I had a dream one night. It was a most dreadful dream about the city and all its horror and danger. There was a sinister figure dressed in a gray coat with a hat that covered his face. I never saw his face, but I know he must have been the devil. He came through the door as if it were a curtain but yet the door was there. He just sort of folded it back. He didn't come in my room but seemed to be going up the stairs as if in a tenement. As I and unknown others sat there, he returned through the door and began to go from room to room as if he knew the place. He seemed to have found something and as he held it in his hands, I attempted to call the police. And then I woke up crying. I don't know what this dream meant. But as I reflected on it during the morning and throughout the day the word of the Lord came to me, saying "Unless the Lord builds the house the labor is in vain." I was attending an urban workshop at the time and my thoughts centered on the hopelessness, despair and degradation of the city. And I thought that all we are trying to do is at best just a drop in the bucket.
At the same time, my thoughts turned to the Bible; to the story of Job and his faith despite and all the evils that had befallen him. And I thought of Job's declaration, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust him... all the days of my struggle I will wait, until my change comes."
It seemed to me that with the city, sometimes that's all we can do.-Bernita Babb, New York
The very real suffering in large cities, and the intense demands and stress of urban ministry can exact a great personal toll and undercut our work if we do not know how to handle them. As we see in Mark 1, Jesus himself experienced these same kinds of pressures from the urban crowds and even from his own disciples.
The Lord Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor as ourselves. This presupposes that together with all of our ministry towards other people we also need to minister to ourselves. No one else takes care of the urban minister. Our boards tend to want to get maximum performance out of us. Our families need our energy and attention. Our church and community want us to be involved in every program. No one but God and ourselves can be the care takers of our lives. We must become somewhat self-protective (in the best sense), otherwise we will burn out or break down before our best years of service are fulfilled.
There are things that we can do that will enhance our own spiritual well-being and that will enable us to better love and serve our urban neighbors. These activities fall into three categories. First, those that we do just with the Lord and by ourselves. Secondly, those that we carry out with good friends. Thirdly, those activities that build us up through the ministry of groups of people. In this chapter we will explore possible activities in those three areas.
"To thine own self be true" This old maxim packs a lot of wisdom. In the same way we minister to others so, too, in our ministry to ourselves we must know what makes us tick.
Many urban professionals have found ways to cultivate real well being. For example:
I get out of the city at least one day per week for relaxation, reading and restoration. My favorite activity is boating. I do this alone, with the family and with neighbors and staff. It is my way of disconnecting regularly from the phone and doorbell.
I get away from the city three different weeks for reflection and writing. This gives me perspective and physical restoration.
I am unable to disconnect from ministry while I am in my neighborhood. Even while I am mowing the lawn, I am thinking about the neighborhood and neighbors as they walk by or stop to talk. So I must get away regularly; otherwise I will eventually become depleted spiritually and physically. I also take three weeks vacation away from the city.
The disciplines I have built into my life are reflection (journaling); Scripture study (adopting a book a year); prayer (thirty minutes daily and one extended time weekly); study (reading list); and exercise (three times per week).
We are holistic people; sometimes a good run in the park or a long walk does wonders for our emotional health. Spending time in reflection and in the observation of nature is often very restorative. (John Stott practices bird watching for rest and recreation).
In order to remain whole or to regain wholeness, some sort of spiritual discipline is necessary. Christ teaches and models for us throughout His ministry the essential need to practice spiritual disciplines: prayer, fasting, meditation, solitude etc. Disciplines can heal, guide, direct and deepen our love relationship with the Father. What they accomplish goes beyond our routine activities, basic strengths and innate abilities. Spiritual disciplines center us; they help us reach our goals and stay on track. They give us courage, and the confidence that we are following Him.
It is possible through individual inquiry, contemplation or advice to discover our own unique path to discipline. But all of us also need help in creating spiritual discipline in our lives. Where do we get the help we need? Consider:
Once we begin, time management is crucial. Practice of the disciplines should be written into the daily schedule or day-timer. Start slow. Be reasonable. Know yourself. The key is to start at a reasonable place and time. Don't try to spend a whole day in solitude if you have not done this before. Start with minutes/hours. The most important thing is to find a spiritual director to help lead and guide you into the disciplines.
It is also healthy to seek the spiritual counsel of a good friend or mentor. As you seek the Lord's will in your life, and depend increasingly on the Holy Spirit, an enriched journey may result.
Try to establish a spiritual and prayer relationship with someone you trust so that you can share your heart, thoughts, pain and plans. Seek out a person who will also share with you. Your purpose is to establish accountability and to ensure that you are listening to the leading of the Holy Spirit. By reflecting back to your spiritual partner what you are hearing you may find affirmation or a check on your motives to ensure that you are remaining in tune with the Father and His will. Later, as you report back to you friend, both you and the friend can examine both your decision-making process as well as your commitment to follow through. Soon, a more responsible attitude develops relative to seeking and following the Lord.
You may find it useful to seek out a pastor, a nun, or some other person of the cloth who has special gifts as a spiritual advisor. A twenty-four hour period in a retreat center or house, with or without the assistance of a spiritual advisor can provide precious time for you to seek out the lord, share with Him your special needs or to seek His leading in a given area of your life. Contemplation, quiet time, and prayer support during a time set aside to connect with the Lord can be a time of inspiration, revelation and sanctification
In summary, it is imperative that we submit ourselves both to the Lord and to a trusted other for spiritual accountability, reflection and support. This process is specifically important for those who experience "dry spells" or for those whose strong wills may get in the way of the Lord's will.
Where two or three gather together, God is in their midst. This Biblical truth confirms the blessings of community. So, when we are in community with the Lord and others, we are essentially at our best. There we find unity, strength, and sharing of ideas and visions.
Just as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit were in community before the foundation of the earth and in that community created the world, so also we, as we truly relate in community, can create order out of confusion, peace out of turmoil and love out of hate. Being part of a community means respecting the local values, fitting into the local culture while relating Christian values to the culture, and knowing what social, political, and economic systems are appropriate.
The community may be as varied as the family, ministry, church, neighborhood, club, or organizations. Maintaining times of fellowship with these teams keeps one effective. This can be accomplished through retreats, picnics, recreation, theater, workshops, seminars, consultations, and through worship.
In community, as in other areas, we need to be intentional, as these urban professionals have found.
My family disciplines include one or two weekends away per year with my spouse. I plan to spend focused attention with every child every week. I spend four weeks a year in vacation grouped around school holidays and summer.
My community disciplines include a community meal every other week. Our community also seeks to serve one another through mutual child care, laundry service, housing, and shared possessions (car, appliances, etc.)
It is especially important that the teams of people we work most closely with minister to each other. Care must be taken and time must be built in to feel empathically with each member and find ways to meet their needs. (For example, if a parent of a team member is discovered to have cancer, the entire team needs to set aside certain other "business" and dedicate the time and energy necessary to meet the needs of the team member and family).
The key to all of life is relational maintenance with the sacred people of my world: myself, my family, my community, and God.
Relationships are essential because relationship most truly reflects the nature of God. God's eternal cry for our reconciliation is echoed most powerfully in the words of his only child on the cross: "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." Jesus literally died in the company of two unfortunates. Yet even at his dying moment, as throughout his life, Jesus thinks not of Himself but of others.
As servants of God, we have three spiritual relationships: one with God, one with Jesus and one with the Holy Spirit. It is how we live out these three relationships that shapes all our remaining relationships: with those we love and those we do not love, those we understand and those we do not understand, those we know and those we do not know. Our best human relationships, therefore, are not necessarily those we desire, but rather those that we are challenged to have in spite of ourselves because they provide a witness to our spiritual relationships. In the words of Ray Bakke, "there is no spirituality that is called biblical that does not model the Trinity which is relational."
God's gift of Jesus is his way of modeling the significance of community. In community we have the opportunity to experience what is both most truly human and most truly divine. In community we enter into God's grace. God's love for us in the person of Jesus, speaks to the need for us to be personally authentic in our day-to- day relationships, just as we seek the person of Jesus in our own struggles to strengthen our relationships with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
The striking aspect of these spiritual relationships is that nothing absolutely meaningful happens outside their scope. Our identity, therefore, has meaning only in the context of these spiritual relationships. Who we are has less to do with who we think we are than with who God calls us to be at any given moment in any given human relationship. Whenever we answer God's call in a particular human relationship, that relationship then becomes spiritual.
Ultimately, what all of this means is that we don't really know ourselves outside of our spiritual and human relationships. Real self knowledge is only acquired as we interact with others and are obedient to God in those interactions.
As we meet God face to face, we catch a glimpse of who we are in His sight. With this in mind, humility should be our calling card when we enter into human relationships, knowing that we need others in order to more fully understand and accept who God has created us to become.