Recalibrating Our Compass

David Ruis, Sep 08, 2021, 5:07 PM
David Ruis National Director
Copy of Copy of “it is not so much a matter of charity as an essential demand of justice.”.jpg

As we all step into another fall season, may I suggest that our current moment has given us a couple of unexpected gifts as we lean into discerning our next steps locally, regionally and nationally?

A pesky little virus continues to throw a governor on the speedy and pretty predictable rhythms of life we had been so accustomed to, refusing to stop pumping the brakes; and the relentless undulations of climate change, political and cultural shifts have left us unsettled and uncertain.

Gifts? I actually do think so.

I have been revisiting a pivotal thought embedded in the heart of Jesus' classic Sermon on the Mount of late. Given that our National Motto - our compass as we call it -  is anchored to this text, it seemed prudent to be meditating, contemplating and studying it a bit more. The more I have, the more I'm convinced there is an invitation here for all of us to reflect; examine; repent.

Here's how the Message translation captures it:

Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions.

Don't worry about missing out.

You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.

Matthew 6:33-34

(italics mine)

Don't worry about missing out. Ouch. To be truthful, this fear lurks just under the surface for me. Perhaps you too. FOMO is a real thing. The Urban Dictionary defines it as "anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on social media." In the church we are certainly not immune. In fact, we may be more susceptible and vulnerable to this kind of thing than we want to admit.

It cripples. It clouds discernment. It impacts posture - the way we lead. It corrupts theology.

Seek first the kingdom. Righteousness. Justice. Let everything be added from here. The Jesus way.

Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now. So much of the way we have been equipped to lead is steeped in projection. Thinking ahead. Way ahead. Though we must not fall prey to the reaction of "throwing the baby out with the bath water", this time may be an invitation for us to recapture something pretty central to what it means to follow Jesus and have the ways of His kingdom be our North Star. What do we see the Father doing - right now? Not missing the current moment as we lean into the next step, or being so focused on what (we hope) is coming that we miss the beauty - the challenge - the peace that is right in our face. Even when it's hard. Now. The kingdom is upon us. It is at hand. So reach. Repent. Believe.

In regards to giving articulation to what the Spirit is leading us into as a National Family over the last seven years, we have preferred the metaphor of a "compass" over that of trying to craft a vision statement and all that that entails. I think this is holding us in good stead for this season. We also have often used the phrase over the last years that we are moving "step by step."

Given this approach we have taken, I was pretty delighted to recently come across an article penned by Curtis Chang, a consulting professor in innovation and organization at Duke Divinity School and a senior fellow at Fuller Theological Seminary. In talking about the compass metaphor he says:

A compass does not make one to one equations to a previously mapped world. Rather, a compass equips you to navigate your path in what may be an unfamiliar world. A compass gives you an orientation, a way to make your way in the world now before you. And a compass orients you by pointing you to the True North.

Seek first the kingdom. Righteousness. Justice. Let everything be added from here. The Jesus way.

Don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. A vintage approach to the translation of the text states, "do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." A more ancient rendering yet, "sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." New Testament Greek scholar D. A. Carson unpacks some good insight here:

The goal, then, is always the kingdom of God. For the Christian, the disciple of Jesus, there is no other. The logic entailed by this simple fact orients his thinking to kingdom values and concomitantly abolishes worry over merely temporal things, a worry which compromises his trust in his heavenly Father.

I think Jesus must have said the words in Matthew 6:34 with a wry smile. So far his reasons for sending worry to oblivion have been essentially theological. They have turned on the compassion and providence of God, and on the superlative value of the kingdom. But this last reason is purely pragmatic: "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" (6:34).

It is as if Jesus recognizes that there will be some unavoidable worry today after all. But let's limit it to the concerns of today! Our gracious God intends us to take one step at a time, no more; to be responsible today and not fret about tomorrow. "Each day has enough trouble of its own." And if there will be new troubles tomorrow, so also will there be fresh grace.

The person who enters the kingdom adopts the perspectives of the kingdom. In broadest terms, this entails unswerving loyalty to the values dictated by God, and uncompromised trust in God.

This is key to being a non-anxious presence. As we lead and discern in this current moment this is one of the most important qualities that we should be operating in. Stats are showing us that more people are bailing out of service professions than ever before. Sadly, this is as true for people in vocational ministry as in any other. This is a big ask to be sure. It is so encouraging to me that many of us have given a lot of thought and study over the last years to the understanding of Shalom as well as the Beatitudes and The Sermon on the Mount. Perhaps the Spirit has been preparing us more than we realize.

The end game that we are reaching for in our lives, our leading, our discipleship and mentoring is peace. The state of Shalom.

  • From the root shalom "to be safe in mind, body, or estate"
  • Completeness. Fullness. The opposite of scarcity.
  • Soundness. Well being.
  • A wholeness that encourages you to give back.
  • To generously repay. The opposite of a spirit of poverty.
  • An inward completeness resulting in an outward wholeness to the point of the absence of war.

No matter your political persuasion. No matter your eschatological sensibilities. No matter the nature of your calling. No matter whether you're full time or bi-vocational. No matter where you live - Urban, rural. East, west. No matter your age, your Myers Briggs acronym or Enneagram number. No matter if you're vaxxed or un-vaxxed.

Seek first the kingdom. Righteousness. Justice. Let everything be added from here. The Jesus way.