"Questioning God" (Part One)
As the joke goes, we catch ourselves talking out loud to ourselves in someone's hearing. We laugh and say we aren't too worried because we haven't started talking back to ourselves. At least, not yet.
Talking to ourselves is a reality, whether we are conscious of it or not. Much of what we say to ourselves comes through filters created by our past. It comes because we live in a time of information overload; there is a lot of "telling" going on. Instead of just talking to ourselves, are we asking any questions? More importantly, do we make room for questions?
When we intentionally ask ourselves questions, we make room for more than the same patterns of thought we easily fall into because they are comfortable or because they protect us from having to face our own flawed natures. Asking questions makes room for the Lord to get a word in edgewise.
So what kinds of questions should we ask ourselves before the Lord? What will open us up to more of the Lord's desires? There are questions that are concerned with personal needs and discipleship. Those should be asked. However, let me suggest here the first of several questions, which will sharpen an understanding of what the Lord wants for our ministry life as God's shepherd-leaders.
Question 1: What am I striving for in the ministry God has given me? In other words, what do I hope will be the outcomes of my ministry?
This question is really much more difficult to answer than it seems. If the answer is an automatic "more people, more baptisms, more ministry funds," I would suggest we are giving a Sunday school answer and not a "God's dream in our heart" answer. True, seeing people transformed by Jesus is the goal. But the Lord has given every disciple and every church that mission. The "hoped for outcomes" deal with the specifics of what the goal looks like or feels like in our particular ministry.
Let me offer an example. Dwight Spencer came to Utah in 1881 as an ABHMS missionary among the Mormons. God's dream in Dwight's heart was preaching Jesus in such a way that, though suspicious, Mormons would send their children to the Baptist Sunday Schools and "day" or grade school, first in Odgen, and then in Salt Lake City. The more he worked at it, the more he realized the there weren't enough resources available among the people to do this work.
Dwight then worked to bring other missionary pastors and teachers to continue and expand the work started. In late 1886 and 1887, he then traveled back to the mid-west and the east to raise funds for home mission work in Utah and the west. He raised $100,000 (over $2.7 million in current dollars) so congregations could afford buildings for ministry. The money was not the dream; neither were church buildings. God's dream in Dwight's heart was that congregations would be Christ's vital witness in their communities and "not leave this darkness alone" (The Baptist Home Mission Monthly, February 1885).
Question 2: What is God's dream in your heart?
Please let me assure you I don't mean if you ask the question, you will have an instant answer. In fact, if the answer comes quickly, it may not be God's answer.
To explore what God's dream in your heart is, let me suggest this activity. Go to your church's sanctuary when it is quiet. Be still before the Lord. Sit in one place for a while. Move to another place for a while. If you are an active person or find sitting in one place a distraction in itself, you may want to move around. Listen to your memories of what has happened there. What do you see in your mind's eye? Don't dwell on the past too long, but move to considering the future. Ask in faith, "Lord, what could happen here? What would it look like? How would it sound? What would people experience?"
Additionally, you might want to walk through your church’s neighborhood, looking at the people, the places, and any activity. Again, ask, "Lord, what could happen here?" Please note: the question is what COULD happen, not what SHOULD happen. "Could" and "should" are two very different ideas, both of which are important. Be willing to concentrate on the "could" because that is where God's dream in your heart can emerge.
It is important to try to find a few words or an image to express this to yourself. From my own and others' experience, it is important to know several of these encounters may be needed before there is some clarity and something we have that confidently comes from the Lord.
What are the some of the results of engaging in this exercise? God's dream in our heart releases us from unfair standards and unrealistic expectations. It sets us free from ourselves and our tendencies toward self-absorbed dreams fellow Christians may chafe at. It brings stamina for the ministry and capacity to withstand the difficulties encountered. It keeps us accountable to God.
In part two, we'll look at questions that deal with both the freedom and accountability in these dreams.
What is God's dream in your heart? One of the God dreams I have is that we will have courage to talk together about the God dreams in our hearts because, in part, we will be strengthened in knowing these dreams are part of God's great whole and we are not alone in them.