Most anyone who has ever held a part time position in a church will be the first to tell you there is really no such thing as “part time” in church work. “Part-time” is a carrot they dangle so they can get you on the payroll and soak up every minute of you, but maybe that isn’t such a bad thing. This work, however, is not meant to be carried out with our leftover time or leftover money. Jesus never gave us that option. He calls those who follow earnestly to take up crosses, die to self, leave it all on the table. We are even told that those who preach and teach are held to a higher standard. “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers,” James warns, “because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1). <!–split–>
If the only option open to us is wholeheartedness – being wholly devoted to God and his work – then how do we know we have it? What is the litmus test for wholeheartedness? What spiritual work must we tackle before we can give ourselves completely to this vocation of serving Jesus? We know from both Scripture and experience that it isn’t our skill set that gets us there, nor is it our awesome connections or superior ability to do everything just right. This business of wholeheartedness is a spiritual operation. It is what it says it is: heart-level wholeness.
What does it mean to become whole, by biblical standards? Surely it begins with Paul’s advice to work out your own salvation daily with fear and trembling. Stay in it, Paul advises, and wrestle with what it looks like in your life. Let the daily wrestling expose the cracks and wounds. Deal with the unholy fears that paralyze you, leaving you stranded out there in the desert, unable to make the journey into the promises of God. Acknowledge your doubts, and dare to believe God can handle them. To become wholehearted, we must deal with our wounds and hesitations, fears and doubts, even as we develop eyes to see what God sees.
When I was a little girl, I often had nightmares. I’d wake up petrified and run for my parents’ room. I wanted my mother’s comfort. But it was dark, and things in the dark look ominous. If there was anything on the floor of their bedroom – clothes, bedroom shoes, anything that could be misinterpreted in the dark – I’d end up standing paralyzed in the doorway, just feet from their bed, unable to reach my mom for fear of what that thing on the floor might be. I always assumed the worst.
Carry the remnants of those early fears into adulthood and they begin to look remarkable familiar to many of us. We allow all kinds of things to generate fear within, to stand between us and the comfort we so desperately need. We become afraid of getting too close to others, afraid of losing control, afraid of going too far with God, maybe even afraid of succeeding (too much pressure!). We can become paralyzed by irrational fears. The writer of Leviticus has our number. He describes a conversation between God and his people. If the Israelites continue to disobey, their land will be devastated and the people will be scattered. “And for those of you who survive, I will demoralize you in the land of your enemies. You will live in such fear that the sound of a leaf driven by the wind will send you fleeing. You will run as though fleeing from a sword and you will fall even when no one pursues you. Though no one is chasing you, you will stumble over each other as though fleeing from a sword. You will have no power to stand up against your enemies” (Leviticus 26:36-37 NLT).
(CONTINUED NEXT MONTH)