I have a friend, a layman, who wants to do great things for God. He would just say “specific things.” He is competent, dedicated and trying. And having only minimal success. That is a problem for me.
God knows a good deal when he sees one. And God certainly sees in this man a believer who wants to serve him, is open and responsive to God’s voice, and willing to do whatever God asks. Okay, within limits. But he would not have to be a saint for God to use him more than he seems to be doing. So why isn’t God, who is all powerful, making this man’s ministry more effective? He’s got a guy who is willing to run with the ball; why doesn’t he help him make touchdowns?
The Holy Spirit is vast; not some little dove fluttering down from heaven. Think of the most awesome thunderstorm you ever saw: dark, rolling clouds from one horizon to the other. Then make the clouds brilliant, shining with light. That is a better image of the Holy Spirit. “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful… Send forth your Spirit, Lord, and our hearts will be regenerated. And you will renew the face of the earth!” We’re talking power here. Why isn’t God pouring out his Spirit on the Church and on the world, moving everybody to respond to his prophets?
Don’t we all relate to this man? I do. Yes, seeing him makes me see myself (is that narcissism?). Don’t you see yourself in the description of him? We may not be super-competent or super-holy, but don’t you and I both want to serve God? Aren’t we willing volunteers? We aren’t heroes, but then we are not volunteering for anything heroic: just to use whatever talents we have to do something good in the world. Seeing my friend’s frustration made me ask questions I did not dare to ask about myself. It seems to me God should be using him more. If I am honest, I think the same about myself. Are you having the same experience?
Another good friend of mine would call this whining. I just call it honesty. And honesty makes us look for answers. Do I have any?
Yes and no. None that satisfies me completely. But there is one that leads us into mystery: the fact that Jesus himself lived and died a failure.
People flocked to him, yes. But not for what he came to give. Most just wanted physical healing. Of the others, none spoke up for him at his trial. He was rejected in Jerusalem, Capernaum, and in his home town (Matthew 11:23; 23:37; Luke 4:29). When he challenged their faith, “many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him” (John 6:66). Judas betrayed him. Peter cursed and swore that he did not know him (Mark 14:71). When he was on the cross he felt abandoned by God and everyone else. Even his chosen twelve deserted him, except for John, who was probably kept there by his mother and the few women with her. He died without bringing about any changes in Judaism, much less in the secular world. Jesus died as he had lived: a visible failure.
And yet he said to all of us: “You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name” (John 15:16). We pray for faith; for the hope that is based on faith; and for the love that makes them both authentic.
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