I spent the last week of June not as a server of wings and beer at a restaurant, but as a teacher of Ephesians to high school students at a missions camp.
I know, kinda different.
When I was around 16, the summer between my sophomore and my junior year of high school, I felt God wanted me to use whatever gifts he was going to give me (at the time I felt I was rather useless) for the purpose of ministry. I figured that meant working at a church for a living.
12 years later I still wonder exactly what I felt that summer. In one sense I believe everyone who sets out to follow Jesus is “called”, or is drawn to, being ministers to people who say they love God and also to people who would say they hate God. That as you grow in reading all about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, your heart naturally has a desire to “minister” to other people. At the same time, I always wondered, if for me, it meant a little bit more responsibility than I was willing to fully embrace.
So I dabbled in being a professional christian. Starting at age 18 I worked at churches and ministries part time as well as other regular(secular) jobs full time. I sang at funerals. I visited hospitals. I got paid to attend weddings and sing at them (and that was better than going for free and dozing off). And on a rare occasion I stood in front of a group of people and tried to teach about God and Jesus. All the while feeling like I didn’t know anything about the ancient documents I was referencing.
For 10 years I succeeded, to an extent, in Church World. I got to be on staff with a church from their opening days in the living room of the pastor’s house and witness substantial growth. I worked at a really big church and stood in front of a huge crowd of people doing my job. I got to travel to different places in America and get paid to teach about the Bible and Jesus and try to inspire people to live as if God was real.
However, after 10 years I felt more like a failure than I did a minister.
For more reasons than I could begin to explain, I slowly started believing that God not only was frustrated with my “ministry” as I was, but that he was totally disgusted with it and couldn’t wait for me to retire from Church World.
I needed to be done.
I needed to stop disgracing Jesus.
I had mistaken an emotional camp experience as an excuse to force my way into the door of “ministry” and stayed jammed in that door because it provided extra money on the side.
Jesus had to be so over me.
It took me several years to get to that point. It was slow. But it was very real. There were highlights for sure. And some great moments a long the way. But “moments” would fade away, and the reality of the relationship that I had with ministry would sneak back like a looming shadow.
March 31st we moved. No more ministry job. I could settle in to the reality that I had known for years…I wasn’t good enough, I didn’t know enough, I didn’t work hard enough, I didn’t have the capacity to love enough, I wasn’t gifted enough, I wasn’t a true leader, I didn’t care enough, I only got ministry jobs because friends were trying to help me out…and on and on and on.
And then I started having opportunities to “minister” again. But they aren’t regular paid jobs.
So in Knoxville (last week of June), I was asked to teach the entire letter of Ephesians to a group of around 150 high school students. Obviously I didn’t have sufficient knowledge to do the job well.
Knowing that there were several leaders in the room that knew way more about Ephesians that I did.
And with all that on my bruised heart…I tried the best I knew how to teach what I had studied for months to make it clear and understandable to 15 year old ADD students who had spent entire days working construction.
And each day that I reviewed the notes that I made and I “practiced” speaking the messages in my room alone…
I was brought to tears.
In those alone moments I began to see that I was teaching these messages more so to myself. Rather, God was allowing this ministry opportunity to minister to my own heart and to teach me so much.
What a strange thing to try and describe standing in front of a large group of people and essentially spend 20-25 minutes being inspired by what God was trying to seal into my heart. I know that comes across as ridiculously cocky (oh geez, God is using your messages to spiritually inspire/move you). I just don’t know how else to explain it.
Typically I’ve taught passages from the bible desperately hoping that whoever is listening will be inspired to live like God is actually with them in their lives.
In Knoxville I taught passages from the bible while God was sincerely hoping that the person speaking would be inspired to live as if the text were true:
Ch 1: Jason, before time began I knew that you would feel like a failure in ministry after your first 10 years. And knowing all of that, I not only want to offer forgiveness for everything you have done to contribute to this point, but I also want to redeem EVERYTHING in the last 10 years that has gotten you to this point. All the time you wasted, I want to redeem it. And all of the things that happened to you during these 10 years that isn’t your fault…I want to redeem that too.
Because I love you, Jason. Knowing you’d get to this point before you did. I love you. And I want to redeem all of it.
Ch 3: I allowed a man named Saul, who killed Christians out of hatred, to be transformed into Paul and be given the grace to proclaim the “boundless riches of Christ.”
I still value you, Jason. Even though you thought I didn’t. That was just you talking to you. That was just the enemy talking to you. It isn’t too late to transform your heart. And you aren’t “too far” away from me to work with. You haven’t even’t killed anyone yet (insert God’s heavenly laugh).
Ch 4: Find some people in the Atlanta area that also are trying to live their lives according to the will of their Heavenly Father who loves them. Don’t isolate yourselves to them only, but invest highly into those relationships. That is the key to reaching “the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” The more you invest into those relationships, the more difficult it will be for your own doubts about yourself and about me to creep in and knock you around.
Ch 5: “Pay attention to how you live, not as unwise but as wise. Make the most of every opportunity, because there is evil in the world…and it is trying to tear you down at every corner.”
Every opportunity leads to another opportunity, Jason. That is the way that I work. Look back on your life. The greatest opportunities in your life were simply the result of previous opportunities. They weren’t all good, I know. It isn’t supposed to be an overnight success. When you lean into the opportunities I have given you, I will provide other/greater opportunities. When you push away from the opportunities I give you, you will have no idea what you could be missing in the future. And you will run into the arms of depression.
Ch 6: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” It doesn’t all depend on how great you think you have to be, Jason. Look back on your life. I’ve allowed you to be a part of so many things that you could never have imagined being a part of. I can do so much more than you could ever think of on your own. So lean into me. And release the grip you have on yourself. It’s more relaxing that way.
Basically every single day as I walked through my messages before standing up in the evenings and sharing them with others I felt God whispering through the words of Paul:
i still love you…
i still believe in you…
i’m not disappointed in you…
i’m not an angry Father.
i’m a compassionate Dad.
i want to heal you…
i want to use you…
i want to heal you…
i want to use you…
i value you, son.