One of my favourite books over the last few years has been Jack Miller’s “The Heart of a Servant Leader”. It is a compendium of letters from an older pastor to younger missionaries and church workers and was actually recommended to me at a Pastoral Refreshment Conference a few years back. Amongst other things, Miller writes this- “Getting the glory of Christ before your eyes and keeping it there is the greatest work of the Spirit I can imagine.” Very little seems more important than a sense of being thrilled by the magnificence of Christ- it is so much easier to live as a Christian when that is the case. And yet, even for pastors, that can be drowned out by the pressures of busyness. It is why I have always made it a priority to be at the Pastoral Refreshment Conference each year for the ten years it has taken place. Intentionally the conference focuses on seeking to provide a refreshing vision of Jesus rather than simply honing pastoral skills. I know a number of people in church were praying for me as I was there last week so I thought it would be good to write up some reflections.
1. The Glory of Union with Christ (yet again!!)
Did I learn much that was new? Not really. But was it great simply to listen to four expositions from the Gospels as we thought about Christ? Absolutely. Ironically since I have been teaching it throughout January and you might have thought that it had already sunk into me, it was the wonder of being united with Christ that struck me most powerfully, particularly imagery from John 14 and John 15. Dave Burke’s comment that spiritual life comes not from our sense of commitment but from our connectedness to Jesus was a helpful way of putting things. And I really appreciated Terry Virgo picking up the language of Jesus not leaving the disciples as orphans but coming to them. Because the Spirit of Jesus has come, we are invited to live each day with Jesus just as much as when He was physically on earth. And I loved his description of what was going on in Acts- Jesus breaking out all over the place. Praise God for the wonder of living in this era when we have the Spirit of Jesus with us.
2. The Faithfulness of God
I was deeply moved on the first evening. We were singing the song Faithful One. “All through the storm, your love is the anchor.” What moved me was looking around the room. Of the group of 80 or so at the conference I would say that I knew twenty or so really well. For most of the twenty I could list some of the sufferings they have been through in the past years, many of them deeply painful. And yet here they were testifying to the reality that God’s love had been enough for them, as it had been for me. That was a wonderful encouragement. In some ways it was a reminder of the importance of praising God in community. Having been reminded of that, it was great to be able to do something similar here at church on Sunday morning. Again, I know some of the challenges and failures around the room and in my own heart and it was great to be able to declare together “We stand forgiven at the cross.” There is something important about singing the truth alongside people who know us and are known by us and I was grateful for the reminder of that as we celebrated God’s faithfulness together.
3. The Obedience of Faith
In looking at the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life it is appropriate to focus principally on what Jesus does. However, I wonder whether in recent times I have focused too little on what the disciples or those receiving the benefits of Jesus’ ministry were called to do. It was interesting to reflect a little on what Jesus wanted from people. We considered the way in which Jesus deliberately sent His disciples into a storm in Matthew 14 and was consciously seeking to deepen their faith. In a sense, He has a discipleship training scheme where He is committed to their growth. We reflected on Mary’s words to those Jesus commanded to fill the water jars in John 2- “Do whatever he tells you.” Jesus is looking for the obedience of faith. We trust Jesus has great power and compassion and so we live in obedience to Him. As I reflected on that fact a number of things came to mind. I need to trust that Jesus knows what is best for me and so I obey His commands because He is committed to my good and whilst sin and Satan are committed to my destruction. I need to believe God when He says that I have everything I need for life and godliness so I obey Him because it is possible to do so rather than thinking disobedience is somehow inevitable. This was gently challenging. Yes- I can rejoice in God’s faithfulness in the past but it was good to be able to ponder areas where He is calling me to grow in the future and put unhelpful patterns to death, knowing that He provides the power for ongoing growth and obedience.
Often when I go to a conference there is simply the hope that the Lord will meet with us and speak to us that we might leave better equipped to live with Him and for Him. I guess that is our longing at church each Sunday. I was very grateful that in a variety of different ways that happened last week.