#1: Grace Happens
Before I graduated from Princeton, Dr Robert Dyksta, my theological Jedi master, lamented that I was about to serve in a denomination whose system of appointing pastors ‘contradicts everything we know about psychology.’
I asked what he meant and he replied by explaining how it’s a given that people in congregations wear masks, keep up pretenses and are reluctant to let others see what’s behind the curtain of the self they show others.
He then offered me this wisdom: ‘If you’re going to stay a Methodist, then you should tell your bishop you’ll serve wherever they send you so long as they’re willing to leave you there for at least seven years. It takes that long for people to reveal who they are behind their masks, warts and all.’
In other words, it takes time and patience to see notice grace at work in people’s lives.
But seen it I have and that, by a long shot and then some, is the best thing about ministry.
I could tell you about the woman whom I’ve known these past 7 1/2 years, who seems a completely different person these last few years than the one I knew the previous years. To be honest, our relationship back then was often marked by mutual frustration. Today I think of her as something of a cross between a friend and a surrogate grandmother. What accounts for the change in her? She credits it with a spiritual discipline she started practicing a couple of years ago, intentionally praying the shema every day and daily committing herself to loving Christ and through him, others.
Grace has changed her.
Maybe that doesn’t strike you as a Road to Damascus type of story but it’s real and it’s just one example of many I could give.
I could tell you about the woman who, having been cared for tenderly by a black nurse, at the end of her life confessed and repented of her racism.
I could tell you about husbands and wives who, after much painful work, have forgiven one another of adultery, abuse, addiction. You name it.
I could tell you about prodigals who’ve come home, mothers and fathers who’ve worked at welcoming them and elder brothers who’ve looked themselves in the mirror to finally confront the nasty self-righteousness in them.
I could tell you about people who’ve come to faith by dirtying their hands serving the poor, and I can tell you about individuals who’ve given over hundreds of thousands of dollars for the poor because God Christ has been generous to them.
I could tell you about people who’ve lost a child.
And lost their faith.
And found it again.
Even then I’d only be scratching the surface of what I could tell you.
Not only was Dr Dykstra right. His point has turned out to be the best thing about being a pastor. If you give it time, you get to see.
I can’t prove God exists, and there are those dark days and dark moods when I wrestle with my doubts and fear I’ve given my life to a fool’s errand.
But what I can prove, what I can point to and say ‘See, there it is,’ what I know without ever a day of doubt, is that grace is real.