Not long ago, there was a loud rattle at the front door of the church. It was a weekday afternoon and I was in my office, on the phone, working diligently to cross off a few items on my “to do” list. By the time I got to the door, the young man had turned to leave. It was a cold day and he was dressed in a t-shirt, wrapped in a thin blanket, and walked with an uneven gate. My first thought, I must confess, was that he was drunk – and that I felt relieved he was leaving; I had plenty of other things to do. But when I realized he had simply moved to sit beside the door, I thought about the preacher who had once dressed like a vagrant and sat outside the front doors of his church on a Sunday morning. Not one person stopped to ask him if he was okay or invite him into worship. I sighed…”Better practice what I preach,” I mumbled. Besides, the Happle Circle was meeting, there were plenty of people in the church, I felt safe.
Opening the door I introduced myself, “Is there something I can do for you?” “Yes,” replied the young man. “I’m looking for a place to warm up for a few minutes before I go to the Crisis Center. I’m a vet and was hurt in the line of duty. It’s hard for me to walk.” For the next half hour, the young man enjoyed a hot cup of coffee, a piece of pumpkin pie (thanks, Circle Ladies!), and a new-to-him coat (thanks, Free Store!). I enjoyed hearing a bit of his story, feeling humbled by his appreciation and outlook on life, and being reminded, once again, that God blesses and uses us in the most unexpected ways – if we have the wisdom to pay attention and the courage to say yes. I was also reminded that these opportunities God provides are usually not convenient; but they are, without doubt, more beautiful and meaningful than any of the easy, planned or nicely-packaged ministry moments I would choose for myself.
The lesson I recognized is this: if you want to find God, chances are, you will need to look in unexpected places. Often, our God is a God who shows up in the inconvenient and the messy, in the interruption and the chaos. Yes, God can be in the planned, but often, God’s presence shines brighter in the unplanned. Our job? Our job is to STAY; to stay vigilant, connected, open, ready. Stay present in the places we find ourselves, even when – especially when – they are not convenient or easy or planned. Stay put as long as you are safe (and remember, feeling unsafe and uncomfortable are two different things) and until God clearly tells you to move. This is what the Ministry of Staying is all about.
I heard this phrase used by a woman whose family felt called to leave their very comfortable, expected, planned life and move to a neighborhood where chaos and messy is the norm. They discovered, very quickly, that God’s presence was all over the place – and that they were about to experience faith in a whole new way. They found a small church filled with quirky, imperfect, struggling people. Sometimes the music got messed up, the basic technology did not work, the people got frustrated with each other (sound familiar?). It was not always easy, but the longer they stayed, the deeper their relationships with those quirky people grew, the more comfortable they got with the imperfections of worship, the more they understood the ministry they had in, through, and because of that church. It was the place God had called them to serve and the place through which God would help them to grow. And the only way to see those things come to fruition was to STAY. The Ministry of Staying allowed God to bless and use them in unexpected, beautiful, and meaningful ways.
Christmas often feels like a messy time: long “to do” lists, complicated family dynamics, the consumer messages of the season. Our church faces messy times: uncertainty about our denomination, uncertainty about our local church, uncertainty about our how our church family will be affected. Perhaps you are in a messy time of life: an expected crisis, overwhelming stresses of daily life, worry for a loved one. Though the temptation is to skip the hard parts and move on to what is easy, STAY still. Be present in the messy. Know that is exactly where God is, too. Chances are, God is going to show up in unexpected ways. Chances are, God is going to grow you and use you in the mess. Chances are, when you choose the Ministry of Staying, God will bless and use you in the most beautiful and meaningful ways. But you will only find out if you STAY.
This Advent season, make a commitment to the Ministry of Staying. Stay faithful in the messy places where you find yourself right now and watch for the unexpected and wonderful ways God will show up there. Chances are, other than the gift of Jesus, that will be the best gift you get all season!
In Christ’s Love,