Reflections on the End of Overnight, Personal Shortcomings, Resurrection, and the Scandal of Grace

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For the past year and several months I have worked overnight at the Knoxville Rescue Mission. It has been rewarding, challenging, and a source of no small amount of frustration. I’ve read approximately forty books, drank hundreds of cups of coffee, lost over six hundred hours of sleep, and portions of my beard have turned white. I’ve cried a lot, cussed a lot, prayed a lot, cleaned up a lot of bodily fluids, handled a lot of used needles, and lost my temper more than once. Over the course of the year I’ve counseled with about ten men, and seen perhaps five others find permanent housing. I’ve shared the gospel probably a thousand times, and rejoiced with those who have found new life. I’ve sat with folks as they shared their stories of addiction, abuse, abandonment, and fear. I’ve shared my own story of addiction and recovery. I’ve looked a guy in the face and told him to stop manipulating women and get right with God; I prayed with him as he wept tears of repentance. I’ve had countless men come up to me and offer me prayer and encouragement that I didn’t expect… I’ve been shown grace upon grace beyond anything I could have imagined. I’ve been angry with God, intoxicated with his love, stunned by his relentless grace, and enraptured in his Spirit. I’ve build friendships with co-workers of a depth that goes beyond anything I’ve experienced up until this point. I’ve learned just how desperate I am for grace.

Starting next week I’ll have the opportunity to change shifts. Up until this point my interaction with guests has been largely limited to a few hours in the morning, my new shift will be very different; I’ll be engaging with our guests from the time I show up to the time I leave, during the busiest portion of our day. I couldn’t be more excited; I couldn’t be more apprehensive.

I know my frailty: “And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.” (Romans 7:18-19). My fuse is short, my patience is thin, and my gut reaction is to bully and intimidate when people refuse to comply. When I have the space to stop, think, and pray before I act, I find grace from the Spirit to act with temperance and compassion. But when the pressure is on, I find my sinful nature stronger than I care to admit. Yet even in the midst of this, I encounter the astonishing kindness of God as one writer puts it:

[D]espite my own experiences of personal rejection and my years of theological education, countless prayers, an ordination, and a life centered on serving the church, I still have the same personality I was born with. I am often impatient and cranky. And my first response to almost everything is “f-you.” I don’t often stay there, but I almost always start there. I’m still me. Yet the fact that I manage to now move from “f-you” to something less hostile, and the fact that I am often able to make that move quickly, well, once again, all of it makes me believe in God. And every time, it feels like repentance (Pastrix, 192).

God has used this past year like a blazing furnace, and refinement has been the inexorable result. I look about 4 years older than I should because of it, I’m sure, but I’m a better man, a better husband, and better minister for it.

Without a doubt, a faster-paced, higher-pressure environment will bring it’s share of new challenges. Inevitably, I’ll get more things wrong than I will right. And doubtless I’ll spend more time praying for repentance and saying, “sorry for being an a-hole” than I will anything else. But God is a God of resurrection. And the beauty of all this is that as he does his work of resurrection in my life, I’ll have the privilege of seeing him work resurrection in the lives of others. Prayer will be my consolation; his Spirit will be my strength.

At the end of my morning meditation, I’ve taken to praying this prayer I stole out of an Eastern Orthodox prayerbook. Though a lot of Orthodox theology is questionable at best, and their obsession with asceticism occasionally makes we want to vomit, I am constantly in awe of the repository of wisdom in their prayers.

Here it is:

Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace. Help me in all things to rely upon your holy will. In every hour of the day reveal your will to me. Bless my dealings with all who surround me. Teach me to treat all that comes to throughout the day with peace of soul and with firm conviction that your will governs all. In all my deeds and words, guide my thoughts and feelings. In unforeseen events, let me not forget that all are sent by you. Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others. Give me strength to bear the fatigue of the coming day with all that it shall bring. Direct my will, teach me to pray. And you, yourself, pray in me. Amen (Morning Prayer of Metropolitan Philaret).

May God teach all of us of our frailty and our desperation for him. May he demonstrate in our lives our constant need for resurrection; may we follow in the footsteps of Jesus with the Spirit as our guide and the gospel on our lips.

The way of Jesus is difficult, and the gospel is disturbing. It is not for the faint of heart or the self-assured religionist. It is for those who are poor in Spirit and weak in faith; it is for those know they are sick and in need of a cure; it is for sex-addicts and alcoholics, the abused and ashamed, murders and thieves, gluttons and drunkards, hypocrites and fools… people like you. People like me.

It’s been a long journey. It’s been a good one. Here’s to road ahead.

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