I learned a hard lesson. (In retrospect I have learned many hard lessons but let us concentrate on this one at the moment.) In my early fifties I decided to join a baseball team. Once upon a time I had played a lot of baseball, and this seemed like fun. In my youth I never found the need for stretching. Young muscles seemed to be instantly available for use. However, my aged muscles were significantly less adaptable. The first time I asked them for a burst of speed my hamstring ‘snapped’! I was in a lot of discomfort for a number of weeks! After a long lay-off from sport I had failed to prepare properly. I had not warmed up. I had not stretched. I was unprepared.
I think this hard lesson is applicable to us as a Church. After a long season of covid, when church ‘activity’ mostly involved sitting in front of a screen, we feel the stirrings to arise and shake off our slumber! We long to be a relational rather than sedentary church. We hear afresh the great “Go!” of the gospel. We are awakening to the call of God to actively be blessing the world and vocally sharing the Good News. I suggest though that our we take some time to ‘warm up.’ To leap into active relational/missional life without preparation may have painful unforeseen consequences. Like me playing baseball we need to stretch! We are not ready to burst into the activities as we did before. These activities may not be the right ones for us now.
Romans 13:10-11 gives us wisdom for this very issue. “Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law. And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” The context involves Paul’s exhortation to the church to actively be loving the world. He calls the Church to ‘wake up’ from slumber. This has a powerful meaning for us as we emerge from our forced time of hibernation/fallowness these past two years. Now is a time to love the lost world like no time before, for the time is nearer than ever before. But we cannot just simply spring from slumber into service. We need to stretch. We need to prepare!
My wife always seems to know when I have decided to get up in the morning. I thought at first it was a ‘woman’s intuition’ thing, but I have come to learn that I tip off my intentions. I always stretch just before I roll out of bed. I unconsciously stretch in preparation for a day of activity.
Before we race out to engage an unsuspecting world we need to prepare. We need to pray so that we are engaged with the only true evangelist, God. Without God’s work in us and in our neighbour we labour in vain. We pray, not to enlist God in our endeavour, but to enlist ourselves in God’s endeavour. We ask for opportunities to intentionally connect with neighbours. We ask for opportunities to ‘hear’ the cares and concerns of our neighbours. We ask for opportunities to serve or bless our neighbours. We ask for opportunities to invite our neighbours to shared activities especially eating or drinking together.
Having asked God’s company on this mission to be a blessing we look with anticipation for answers to our prayers. As our relationship grows we will hear our neighbour’s story and we will gain relational reciprocity, and we can share our story. People often object to speaking because of a lack of confidence but we are all experts of our own story! Our story of God’s grace and mercy is irrefutable evidence to our friend.
All along we have been bathing this intentional/missional friendship in prayer and now we seek God for ways to connect not just with our story but with the Gospel story. If we remain prayerful and spiritually fit we can expect opportunities to do just that.
A dear friend of mine used to say “There are three things that are wonderful! People are wonderful! Jesus is wonderful! And introducing the two is WONDERFUL!”
Before buffet meals Capt. T. used to holler out “It’s S-O-S, stretch or starve!” It is the same with our missional activity! Let us stretch in preparation for a time of rich fellowship around the Banqueting Table of the King of Kings.