Superhuman Ministry, Part 2
In this series of posts I am reflecting on Zack Eswine’s recent book, sensing jesus: life and ministry as a human being. His thesis is that life and ministry is about apprenticing with Jesus to recover our humanity and to help others to do the same. He notes that too much of life and ministry is spent grasping after those things that only God himself possesses. Today I want to explore the temptation in ministry to be “everywhere-for-all.” While that’s suitable for God—he is indeed “omnipresent” (Psalms 139:7)—it is not suitable for finite people, even though we are image-bearers.
Do you ever wish you could be cloned? One self to do your job? One self to have unfettered time with family and friends? Another self to mentor, disciple, and counsel those who come to you for help? Yet another self to take care of the business of day-to-day life—grocery shopping, taxes, mowing the lawn? And of course, one self just to exercise and sleep! But, we are not meant to be everywhere for everyone. Omnipresence is a burden unfit for a human being. Do you realize that Jesus, as a human being, in some mysterious way set aside this aspect of his divinity and chose to be limited by space and time (Philippians 2:6)? “God rooted himself in a physical place for a time and walked among us” (61).
If Jesus was limited, what drives us to think that we might be able to be everywhere for everyone? Why are we generally not content with being in one place at one time, rather than experiencing the freedom of that limitation?
Certainly the temptation to be everywhere-for-all arises in the context of living in a broken world that has complex needs. God does indeed call us to love in multiple relationships and contexts, and it is a complicated endeavor to steward well all those responsibilities. There is always another person requesting time and attention. We’re truly torn about the claims on our time.
But this was also true for Jesus, the truly human one. You only need to read the gospels to get a sense of the squeeze he experienced day to day. So where do we go off the rails? Unlike Jesus, we have not cultivated what it means to live for an audience of One. More often, if we’re honest, we play to the crowd, engaging in serial people pleasing. But are we willing to disappoint someone for Jesus’ sake? Do you realize that it’s possible (and sometimes necessary) to love faithfully while disappointing others profoundly? The siren song of omnipresence wanes as I learn to enter my days trusting that God will equip me for a finite amount of good works that he has prepared in advance for me (Ephesians 2:10), and praying he will give the wisdom to discern what is most important amid the pressing needs.
In addition, Eswine notes that we have not cultivated what it means to live with contentment in the present ordinary moment. We forget that Jesus asks us to live one day at a time. Sometimes we are forced into this posture through sickness or a crisis that forces us to live moment by moment in a particular place, but it is something we can and should cultivate.
So what does it look like to lean against the temptation to be “everywhere-for-all”?
- Frame your day with pauses that remind you of your absolute dependency on God and ground you in the present. Eswine suggests using the time-honored tradition of breaking the day into four portions—morning, noon, evening, night—and pausing at the beginning and end of each period of time to pray and read Scripture for a few minutes. Although my consistency in this discipline waxes and wanes, I can attest to how it acts as a speed bump to what would otherwise be a frenetic, prayerless, and unreflective day.
- Focus on the here and now as you meet with people. Truly attend to the people in front of you—their words, smiles, grimaces, and furrowed brows. So much of interpersonal ministry is being with a person, not arriving at a destination. We are like children on a long car ride who whine, “Are we there yet?” while missing the glory of the ordinary passing scenery, not to mention the blessing (OK, sometimes!) of being together as a family.
- Learn to value the ordinary, “exult in monotony” (66). If you don’t do this, you miss much of daily life! Without those eyes to see and ears to hear, it’s no wonder the here and now feels insufficient and the whisper to be somewhere else for someone else beckons. Can you smell the sautéed asparagus? Feel the warmth of your child’s hand? See the impish grin of one of the preschoolers in your Sunday School class? Taste the bitter goodness of that first swallow of morning coffee? Savoring these ordinary moments, gifts from God for a given place and time, reminds us that he will give us what is needful for the moments of ministry as well.
- Go to bed! “Sleep is a Sabbath-like act. We rest from it all and leave it all for God’s keeping while we lie motionless in the world for a while” (80). Honestly, this is hard for me. While I don’t have the stamina of twenty years ago, I still am often driven by an everywhere-for-all mentality that trades sleep for the diminishing returns of working late.
As you lean against the temptation to be omnipresent, expect your heart to push back. Even as I write this I sense the gnawing distraction of other tasks before me—preparing for a conference and a sermon, catching up on counseling progress notes, and making vacation plans. Can I be content with what is before me?
“We can only be at one place at one time” (55). That is good news! Whether you are in the counseling room or in a meeting or at the dinner table or getting ready for bed, remember that you live for one Person, and he equips you to live faithfully in this one place at this moment in time.
michael r. emlet, M.Div., M.D. practiced as a family physician for 12 years before joining CCEF as a counselor and faculty member. Mike holds an M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania as well as a Master of Divinity degree from Westminster Theological Seminary. He has authored the mini-books: Asperger Syndrome; Help for the Caregiver; OCD; and Angry Children, and has just released his first full-length book: CrossTalk: Where Life & Scripture Meet.