When we started our church more than two years ago, we knew that name was important. We knew that when you name something, it can be a powerful instrument in signifying identity.
Over and over throughout the Bible, people’s names mattered. Often, when they would experience a life-changing event, their name would be changed. Abram becomes Abraham, Jacob becomes Israel, Saul becomes Paul.
Names matter and we knew it.
As we poured through Scripture to see what possibilities there might be for us, we kept coming back to one word: restore. Among the verses that come to mind is Joel 2:25, “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you.” After much consideration, we knew that we had to have the word “restoration” in our name.
But we also knew that any time that you have something in your name, you had better expect that your identity and who you are would deal with that specific thing. We knew that putting “restoration” in our name would involve more than just a trendy or hip sounding name, but it would mean that we would be involved with the restoration that the Gospel brings to people’s lives…..at least, if we really took seriously the name and the task set before us.
Over that time since we first launched out at a middle school, I have been awed by the many ways that God has worked to make that happen and humbled by the fact that, at times, he has used me as an instrument of his grace and a means of pointing people towards the life-changing power of the Gospel which brings restoration.
Yesterday was one of those days.
There are moments when I show up on a Sunday morning and I am dangerously close to “phoning it in.” My attitude isn’t always the greatest and I’m watching the clock to see when we’ll be done. That’s the attitude with which I come in with at times.
In the process of the morning, though, I find my heart being changed. I find that my attitude starts to improve. If it doesn’t, I usually look back and marvel at the fact that God was still able to use me, despite my bad attitude. Usually I’m feeling a slight twinge of guilt knowing that I was wrong from the beginning.
But there are other times when I show up and I’m ready. I’m ready for God to do something special. Not because I’m special or gifted, but because he’s God, because he wants restoration to take place in the lives of his people and in the lives of those who have yet to meet him and know him.
That’s how I showed up yesterday.
I recently retook the StrengthsFinders test to see my top 5 strengths. This being the third time that I have taken it over the past 14 years, my strengths had changed slightly again. Making its debut appearance among my strengths was “Self-assurance.” A brief description from the StrengthsFinders 2.0 book, “Self-assurance is similar to self-confidence, In the deepest part of you, you have faith in your strengths. You know that you are able – able to take risks, able to meet new challenges, able to stake claims, and, most important, able to deliver.” I have confidence, even more so because of who I am in Christ. I know my strengths and know that I can be used by God if I am diligent and faithful in what he’s given me.
It was with that confidence that I came yesterday morning. I had done my part to study and prepare a message. I had leaned on God in the midst of that preparation, seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit. Now I needed to have confidence in what he had given me and confidence in who he was, the author and perfecter of our faith. As I came, I came knowing that God was going to speak to someone just as strongly as he had spoken to me all during my preparation.
As I sat in the front row with my fellow pastor, we whispered to one another as the dots were connected and themes seamlessly weaved themselves through our prayers, the music, and the message.
Afterwards, I knew that God had done the work. I leaned on his words in Isaiah 55:10-11, ““For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
Afterwards, I was swimming in grace, knowing that God had used a simple, broken, imperfect vessel like me to bring a Gospel message to a dry land, a place in need of restoration.
The thing about Sunday nights and Monday mornings for pastors is that they can be lonely times. They can be letdowns, of sorts. After pouring your heart and soul into preparation and delivery of a message, you feel tapped out, emotionally, spiritually, physically.
That’s why I needed the reminder of grace, and there’s nothing better than swimming in it, immersing myself completely in it, to better understand and appreciate just how powerful that message is and what it means to me. When I take myself out of the picture, or at least put myself in the second chair where I belong, it’s much easier to avoid the disappointment. When I allow myself to sit in the first chair, then of course I will be disappointed because, in and of myself, I am unable to sustain things in the same way that the Giver of Life does.
After multiple conversations with people afterwards and then some additional words of encouragement in message form later on, I was able to rest in the grace of God that had sustained me and had used me, not because of who I am by myself, but because of who I am in Christ.
And just as I had started the day swimming, I ended it swimming as well. My family and I took a trip to the pool and spent a few hours there. I was immersing myself in a different kind of grace at that point, the grace of God to use me in the simple situations as well.
As I waded into the water, with kids hanging on my arms, I looked up to the sky and smiled.
Grace comes in different forms and at different times. Yesterday, I saw a bit of the gamut of that grace and it brought a smile to my face.
If there is any encouragement at all, it is this, that God can use one such as I to be an instrument of that grace despite my imperfections and my flaws. Every day I make new mistakes, often I make the same ones, but God’s grace works through those mistakes and picks me up, humbling me, changing me, and transforming me to be who I need to be in him.
Today is Monday, but when I start with grace, it doesn’t feel so much like a Monday at all.