Have you ever sat in worship or a keynote address and found your ears perking up to the flags waving and bells ringing in your head only to come to the realization that there was a particular message in those words that were meant just for you? Or maybe it was a certain song whose lyrics set your heart ablaze and brought tears to your eyes for the certain truth it bore to you? Have you ever been listening to a friend, and then opened your mouth to speak, suddenly getting that the message you are giving your friend is the very same words you needed to hear?
And if that has happened to you, isn’t the feeling amazing?!
This week I’m doing some committee work for my denomination. I serve on the committee in my local judicatory that gives encouragement and support to those individuals who are serving in ministry, or preparing so to do. We have the responsibility of authorizing and endorsing candidates and active ministers for their ministries. Several times a year we meet for interviews with students and commissioned ministers to find out how they are doing in their studies and ministry settings, pressing them to learn more, and challenge themselves and those in their charge.
I love doing this work. It gives me such great hope for the future of the church, and proves to me that God isn’t done with us yet. Indeed, if God is still calling people to ministry, then there is still ministry to be done!
Having worked through the process myself, I appreciate what our ministers are struggling with when we ask them such difficult and sometimes very personal questions. And it’s also a joy to now be on the other side of the table serving up words of encouragement. Oftentimes, though, I find that the candidates are the ones who are encouraging and inspiring.
I’ve talked recently about having read Margaret Feinberg’s The Sacred Echo, her book about the many ways by which God speaks to us. Being part of these interviews is, I think, a session in eavesdropping on a sacred echo. Often times it’s the words of our judicatory staff, or a particularly wise older minister, to a candidate. Sometimes, I hear myself talking and think to myself “God needs you to know that too!” Sometimes the words come through our committee’s devotions and prayers. And sometimes, those sacred words come from the candidates and ministers we are interviewing.
Here are some of the words I overheard yesterday and today that were a sacred echo for me (perhaps they will be for you too!).
“You are loved & cared for.”
“Someone is praying for you to find the place God has prepared for you, right now!“
“Be in the now- fully experience what is present, but remember-
God has plans for you.”
“Take time to sit still and ask God,
‘Where do You want me? What have
You prepared for me?’
And then just listen.”
Jeremiah 29:11 “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (This one came up 3 times!)
John 15.11a “You did not choose me but I chose you.”
Your actions will prove to your children the importance of your faith.
God has three answers to our questions- yes, no, or wait.
When you are faithful to God’s call,
God will provide everything you need.
Make sure to take care of yourself by feeding your own fire.
Finally, there was one particular candidate we met with today who made my heart sing and honestly brought tears to my eyes. Just reading that candidate’s paper, I felt as if it could have been my own because of some of the things we share in common. It felt to me to be sign and symbol that there still burns a passion for ministry in my heart, even though it has been a struggle for a long time.
That same candidate was asked, “what three other jobs would you do if ministry wasn’t the thing?”. I loved the answer, because everything that came up involved a skill identified with an aspect of ministry. And I recognized some of the very same in myself.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been eavesdropping and taking the words intended for someone else as my own, but they sure rang true in my ears. When God knocks you upside the head, you better be paying attention, even if you didn’t think God was supposed to be talking to you at that moment. The sacred echo can happen anywhere and anytime, even, perhaps especially (?), when you are eavesdropping.
(Most famous case of eavesdropping in the Bible: Sarah was eavesdropping from inside the tent when the three travelers told Abraham that Sarah would bear a son, and she laughed when she overheard what they had said. ~Genesis 18)