Devotional Thought of the Day
This is a true saying, to be completely accepted and believed: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. I am the worst of them, 16 but God was merciful to me in order that Christ Jesus might show his full patience in dealing with me, the worst of sinners, as an example for all those who would later believe in him and receive eternal life. 1 Tim 1:15-16 GNT
Nietzsche once said he could not abide Saint Augustine—he seemed too plebeian and common. There is some justification for Nietzsche’s attitude, but it is precisely in these qualities that we discover Saint Augustine’s true Christian greatness. He could have been an aristocrat of the spirit, but for the sake of Christ and for the sake of his fellow men, in whom he saw Christ coming toward him, he left the ivory tower of the gifted intellectual in order to be wholly man among men, a servant of the servants of God. For the sake of Christ he emptied himself of his great learning. For the sake of Christ he became increasingly an ordinary person and the servant of all. In doing so he became truly a saint. For Christian holiness does not consist in being superhuman and in having an extraordinary talent or greatness that others do not have. Christian holiness is simply the obedience that puts us at God’s disposal wherever he calls us.
When I was a young pastor, God opened the door for me to attend a prestigious small group of pastors studying preaching. It was a little intimidating, as my churches was under 30 people and the other 24 guys averaged 1500 plus!. After the introductions, one of the pastors, an elderly black pastor from Georgia cornered me. Having only been in large congregations for his 40 plus years of ministry, he wanted to know how you trust God enough to live on the edge with a small church. It was an odd, and edifying conversation! Here was a highly successful mega church pastor with a television program wanting to know about a tiny church pastor’s faith?
Jack Hayford, another mega church pastor, used to brag about his “pastor”, a much younger man, new to ministry and pastoring a small church. He went to him to be prayed for, to be encouraged, to be counseled.
I think Augustine would appreciate them both, as would the Apostle Paul.
There is a challenge, as one gains specialized knowledge, in communicating with others. Different vocabulary, different ways of phrasing things, different frames of reference. It is all to easy to think everyone else is keeping up with your pace. In it usually not intentional condescension, but it can come across that way, or as frustration dealing with the difference.
The same problem exists in spiritual growth. Sometimes we forget that others haven’t experienced God’s love, his mercy and His faithful presence we have. We assume they have the same knowledge and experience we do, and struggle when they “don’t get it” or when others, more experienced than us, struggle to communicate to us how they endured.
TO help us in such times, we have the example of these two men, St. Paul and Augustine, and their approaches. I have quoted these words of Paul many times, often wanting to argue with Paul about who is the primary sinner. Remembering the past God has rescued me from, including the sins of the recent past (say an hour ago) keeps my focus on what is important. My knowledge, my wisdom is useless unless I experience the love and mercy of God which is too great to understand. Unless I know the peace that comes from His presence, all the technical theology I know benefits me (and others ) not a bit. But to consider His patience in dealing with me, bringing me back, healing my brokenness, that is what matters the most.
The same with Augustine. He isn’t a saint (in Pope Benedict’s opinion) because of his intelligence, or his increible writing. He;s a servant because he learned to empty himself and minister to others. His words had a purpose, not to show off his intellect, but to help the broken see that they dwelt in God’s presence, and how that all worked.
As church leaders at every level, that has to be an image we can imitate, the servant-leader, the intellect that has become the doulos (one of Paul’s favorite words to describe himself – the slave.), We need to remember the mission we have, the reason we are sent. That is the people we shepherd and teach and draw towards God.
Claiming we are a servant isn’t about false humility, it can’t be. That will show through. Remembering the work Christ has done in our lives, helps us keep the proper perspective in our life.
Lord Jesus, help us to desire to know and understand more of Your Kingdom, but to understand and experience it in a way we can share with others. Help us to be authentic in our service using our intellect, our knowledge and wisdom to benefit others. In Jesus name. AMEN!
Joseph Ratzinger, Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year, ed. Irene Grassl, trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992), 274.