May 5, 2010

An expedition into ministry

In my church, one of the questions that we ask those taking on particular ministries is:

Do you sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do, and will you be instructed and led by those confessions as you lead the people of God?

Recently, I was asked that question, except the person asking first misspoke the word “expositions” and said instead “expeditions.” I’ve been pondering that small slip and have decided that it might be a very good thing to ask those setting out to minister in a new role. What if I really did promise to take an expedition into what Scripture leads me to believe and do?

I’m thinking about those who take expeditions like climbing Mt. Everest. I’ve never done anything like that, but I once knew someone who had. The climb itself required months, maybe years, of preparation. There was physical conditioning and training, planning what to take and how to carry it, deciding on only the essentials for life. There was the tricky work of timing, going when the storms would not be quite as threatening. Climbing companions had to be engaged, those who know the mountain and its secrets, its dangers, its passage ways. And for all the challenges, there was an enduring exhilaration in carrying out the expedition.

And I find myself thinking that I ought to take on this ministry as an expedition: preparing myself, working on my stamina and endurance; choosing carefully what I need to sustain me on the journey; considering the conditions, the possibility of dangerous storms, and planning accordingly; and finding knowledgeable and supportive companions to accompany and help.

What if I really did travel deep into the Word? How would I be changed; how would the ministry I do be changed? Would I experience that enduring exhilaration that comes to those who take on what seems more than they can do and even so, get to the top of the mountain?

And from the same occasion of the question to me, this poem that I have known and loved, coming to me again in a new context, with a new meaning, with a new command:

Dark and cold we may be, but this

Is no Winter now. The frozen misery

Of centuries breaks, cracks, begins to move;

The thunder is the thunder of the floes,

The thaw, the flood, the upstart Spring.

Thank God our time is now when wrong

Comes up to face us everywhere,

Never to leave us till we take

The longest stride of soul [we] ever took.

Affairs are now soul size,

The enterprise

Is exploration into God.

Christopher Fry, A Sleep of Prisoners (London and New York: Oxford University Press, 1951)

And I hear it now as another call to expedition, to take a long stride with my soul, to explore God, to go looking for what I am being led to believe and do.

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