I could understand why her parents hated me. Several years ago during my college days, I was dating a girl who lived in Maine. While on a visit to see her, she and I had decided to spend the day canoeing in the river that ran right through her back yard. Her parents saw us off as we pushed away from shore.
Now, two things come into play here. First of all, I hate being dirty and will avoid the feeling at all costs. Secondly, I had never been in a canoe before and was unaware of any rules of thumb. My girlfriend assured me not to panic if I felt the boat shake and that she would steady us as we began. However, as she began to maneuver, I felt the canoe start to tip over (at least in my mind), and I tried to compensate.
The result was a disaster as the canoe completely overturned and we were both drenched in the water. However, with my instinct kicking in, I quickly screamed, jumped out of the water and ran past her parents and straight to the house to take a shower. It wasn’t until I was done with the shower and feeling much better that I realized I had left her there in the water to get the oars and canoe. Needless to say, the relationship didn’t last much longer than that moment, as my selfishness was exposed and my best interests were revealed to show that my main concern was my personal well-being.
While I have tried to change since then, I can see a similar tendency within the Church. The moment that we are exposed to the world, we scream. The moment that we find ourselves getting dirty, our first instinct is to take a shower, so to speak. Obviously, we all know that we were called to be more than that, but our actions convey something much different.
I believe that the heart of the Church is good in cases like this, but I feel that we have been frozen by our fears for far too long. Instead of being an agent of cultural transformation, our goal has become to simply interact with the world just enough to feel good about our programs. Sometimes, our intentions are enough for us to pat ourselves on the back. And this has placed the Church in its current position: an irrelevant entity to the world around it.
In order to take back some of the ground we have lost, we have to move past our fears of interacting with the world around us. And we can only do this with the power of the Spirit. If we were all honest with ourselves, we would admit, I believe, that it is much easier to hang out with those who are like us. We enjoy being comfortable. We love predictable circumstances. We like our communities where we are known and where we can minimize the risk of being misunderstood or rejected.
But those are not the places that we are called to. To be able to overcome those tendencies, we must find our power in something greater than ourselves. Our courage, then, must come from the Spirit of God. Paul writes, “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7). This is the key for us as the Church to reclaiming what we have lost. We are not meant to interact with the world on our own terms. We were never meant to be in conversations with people without relying and praying for the Spirit of God to empower us in those moments that we are afraid of getting dirty. Without it, we will always be tempted to run in the opposite direction.
The comfort comes in knowing that God gives us this Spirit for a reason. God is passionate for us to fulfill His mission while we are on this earth. We are not called to something that God is only remotely interested in. Instead, what Paul is saying here is that we have been equipped with a power that is far greater than our fears, because it is God Himself who is wanting to see the world around us come to know Him.
With this in our minds, we are freed to open ourselves to risk and rejection, knowing that the very power and passion of God is on our side. When we allow the Spirit to empower us, when we allow our fears to be overcome and when we allow God to ignite our passion for His mission, then we will begin to become agents of transformation.