The weight of disappointment was so heavy my knees almost collapsed. My feet wearily stumbled down the steps on the side of the stage. My eyes burned with tears, and I couldn’t shake the image of the young blonde girl in the front row, just looking up at me with confusion. Her confusion communicated more to me than words could. Confusion. That’s what I offered her. I had heard of people blowing opportunities, being embarrassed by what they said on stage, or fumbling over their words. It wasn’t just that I was embarrassed, it was that I had one chance to authentically lead these students towards worship, and instead I used it as a platform. On the way up that stage, each step was a question of what I could offer them.
“Will I be relatable?”
“What’s a captivating story?”
“How can I add humor to this piece?”
I needed to manipulate my stories enough to make them fit. If only I could manufacture some laughter, then maybe they’d like me enough to listen. My attention was on my heart, my stories, and my wisdom. I bought the lie that if I marketed myself just right, then I would make an impact. I was tricked into believing that I had more to offer than Jesus. Instead of him, my audience got confusion. That’s what I left them with.
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” – John 15: 4
We don’t reject God, but we do forget him. We forget that he can use us in supernaturally powerful ways, so we settle. We settle for what we’ve always done, or what we have always seen. I don’t know what it looks like for you to abide, but crazy awesome things happen in ministry when we do. It’s easier for people to abide during their quiet time, then during ministry. For some reason, we feel like it’s too risky to offer all that God gives us. When we prepare, we think of the message we need to give and withhold the one we need to receive. We don’t let God speak into the moment. That’s what I did, and it’s what I’ll never do again.
Offer Them Your Own Intimacy with God
I looked up from my feet just high enough to see my friends gathered around a table at the back of the dark auditorium. My heart grieved as it sent shameful pulses throughout my body. My thoughts considered the circumstances, as I longed to walk past them, through the auditorium, and out the back doors of the church. The mere thought of looking into their faces after what I just did sent a shiver of fear down my spine.
Could I walk home?
Would that make things worse?
The darkness around me helped, it comforted me like a blanket in my shame and disappointment. The bright fluorescent church lights were too much, as long as I stayed away from them I’d be okay. Maybe if I really did kneel down I could forget her confused face, surely that would help. My boyfriend speaks at things like this far more often that I do, and he knew me well enough to recognize my shame. His hand touched my head as he pulled me into an embrace. I couldn’t look at him, but he took me outside and onto a big couch in the foyer. As he told me a story about the first time he bombed an opportunity like this, he explained the same regret that I was feeling. The piece that was more than just embarrassment, but an authentic aching for what I failed to give. He explained this quote, passed down from generations of pastors far wiser than us, and said “All you have to offer them is your own intimacy with God.”
That’s it. That’s what I failed to give, and it’s what I failed to prepare with. I didn’t prepare my heart for intimacy with God. My attention was on the stories that would connect with these students, not with the Spirit that could connect with these students. I didn’t consider the God closest to my heart, but settled for the words I wanted to sell. When I tried to manufacture impact, I gave and received confusion. I can’t settle to offer to other people anything less than the intimacy that God has offered to me.
The good news is that God doesn’t see me as a failure. He isn’t disappointed or ashamed of me. He is patient and gracious in my shortcoming, which reminds me that Jesus is the only One who carries the mantle of perfection. He gently reminds me that faithfulness is enough. This faithfulness is a raw, unfiltered, unrelenting belief that Jesus is worthy.
The Church is Not the Marketplace
There is a biblical story that resonates in my own. A story of people who believed they had the right to sell offerings in God’s Church. People who wanted to market their craft for many people, and manufacture offerings acceptable to God.
In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. – John 2:14
He said to them, "The Scriptures declare, 'My Temple will be called a house of prayer,' but you have turned it into a den of thieves!" – Matthew 21:13
His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” – John 2:17
We are deceived when we believe we can do anything without the power of the Holy Spirit. We have to stop believing we can pull anything across the line, because Jesus can and will flip some tables if we begin to manufacture stuff in the house of God.
The temple is a place of offering, not bartering. A place of worship, not a place of market. How would our ministry change if we were consumed with zeal for the Lord? How would the way that we disciple, communicate, teach, write, and counsel be transformed? Manipulative stories, lofty knowledge, judgemental bias, and counterfeit emotion are not acceptable.
These offerings will be thrown out, overturned, and confused. God only wants our heart, and if we can genuinely offer him that, then I think people notice a difference in us. People are more likely to follow a leader who is authentically surrendered, then a leader who is perfect. We settle for ourselves when we barter for good stories and catchy phrases. We transform lives when we offer God’s intimate Word.
I won’t forget the palpable look of confusion on the young girl's face. I think about it often before I speak, not because I need to feel shame, but because it reminds me of what I have to offer. By myself, I leave people confused. If I offer the intimacy of God’s powerful Spirit, then I have the grace to transform people’s paradigms, beliefs, and lives.
I believe that Jesus is raising an authentic generation who desire authentic intimacy with God. I believe that if we’re faithful to disciple people with the authentic intimacy of God, we will see a growth of healthy disciple makers. Ask yourself these questions,
- Are you leading your family, your church, your ministry in this way?
- What kind of leverage do you have to share your intimacy with God?
- How can you let your heart be what you offer in discipleship?
- How can your intimacy lead others to greater intimacy with the Lord?
Chelsea Vaughn (@chelsea725) has served a ministry she helped start in the DFW Metroplex since she graduated from college. She received her undergraduate degree at Dallas Baptist University in Communication Theory. She does freelance writing, editing, and speaking for various organizations and non-profits. She hopes to spend her life using her gift for communication to reach culture and communities with the love of Jesus.