[originally written 12/30/09]
Last week, I spent time on a prayer retreat in order to prepare for a sermon. The retreat model that I followed goes through four cycles:
- Silence, follwed by some time to journal.
- Personal confesion, followed by journal time
- Corporate Confession, followed by journal time
- Guidance & Requests, followed by journal time.
During the final three cycles, I decided to walk around near my home in the Santa Cruz mountains. While praying about corporate confession, I found myself confessing to God how sorry I was that His Church on a systemic level so easily loses sight of what really matters. We spend so much time on programs and stuff and neglect God. I confessed that we use people and wear them out, until they are tired and lifeless and tell them, “well done, good and faithful servant” as if that is the way God intended us to serve.
I ended up walking down a hidden path to the reservoir across the street from my house. The path was silghtly muddy from rain several days before, but the reservoir was mostly empty. I’ve seen it full, but it has been quite some time since it’s had much water. The picture on the right is the view that I had from a bridge as I looked out at where water has been and should be.
I stood on that bridge for a while thinking about all I had confessed. I began to lament how the Church is like that reservoir too often. We have all kind of potential to be full, but we’re not. We are often barren and empty, a pale shadow of what God intended.
When my thoughts finally subsided, I noticed the gentle gurgling of water. I couldn’t see it from where I stood, but I could hear flowing water. I walked further into the reservoir bed, wanting to see this tiny stream of water. I could see it, but I couldn’t touch it. I had quite a challenge to finally arrive at the water’s edge, but when I finally did, this is what I saw…
A stream of water flowed straight through the heart of this reservoir! What looked barren from afar had water snaking right through the middle.
I sensed God wanted me to see that even when the Church doesn’t get things exactly right, He’s there. He is flowing right through the center, pouring His Spirit on His people. It’s easy to judge from far off, but when we are in the middle of God’s people, His presence is undeniable.
In this age, it is all too fashionable to criticize the Church. I’ve read scathing (sadly, often accurate) reviews from both in and outside Christianity of all that the Church does wrong. I’ve thought and said those things, but I am humbled to realize that God works in spite of our flaws. He doesn’t wait for us to get things perfect, He perfects us as we walk with Him.
On my way back, I noticed some deer prints that I’d seen on my way down the path. It hadn’t occurred to me on my way into the reservoir that there must have been water for the deer to come. Seeing those prints on the way out, though, it clicked.
I thought of Psalm 42: 1 & 2:
As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?