I recently met up with a long-time ministry friend who just got out of rehab. Let’s call him Wayne.
I first met Wayne while I was serving at my first church. He was one of ‘those guys’: the ones with an amazing journey of finding Jesus. His life-story included being raised by a cocaine-using father, being left by the untimely death of his mother, and the religious and social tension of a sister involved in lesbianism. Wayne’s conversion story was a Damascus Road of walking away from heavy drug and alcohol usage and traveling the US as the youth ministry sidekick of a famous evangelist. Since 1993, he’s been a close friend, brother, and unfiltered confidant. The Focker Circle of Trust wouldn’t be complete without Wayne in my life. We spent summers together leading camps, training for his Ironman competitions, and learning how to minister to students while dodging paintball fire.
For years, he struggled with alcoholic relapses. Nights of binge drinking turned into binge weekends…which gave way to binge weeks. He started a new campus ministry that began to reach thousands of middle and high school students. Traveling across the country to insure it’s success and growth meant leaving the wife and kids alone in the daily grind of living. While the ministry accolades grew, the weariness of it grew as well. Without support, encouragement, and accountability, temptation and relapse were soon a part of daily life. Nearly two years later, his wife and some friends convinced him to commit to an 8-week treatment program.
When he got out, I called to check on him. We joked around. Laughed together. Cried a little bit. I told him I loved him and that I was glad he was in recovery. I didn’t expect the response I got.
“Cottar, in those 8 weeks, I didn’t find God. I looked…hard. I prayed and fasted. I cried. I read Scripture. I did everything I’ve told others to do, but I didn’t find Him there.”
There was a very awkward silence. I struggled for a response.
But he continued. “For 8 weeks I worked in the cornfields and kitchens with alcoholics and crackheads. They became my friends and my support. Only a few of them were ‘christians’, but they are my brothers. Tom, I looked hard for God those two months and didn’t find Him. But He found me…” His voice trailed. “And for the first time ever, I feel like a friend of sinners. And I feel balanced.”
I didn’t quite know what to say.
We get so caught up in life. On the treadmill. So consumed by our calling to ministry, to teach, to fix, to do whatever we were born to do, that we become unbalanced and unstable. And in our instability and weariness, we get sucked into a devastating and destructive spiral. We mask pain, loneliness, and feelings of inadequacy with anything. Everything. Something that will get us through.
Remember, ministry (and life) will kill you. It’s supposed to. It’s designed to reveal God’s strength through your weakness. His success in the midst of your failure. His greatness among your feebleness. And mine.
The story goes that Mother Teresa (St. Teresa of Avila) was approached by a young man who wanted to know God’s will for his life. As he pleaded with her to pray for him, she asked why he needed her prayers.
“So I can do something great for God.”, the man replied.
“I will not pray that you will do something great for God”, she answered, “but I will pray for you.”
She did pray. And years later, artist Kendall Payne put her prayer to a beautiful, haunting song called ‘Pray’, which cries out:
May your heart break enough that compassion enters in.
May your strength all be spent upon the weak.
All the castles and crowns you build and place upon your head,
May they all fall, come crashing down around your feet.
May you find every step to be harder than the last,
So your character grows greater every stride.
May your company be of human insignificance.
May your weakness be your only source of pride.
The most beautiful thing I love about Wayne is his weakness. His insignificant balance. He is at once full of passion and life and fire…and yet weak and feeble and wounded.
Being a disciple of Christ requires the balance of both. Not the tension of both, but the balance. We must pursue our calling with everything in us. We must pour out unfailing love on our spouses and children. We must cultivate our character and integrity with diligence. And we must constantly be a genuine friend of sinners and those who would despise us.
Which is a pretty exhausting job description.
Rest assured it will drag all of your insecurities and weaknesses into the light of day.
It will expose the Imposter within you.
It will ensure that your failures and feeble attempts at success will be broadcast unsparingly.
It it will demand that your weakness reveal God’s strength (2 Cor 12:9). After all, that’s the plan, remember? In his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul reminds them that he would not boast in himself. In fact, God Himself told Paul, “My grace is enough for you. My power is made perfect (complete) in your weakness.” Paul goes on to add that he will gladly boast…but about his weakness, so that the power of Christ will show up in him. So, for Christ’s sake, he is content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecution, and disaster. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
My college roommate, Scott Andersen, once told me, “If you can do anything else besides ministry, do it. Ministry will kill you.”
Wayne’s weakness, as well as my own, reminds me of the immortal words of Tyler Durden: “Congratulations. You’re one step closer to hitting bottom… it’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.”
Death comes before resurrection.