I have a problem. Well, actually, many problems, but only one that I will discuss
here. When I pick up a book about people like Saint Francis of Assisi, and I read about his extraordinary life, I often feel frustrated and paralyzed by my circumstances, my inability to pursue life with such abandon. I’m married with two children, and so Francis’s vow to pursue a life of chastity, poverty and obedience, while personally challenging to me, seems impossibly remote from my real-life situation.
I spent the first few days of this week considering, along with several other faithful followers of Christ at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s “Make Me an Instrument of the Peace: Praying the Prayer of St. Francis” retreat in Tampa, Fla., the life of Francis, practicing spiritual formation in a Franciscan manner, attempting to discern what God seemed to be saying to Francis, so that we might better hear what God might be saying to
us. I learned something profound, over the course of those few days, about myself and about the character of God.
First, I learned that I have an unhealthy fascination with activity. When I read or learn about someone like Francis, I immediately focus on what he did. I then try to figure out how to emulate that activity in my own life. Without realizing it at all, my Christian
walk often becomes about what I do. I want people to know me, to see me in a certain light. So, I try to act in a way that will produce that result. Sadly, the gospel does not
work that way. Francis, for example, was, quite simply, overwhelmed by the possibility of knowing God, of living in relationship with Jesus. Instead of trying to do something, he simply tried to create space in his life, so that he could practice listening to God. He
wanted to know Jesus, and allow that knowledge to transform his life. His ordered his life in a way that he felt was most conducive to living in God’s presence.
I do things completely the opposite of Francis. The times of silence at our retreat, the
times of guided worship and prayer allowed me to simply seek the presence of God, and to rest in that seeking, instead of pouring my energy into an identity formed by my activity instead of by my relationship with God.
Secondly, I learned that God wants for me to know him. He desires to reveal himself to me. Don’t laugh. I know this sounds really simple, but I often make my relationship with
God so much more complicated. The noise, the busyness, the stuff of my life distracts me from God, and before I know it I found myself frustrated to find that hearing from God seems so difficult. “Why won’t God answer me?” I find myself asking. What if, however, God is answering me? What if God is speaking to me? What if I am simply not listening? What if my ministry activity is actually interfering with my ability to hear from God?
In silent times of reflection, I was given the opportunity to practice listening, not for what I wanted to hear from God, but for what God wanted to say to me. My life as a Christian and a minister, should emanate from this practice.