(The theologian of glory) “does not know God hidden in suffering. Therefore he prefers works to suffering, glory to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to folly, and, in general, good to evil.
– Martin Luther
Just as there is a theology of glory and a theology of the cross, there is a ministry of glory and a ministry of the cross.
By ministry of glory, I mean that of man. And I do not only mean a ministry with the cross as its subject. I mean with the cross as its modus operandi.
To explain, I can only tell you the stories of my own journey.
If you take I-65 north of Birmingham the scenery can be breathtaking. On June 1st of the year 2000, my wife and I were driving that road. My wife was in our Honda, I was in command of the U-Haul that mercifully broke down in St. Louis, our destination. I remember a bend in the road where the northbound route rose above the southbound travelers and we passed a convoy of dull colored, bulb-bespeckled rides from a parking lot carnival. And I remember constructing a very Spurgeonesque sermon in the cab of that truck. It was one of those sermons where the saved are revived and the lost are converted. It all ends with lots of sackcloth and ashes and a publishing deal in various languages.
I’m only slightly exaggerating.
I planned to take the church by storm…I wanted to be a preacher. And I wanted to be the kind of preacher that made people listen in awe. It has taken me all these years to admit I wanted glory. Yes, I wanted genuinely more than that, much that was admirable. And while the cross was my subject, it was not something I was all that glad to take up.
Fast forward almost 13 years. I read Frederick Buechner’s rendering of God’s call to Isaiah, “Whom shall I send into a world of pain where people die?” I cannot even begin to explain what happened when I read those words. Lightning. A sleepless night. The birth pangs of a renewed calling? A soul awakening after a long sleep? Nothing really sounds right.
And then in the next few months suffering. My father’s death, financial struggles that make you glad for bread in the pantry, daily and nightly misery in work. And all of it seemed to be pointing towards a path back into pastoral ministry. And it did so in a few ways. The heaping up seemed to be a reprimand of my belief that a life out of ministry would be easier on us – the belly of a whale is not a thing to be desired. A loving reprimand. And all the suffering did something I didn’t expect, it made me want to reach out to others in their weakness, whereas before, strength. And I saw the cross as not only the means of my hope but a way of life.
When I told my friend, Jeff Hutchinson some of these things, he didn’t balk and welcomed me to life of daily dying. That’s it. The kind of dying unto life. The kind of dying that looks into the stars and laughs for the wonder.
No fear, I entered seminary in strength, or what I saw as that. But I now embark on this journey in what feels like total weakness. Back in the day I had dreams of evangelical glory when I should have been sweating drops of blood.
And back then experience and well-crafted résumés were not even questioned. It all made total sense. But now I’m looking into reentering the denomination I left.
As a pastor.
So my hope is this road is conducive to weakness. And wishes the weak along, born upon the shoulders of God, himself. The God, who made himself weak and emptied himself of strength so that in our weakness we might move along in the strength of Spirit.
The business world knows nothing of this. It can’t. The business world can overlook weakness, ignore it, but it cannot see anything in it. These are not management principles for the boardrooms of the West. These are laws more true than gravity – that our weakness is something we can boast in because then the power of Christ can rest upon us – laws fit for a kingdom expanding.
A cover letter pockmarked with weaknesses? A résumé chock full of the lack of strength? I still don’t know. But I do know this – I’ve once walked in this direction without fear in strength and I’d prefer the alternative. Fear without worry. Weakness without glory.