shreds, the more churches close their doors, or become places that focus on things other than Jesus, and exploring the incredible dimensions of His love, experiencing what we can never completely explain.

So what is the answer, how do we go from a church of Sceva’s sons, to being an apostolic church.

How do we live out the work of God that became possible when the Holy Spirit called us, when God the Father united us with Jesus, and the same power which raised Him from the dead gave us new life?

I think Pope Francis has the answer, just “go out”, trusting in God enough to go where there is need, to the broken, to those who are blind and suffering, to those who are prisoners . Asking God to make His annointing of our lives known in our lives as we minister to those He puts in front of us.

In order to know that, we have to know He has indeed redeemed us, that we are His people, not because we are so good, but because He has indeed redeemed us. As a pastor, everytime I baptize someone, everytime I give someone the body of Christ, whether the person kneeling at the altar, or the shut-in in their home, or the counselee, whose burdens are lifted as they experience the love of God, the lesson of my own redemption is renewed.

I’ve seen the same thing when parents assist in their child’s baptism, or a sponsor assists in the friend who has come to know God’s love. Our faith is renewed, our dependence on God becomes a great joy, and we realize the world without hope is indeed full of God’s hope.

You see the church may sometimes act like the sons of Sceva, but she isn’t. She may be depressed, and dejected, focused on survival more than mission, but her Lord is with her, strengthening her, giving her life, and urging her to go to the broken in the world, with the assurance she doesn’t do so alone, or on her own power.

We go with the Lord and Giver of Life, empowered by God to do the works He has planned.

This is our call.. this is who we are..

Let’s get back it, walking with our God.

Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 190). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

God, Why Did You Allow This?

ST MARY OF PEACEDevotional Thought of the Day:
26  In the same way the Spirit also comes to help us, weak as we are. For we do not know how we ought to pray; the Spirit himself pleads with God for us in groans that words cannot express. 27  And God, who sees into our hearts, knows what the thought of the Spirit is; because the Spirit pleads with God on behalf of his people and in accordance with his will. 28  We know that in all things God works for good with those who love him, those whom he has called according to his purpose. 29  Those whom God had already chosen he also set apart to become like his Son, so that the Son would be the first among many believers. 30  And so those whom God set apart, he called; and those he called, he put right with himself, and he shared his glory with them. Romans 8:26-30 (TEV)

149         I must warn you against a ploy of satan—yes, without a capital, because he deserves no more—who tries to make use of the most ordinary circumstances, to turn us away, slightly or greatly, from the way that leads us to God. If you are struggling, and even more if you are really struggling, you should not be surprised at feeling tired or at having sometimes to “go against the grain”, without any spiritual or human consolation. See what someone wrote to me some time ago, and which I kept for those who naively consider that grace does away with nature: “Father, for a few days now I have been feeling tremendously lazy and lacking in enthusiasm for fulfilling the plan of life. I have to force myself to do everything, and I have very little taste for it. Pray for me so that this crisis may soon pass, for it makes me suffer a lot to think it could make me turn from my way.” I answered only: did you not know that Love demands sacrifice? Read the words of the Master slowly: “Whoever does not take up his Cross quotidie—every day—is not worthy of Me.” And further on: “I will not leave you orphans…” Our Lord allows that dryness of yours, which you find so hard, so that you may love Him more, so that you may trust only in Him, so that you may coredeem with the Cross, so that you may meet Him.

Though I am going to direct these thoughts along the way of St> Josemaria’s discussion of dryness, they could be applied to almost any time of struggle. 

Too often I could be the person that St Josemaria was speaking to in the discussion above.  Too many times I have been struggling, and don’t have the “enthusiasm for fulfilling the plan of life”, that is working to do His will, to see this world reconciled to Him.  I recognize the need to force myself to do the things I love.  Part of the struggle is that I feel like I am trying to bail the water out of the Titanic, hundreds of feet under the ocean. Part of it is that for every trauma where people know God’s peace, three more arrive.  The work seems unending and overwhelming, and my emotional and spiritual batteries drain too fast…

Then I come across Romans 8, and wonder how in the world these times of struggle fit into the promise of God.  How can times where my faith wanders, where I feel so weary and dried out, burnt out, and where God seems silent, how can these times actually work for good?

Or is it that I am not one of those to whom this promise was made? (Yes, I’ve thought that even as I try to make sure others know they are…. and I bet I am not the only one!)

That’s why I included more than verse 28 in the quote from Romans.  We know that verse so well, but we fail to see the context is in the midst of a time of weakness, a time of brokenness, a time where even the Holy Spirit groans out in intercession, for the brokenness we endure is great.

But that prayer of the Spirit, that prayer the Holy Spirit interprets and pleads on our behalf with the Father is heard.  The Spirit ensures the connection to God’s heart is there, a connection we need to realize is there.

The context also discusses God putting us to right with Him, indeed, as Josemaria tells us, sometimes these moments are necessary so that we realize the connection is viable, that God is caring. That He is here.

I would never say God causes these struggles, these moments when we don’t know what to even say in our prayers, but I do know how He uses them.  It is just as Josemaria says, that there I can find the depth of His love, the unlimited faithfulness that sustains me.  As well, it from those depths that I find my desire to help people find God as well, that they can find the peace, that they can know He is there.  ( I only pray they don’t have to follow as far in my steps before they realize it.)   That is how amazing this is, that is how I’ve come to know to trust Him, and even though I don’t like the periods of dryness and despair, I have come to appreciate them, and even (grudgingly at first) embrace them.

For I know He is with me, and with us, and that is not just enough, it is incredibly glorious!  AMEN!

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 822-833). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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