In his book Take the Next Step Lovett Weems writes “We affirm that God has been active in our lives and in our congregations throughout the past. For that, we give thanks. We also believe that God is present in our lives and in our congregations today. For that, we celebrate every expression of God’s presence with us. Yet none of us or our congregations so fully represent the fullness of God’s will in our past and in our present that we can say, we are now everything God ever intended us to be. Not only do we believe that God has been in our past and is in our present, but we also affirm that God still has something in our future … The key is to discover what God’s preferred future is and to move toward that vision” (pp15-16).
Several issues can conflict with that movement toward God’s preferred future. One is when we get stuck in our own personal preferences. We like what we like and it is difficult for us to get over the need to preserve the status quo. Jesus confronted the status quo on every side during his time on earth. He confronted every man-made barrier that kept people separated from God. He spoke truth to power and people were forced to choose to be enlightened, or to remain in darkness (John 6:26-71).
Another issue that gets in the way of God’s preferred future is our valued relationships. We value and respect persons who have contributed to the life of our congregation and support the work of the church in the past. Those relationships can become road blocks when the new thing God is doing; the new life that springs forth gets choked out (Luke 8:4-8). In order to embrace God’s future we have to learn to honor what has been while as we cultivate the soil for what is yet to be. Our treasured traditions may not resonate with a generation that has yet to hear the good news and find salvation. In order to maintain vital, we must undertake the work of self-assessment and reflect on the fruitfulness of our labor.
Lent is a perfect time to begin such a process. It is a season of reflection, of letting go, of dying to self so that we are prepared to celebrate resurrection and embrace new life. It is not accident that Lent follows the dark days of winter and precedes the fresh breath of spring. Traditionally we embrace the discipline of fasting during lent. The phrase we use is “giving something up for lent.” This is the first step, but in order to reap the benefits of the fast we have to add the discipline of prayer.
We may choose to fast from food, or from watching tv, or from drinking certain beverages, or from social media, but this practice loses its spiritual benefit unless we ADD prayer, or searching the scriptures, or contemplation in the place the thing we gave up has occupied in our lives. In other words, let prayer become your “indulgent pleasure.”
As a body, might we determine to spend time in fasting and prayer during lent in consideration of those things that might be keeping Bethany Church from moving into God’s preferred future? This would be a great gift to your new pastor, to have a clear perception of who God is calling you to be and to reach so that when that person arrives you are prepared to be led in a new direction – even if it means releasing some treasured traditions and personal preferences.
In prayer and in peace,