By Joe LaGuardia
In her memoir Leaving Church, spiritual author Barbara Brown Taylor talks about churches walking the fine line between putting people to work and encouraging people to take Sabbath rest, promoting spiritual growth and affirming that God loves us as we are, and attracting people to come to worship while being passionate about sending people out to join Christ at work in the world.
If churches get off balance on one side — say on the Sabbath, the affirmation, and the sending — then we make Christianity come off too easily, discipleship without a cost as the German ethicist Bonhoeffer might say. Teeter to the other side — the works, the growth, and the gathering — then we threaten to forget that our faith is just as much about being as it is doing.
Taylor writes, “I thought that being faithful was about becoming someone other than who I was . . . and it was not until this project failed that I began to wonder if my human wholeness might be more useful to God than my exhausting goodness.”
In other words, what good are we to be ministers and missionaries of the gospel if we are exhausted all of the time—how do we, as a church, find that balance?
I found this question pertaining to balance lingering under the biblical words that span from Isaiah 62 to Isaiah 63. In Isaiah 62, God encourages Israel to put restlessness to good use (I address this more fully in part 1 of this series) . When we are restless or working hard, anxious or unable to focus, Isaiah says to use that energy to pray. “Take no rest,” Isaiah says to Israel, “all you who pray to the Lord, and give the Lord no rest until he completes his work” (v. 6).
In Isaiah 63, the prophet invokes a different strategy—those who focus on the Lord and righteousness by turning restless minds and busy hands towards the Lord in prayer, will in fact find Sabbath rest in the Lord just as God’s people did centuries before:
“As with cattle going down into a peaceful valley, the Spirit of the Lord gave them rest” (v. 14).
As leaders in the church, we are stewards of a complex and growing congregation—the more programming and people we attract, the more we are called on to serve or to delegate that service. My prayer, however, is that church—and the things that you do individually—is life-giving. I hope that it is a source of joy and, when restlessness does come your way, it motivates you to pray, seek Sabbath rest, and seek the Lord’s face.
Ministry is about who we are, not only about what we do. Fourteenth-century Mystic Meister Eckhart once wrote that what we do should not form who we are; rather, who we are ought to embolden what we do. We have to put the horse before the cart, and get our spiritual ducks in a row before releasing the ducks to take flight. Let’s not neglect the balance that the Lord calls us all to have as we live—together as a church—in Christ.