I’ve got a copy of the Bruised Reed by Sibbes, and on the back cover is a quotation by the great doctor Martyn Lloyd-Jones. It says that the book ‘…quietened, soothed, comforted, encouraged and healed me’. If ever there were a good reason to read a book that would surely be it.
It was a quote I thought about after I finished reading Sensing Jesus, particularly the last part: it healed me. I felt this as I was reading Zack Eswine’s book on pastoral ministry. I felt it healed a part of me that was hurting. Something that was out of place. Some way of thinking or feeling I didn’t even know was there, and it dug out of me and felt better. Like any operation, there was definitely pain involved. Reading the first hundred pages or so was even a little bit depressing, but I felt compelled to continue.
A friend gave this book to me. He said that a mutual acquaintance of great standing found it to be the best Christian book he’d ever read. I put it aside because I was reading an ancient tome, which to myself quietly I thought was important. Eswine’s book seemed trivial in comparison. The tome wasn’t healing me though.
Remembering Our Purpose
Remembering Our Purpose is a poem that begins the book (it is filled with poetry), and it is a central theme throughout. The first stanza summarises so much:
The place He gives us to inhabit.
The few things He gives us to do in that place.
The persons He invites us to know there.
These our days,
Sweet balm to the weary soul of a man who has believed many of the lies he has been told. Eswine tells a story about how he sat down to write an article for a Christian magazine. He thought to himself that this might be the moment he hit the big time. This might be the moment he was made for, when he really achieved something for the kingdom.
This is the desire that haunts our souls, the part of us that is scared that, unless we achieve some kind of notoriety, or even celebrity in our own way, we’ll have failed, or we won’t have achieved everything God has for us (whatever that is supposed to mean).
For many of us, the thought that we should live our lives as an average, usual, or humdrum person or pastor has scared us for years. The churches and ministries I have served have likewise bathed in this phobia. 262
This misplaced longing manifests itself in so much that I have seen in contemporary evangelicalism. The most obvious place? The conversations we have with each other about the size of our churches or ministry. This is the way we so often determine success or failure. Worse than that, it is actually a way of feeling secure in ourselves. We end up using the people who have come as boasting-currency. We lose sight of what their needs are, or how to love them. We feel angry with the people who haven’t shown up because they have made us feel inadequate with their non-attendance.
We’re measuring something. But maybe it’s not the number of bums on seats.
What is our purpose? Eswine returns to Eden, where we see what we were always meant to do: love God, love people, and delight in the wonderful creation of God. When we bear this is mind, it becomes much clearer what our pastoral ministry priorities could be (as opposed to what they are):
1) God has given you to himself to surrender to and love. This means that to daily orient you life towards a moment-by-moment relationship with God is a great thing that brings glory to him. You needn’t be anywhere else than where you are, because Jesus is there too.
2) God has given you a handful of people that you are meant to love. This means you are meant for relationships with people…You needn’t become somebody else or overlook those people who are right in front of you. The Lord is at work here doing great things.
3) God will give you a place to inhabit, which means that you get to become attentive to what is there where you are. This means that to dwell knowledgeably and hospitably in and towards the places God gives you is to glorify him. God will give you a few things that he intends for you to do in your inhabited place and with those people. 35-6
A phrase used in the book. It’s easy to look over the horizon and to think that, when we’ve made it, we’ll be somewhere else. But what about the ordinary greatness (another Eswine phrase) that is possible here? If our lives are about loving God, people and delighting in his good creation, isn’t it time to start doing that now, in this place? Why will it be easier tomorrow, when we’re somewhere else, when possibly a few more people might know our names? Maybe we’ll be just as miserable and unfulfilled then as we are now. Maybe our whole lives will be over before we’ve actually started to enjoy them. Maybe we won’t love people the way we should. Maybe we won’t love God. Maybe we’ll simply miss his manifold goodness to us.
A friend of mine said to me recently that he was thinking about chucking away his computer console because he has become convinced it was a waste of time for him to play games. (He later changed his mind.) But could we not have room in our theology for simply accepting and delighting in the thing that we enjoy as gift from God? Does it have produce some kind of immediately obvious spiritual fruit?
It seems to me that a great mistake we make as evangelicals is to lose the things that Eswine rightly celebrates: taste, touch, hearing, smell, sight. We think these things are unimportant, or at least not the main thing, and what’s actually important is having some kind of ‘spiritual’ experience. I think many of our souls are tired because of this. We can’t enjoy our lives because we feel guilty and unproductive.
We forget that God created the senses, and that he sanctified them ten thousand times ten thousand by incarnating Jesus himself in a human body.
This book is weighty, slow-going, and beautiful. It is not what I expected.
Those are a few of my thoughts anyway – sprayed around at random. It is a wonderful book, and I couldn’t recommend it more highly.