Desperate for a Word (Sep-Dec 2004)

By Matt Dabbs

by Rubel Shelly
September – December, 2004

I deal with words. There are countless conversations—by phone, on the fly, by appointment. There are sermons to preach every Sunday. There are teaching pieces to write. There are classes to instruct. There is correspondence to answer. How many words in a typical week? Far too many! And it makes me feel a real sense of desperation.

The sentiment of being desperate for a word has little to do with deadlines. Or dreading the task. And certainly not the fear of language use itself. The desperation I feel has to do with the desire of my heart to bring a word of God to these situations. To all those places. To the people who wait in hope that Scripture has something of substance for them in a time of great stress and trial. Surely this is the burden that every Christian teacher senses!

For example, I am writing this editorial piece in early morning. I have just opened my e-mails for the day. And here are some of the situations presenting themselves today—each wanting not a word from me but from God: a church leader in my own fellowship struggling with needs in his congregation, a friend wrestling with his conscience over his liberal denomination’s recent statements about homosexuality, a young father in agony over the health of his newborn child, a Christian trying to ward off bankruptcy for himself and his company, a preaching brother “suddenly available” for a new work, a request for prayer on behalf of a sister scheduled for cancer surgery, a young Army officer on duty in Iraq. . . . Enough! You have an impression of my sense of desperation.

How do I bring a word from God to these souls who trust me with their concerns? Their wounds? Their doubts? Their . . . what? I cannot even “diagnose,” much less “treat” or “cure” what ails them! Ah, and that is my confidence about what I can say to each of them. And that is where my despair begins to diminish.

It is the utter arrogance of the teacher or parent or church leader who presumes that he or she must know what to say to life’s uncertainties which precipitates what we have come to call “burnout.” (Oh, it is a real phenomenon! I’ve experienced it and know first hand how debilitating it is!) How dare I—or you or they—think I am smart enough to speak the definitive word to one of the people whose e-mail is in my box today! It would be a burden too great!

So why do I continue to prepare sermons and write teaching pieces? By what right do I offer anything to a class or caller? What dare I say to the anguished soul in foyer conversation or through cyberspace?

I have the right to assure each of them that a Loving Father-God is aware of the situation, that he has promised no trial greater than one can bear, and that he keeps his word. I am responsible for reminding her that the Incarnate Word died for her redemption, lives now to make intercession on her behalf, and will not withhold his sustaining grace during her struggle. I can testify to him out of my own experience that Spirit-presence is real, supplies strength beyond any he can summon up from his own will, and transforms not only weakness into strength but also failure into triumph. And in framing these biblical truths to the questions and life circumstances of others, I am reminded of them for my own.

These are promises from the Triune God that have been vouchsafed to us in the inscripturated Word of God. And I herald them with confidence. I offer them as one weak soul to another, as one sinner to another, yet do so with the boldness of kingdom assurance. And doing so resonates with the heart of someone in a situation so like my own. That person needs to be reminded that the burdens which will otherwise crush us are being borne by God himself—if and when we relinquish them to him. So we cast all our cares on him, knowing that he really does care for his frail children!

When I have burned out, felt overwhelmed, and wanted to quit, it was when I believed I was desperately in need of a word from my own spiritual depth to offer to someone else. Nonsense! Why would I want to speak from myself when I can remind someone of the authentic word/Word revealed from above? Enfleshed from above? Reigning from above?

Paul wrote of bearing the “care of all the churches” he had planted, taught, and served. So do we! And we respond best to them when we follow his example of proclaiming that sufficiency for such a task is found only in the divine resources at our disposal and not in ourselves.

I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Eph. 3:14-21)

Remembering and believing this for ourselves, the step is lighter. One still smiles and laughs and sleeps peacefully. The sense of being desperate for a word is metamorphosed into being passionate with the word. From the deep well of Spirit-given peace, a confident and positive word refreshes others. Within the community of faith, souls revive; among those who are still unsaved, faith is awakened. And God is honored.


Look for Rubel Shelly’s and John O. York’s book, The Jesus Community at our ZOE Store.

DISCUSSION
How do we bring a word from God for the wounded without approaching them with a know-it-all attitude that may not serve them?

How can arrogance of the teacher or parent or church leader who presumes that he or she must know what to say to life’s uncertainties is one of the factors that precipitates “burnout”?

STUDY
Paul wrote of bearing the “care of all the churches” he had planted, taught, and served. Read Eph. 3:14-21. What were Paul’s resources for caring for the flock? What are ours?New Wineskins

Rubel ShellyRubel Shelly is one of the two preaching ministers of Family of God at Woodmont Hills and co-editor of New Wineskins. [Rubel Shelly

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About...

Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1584 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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