Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Acts 20 on missional uncertainty and clarity

I'm currently at some InterVarsity staff meetings, and one of the hallmarks of InterVarsity's ministry is an emphasis on manuscript Bible study. During one of our sessions here, IVCF president Alec Hill gave an exposition of Acts 20:16-21:1 and invited us to examine the text with him. This is the passage where the apostle Paul is bidding farewell to the Ephesian elders, and it's significant because it's the only spoken discourse in Acts that is addressed to Christians, since all the rest are in contexts of evangelistic proclamation. It's also instructive because it is a Christian leader giving guidance to other Christian leaders, giving us rare insight into the dynamics of Christian leadership.

One piece of this text that jumped out at me is verse 22: "And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there." Paul did not know what was in store for him. Uncertainty is always going to be a facet of Christian life and ministry. Despite all our plans and preparation, there is always going to be a degree to which we simply do not and cannot know what will happen to us in the future. This "not knowing" is both scary and comforting - I might have no idea what is going to happen to me in the next year or five years or whatever, but that's okay. I'm not alone. Paul didn't know either.

This uncertainty is complicated by what Paul does know for certain. Verse 23: "I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me." The only certainty he has is suffering and hardship. That's just reality. Christian life, ministry and leadership are bound up with difficulty.

Given this uncertainty of the future and certainty of hardship, how in the world does Paul continue on? What empowers him to persevere? Clarity of vision. Verse 24: "However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me--the task of testifying to the good news of God's grace."

So knowing what God has called us to do helps us persevere through the uncertainty and the suffering, whether it's church work or parachurch work or ministry in local suburban neighborhoods or in overseas global contexts. (And as a side note, I think it's significant that this missional perspective is thoroughly trinitarian - God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are all present in these few verses, calling, sending and sustaining us in our work.) Whatever task God is calling you to, may you persevere through the uncertainty and the inevitable challenges and find missional clarity of vision.

1 comment:

L.L. Barkat said...

I like that little phrase, "I only know." Recently, I spoke and used the catch phrase "I don't know much." It is good to follow it with "I only know," when that knowing is linked with the promise of being ever consoled by the One Who Knows All.