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When I seem to have nothing left to give1 month ago
Jolyon Trickey is our ReSource Alongside Manager. In this week's vlog Jolyon shares an encouraging word in the current climate of uncertainty and burn-out.
Do you remember the classic roadrunner or Tom and Jerry cartoon? You know the one: where in the middle of some escapade, running at full pelt, they find themselves hanging off a cliff edge, suspended in mid air, legs still going frantically, about to fall, yet somehow suspended in mid-air. I wonder if you have had that feeling in ministry – or maybe it finds expression in your dreams? Maybe it is precisely where you are now as we rush headlong into Christmas and looming uncertainty over the Omicron variant. We look down and all our foundations and support are gone. We are way beyond our own resources.
I have been there so many times in ministry. Amazingly, time and again the Lord has been gracious and caught me, rescued me, lifted me, inspired me, when I seem to have nothing left to give. As a curate during an inter-regnum, my Bishop, Simon, described this as the ‘grace of orders’. I recognise it as the amazing grace available to all Christians who venture out in faith. I have learnt much and grown in faith and trust through such times.
Yet I also know the profound emotional cost of these moments. And worse: that I carry this home with me, impacting those I love most, my very soul depleted. And the character of these moments is that they are less about stepping out of the boat in faith, because Jesus is calling me, and more often a product of my own over-enthusiasm or the unrealistic demands of my many roles. I can see and feel this is a dangerous place of over-extension. I need more support. I need more of God …
Let me take us sideways here a moment - into Advent and scripture. In our parish a number of us meet online a couple of times a week to reflect upon scripture and to pray. These are anchor points for me in a working week. We have recently used Tom Wright’s Advent for Everyone. Our theme on one particular day was ‘A time to Watch’ and we read Matthew 26. 36-46, Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. This humble group of mainly lay people mined so many powerful reflections in 15 minutes! Yet I was struck by three.
First, when Jesus urged his disciples to ‘watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation’ (41), he is also describing what he is doing. Three times Jesus ‘watches’ with his Father, wrestling and praying for the resolve and the Spirit’s strength to resist temptation as the reality of crucifixion bites. He sweats blood so intense is this endeavour, this ‘watching’.
Second, this is another illustration of Jesus’ life principle of ‘praying it forward’. We see this throughout the accounts of his life, from 40 days in the wilderness to early mornings and whole nights in prayer ahead of key events and decisions. I find this principle at work in my own fasting and praying, which are often about preparing myself, tilling the soil of my soul or that of others, in anticipation of the Lord’s future work in and through me or them. If Jesus needs to watch with his Father in order to turn running off a cliff edge, into building a new kingdom way for us to reach his Father, then maybe I need to watch & pray ahead more than I do.
Third, and for me most significantly, I notice that Jesus takes three of his closest friends with him to support him in watching and praying. He knows that he has to face his trial alone and to wrestle with his Father alone – as do we! Yet Jesus longs for others to be with him, alongside him, in this fervent prayer and watching. He seems to long, to ache for company. He is grieved and disappointed when they, even Peter, seem unable: ‘So, could you not stay awake with me one hour?’ (v40).
I venture to suggest that in ministry we all need, even crave, prayerful company. We know, in principle, that Jesus and his Spirit are with us – and they are - in the many challenges we face. No-one else can carry our God-given burdens. But Oh, to know that someone is awake, alert and watching with us in prayer! What an empowering joy that is.
I oversee ReSource’s new Alongside scheme which offers exactly that: Companions committed to watch and pray with us and for us as we seek to be faithful and courageous, to build God’s kingdom. Maybe you too look down as a church leader and see that you have over-run your support… and you know you need more of God. ReSource is here to offer practical, human, Spirit-prompted help. Act now and register interest in an Alongside Companion. Or if you are too frantic, make a note to be in touch in the new year!
Loving Father, I pause to pray for every person watching this right now. For your grace and Spirit upholding them. And I ask for the more support, Spirit-led encounter with you and watchful companions that each one needs to thrive. Amen