SE Introduction: Session Five.
Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at Me, Your High God, above politics, above everything. Psalm 46:10 (MsgB)
As I see it, walking through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius is an intentional “stepping out of the traffic” of our busy lives. It’s a journey into quietness, where hopefully the voice of the Master becomes the clearest voice we hear. As we prepare ourselves to begin the thirty-two week journey, I suggest that you reflect a bit today on your past, looking for times when God has spoken to you in significant ways.
Let me tell you about such a time for me.
Sandy and I were relaxing at a little timeshare in Florida called Lighthouse Cove in Pompano Beach. It was the second day of our vacation there in June 2009. And as I’m sitting there beside the pool, I found myself unloading all my complaints to God about our church problems back home in Cedar Rapids. Keep in mind that both Sandy and I were about as dry and crusty as old Pharisees can get. We were absolutely worn out from doing full-time day-to-day pastoral ministry without many breaks for numerous years. In our denominational circles, church planters are taught to push the pedal to the metal to get your church plant off the ground. I took that command seriously but failed, even after ten years, to shift from first to second gear!
The last year or so had been the absolute worst season of our lives. Good friends we thought we’d have in our church for life had left, the ministry was shrinking in size, and giving was down dramatically. The old bar we bought back in 2002, transforming it into a church, was really beginning to show its wear and tear. There was no money to address those needs. Bottom-line, we were sucking air and I didn’t really know how bad things were about to get after we returned home.
In 3-B language, all three components that measure success or failure; (B)uildings, (B)ucks, and (B)utts in the seats; were blinking wildly out of control. Alarms were sounding inside my head. A sense of aloneness and failure was creeping all around me. For the first time in my many years of pastoral ministry, more things were going awfully wrong than things going wonderfully right. Ever been there, dear pastor or ministry overseer? I’m guessing that you have. And then, it happened.
Sitting by the pool that sunny summer day in South Florida, I envisioned a shadowy picture in front of me. I saw myself as a busy air-traffic controller sitting intensely in front of my radar screen. The little TV was full of electronic blips, each one an important God-project or vital issue that was causing me great concern or worry. It was a pretty intense scene. My eyes were glued to the little black-and-white TV screen, my mind working overtime as I did my very best to keep all the blips from running into each other.
Suddenly Jesus came in, unannounced. He walked right up to my air-traffic controller unit that was full of blinking lights and buzzing signals. He then leaned down and pulled the electrical plug right out of the wall socket! Suddenly the screen went blank and I was in total shock. I turned to the Lord and was amazed that He’d be so cruel to do such a thing. Didn’t He know that each of those little blips on the screen were vitally important to the ministry He had given me to oversee? Didn’t He realize that people’s lives were at stake here? Without me to guide these airplanes in and out, there would be sudden disaster. Jesus, are You crazy?
Then, the Lord beckoned me to come with Him. In my mind’s eye, we walked together into a massive glassed-in projector room. It was huge. It reminded me of the pictures I’ve seen of the mission control center found at the Kennedy Space Center in Houston. As I stood there, marveling at the rows and rows of high-tech equipment, I suddenly realized that I was in heaven’s command center. Jesus asked me to look through the large glass partition that filled the massive wall in front of us. I looked out and saw a huge movie auditorium. As I scanned the scene before me, I noticed over in the corner, near the front of the stage, was my single-screen, black-and-white air-traffic console unit sitting there off to the side. The unit was plugged back in now, and though it was hard to make it out from the projection room, I could see the little 3-B blips blinking on my radar screen. The dots seemed so big and demanding when I was sitting there, glued to my unit. But now everything seemed so small when compared to the size of the movie auditorium and projection room we were standing in.
Then suddenly the lights dimmed and the massive movie curtain opened on the stage. For those of you old enough to remember Cinerama, the huge screen was just like that. The 50-foot high half-circle screen filled the entire front of the auditorium. I gasped as I saw how large the full-technicolor screen was in comparison to my little black-and-white console unit over in the corner. Interestingly enough, the same picture was showing on both screens. My little screen had just a handful of blips on it. But when I looked at the large screen, I saw literally thousands and thousands of blips, all under the sovereign command of the best air-traffic controller in the universe…God, Himself.
I didn’t realize it back in 2009, but this was God’s first indication to me that He had something better for me than what I had been experiencing as a frustrated, worn-out 3-B pastor. At the time, I interpreted this vision as God’s word that if I went back home and just chose to wait more on God’s directives, everything would be OK and our church would get back on the right track, growing and expanding once more. Church growth literature says that all healthy plants grow, so the key for us was to return home, get the church healthy and growth would soon be back on our doorstep.
But sadly, that wasn’t the situation. But what God did do upon my return was to put me on the long road to becoming the contemplative activist I never had time for…until now.
My prayer: Jesus, I’m forever thankful for this vision You gave me back in 2009. While at the time, I didn’t realize all You were doing as You dismantled my life and ministry, I do now see that what You were inviting me to was a whole new way of looking at life. May I never go back to my old ways. May I always choose to sit with You and watch how You do it. For Your name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to ponder: From time to time, I find myself still pulling out my old air-traffic control panel, doing my best to “operate” through life, using my own wisdom and abilities, instead of waiting on God to provide and guide. What practical steps can I take to intentionally “step out of the traffic” so that I can take that long, loving look at God I so desperately need, waiting on Him to initiate those activities He has for me today?
So what is God speaking to you today as we ponder together The Ignatian Adventure?
Over an eight month period, you and I will be working our way through the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. For more information on our journey and how to begin…click here!
To go onto the next journal entry…click here.
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