I am currently less than 19 hours away from having a Master of Divinity degree from Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. This moment has been 4 and a half years in the making, and as I sit in my room past my bedtime, I can't help but think back on how much has changed since January of 2012, when I first began my preparation for ministry.
First off, 23 year old me was much more insecure in his faith. I remember those early days, when I was so bound to my service to the church and my seminary preparation that I bought into the lie that my identity was somehow defined by my performance.
What a dangerous thought that ended up being...
I nearly worked myself to death, trying desperately to prove that "I'm worthy to go!" or "I'm worthy to serve." In reality, none of us are worthy.
I also found myself facing a new enemy - Depression. This foe sought to take my joy and purpose in living. I'm not gonna lie, those days were very dark - despite my 4.0 GPA and smiling face on Sundays and Wednesdays.
This depression stayed with me for 2 years at least, and rears its ugly head from time to time even now.
But I have changed - in my final year of seminary, no less.
After wearing my spirit out, buying into the lie that I had to keep DOING in order to be a good Christian, and seeing door after door slammed in my face in the church, I thought I had made a HUGE mistake. After all, if I was called to ministry, wasn't I supposed to constantly be leading, and shouldn't I feel JOY in my soul? At times I honestly didn't.
I was reminded though of something my friend Matt Cureton had warned me about before I began my studies. "It is going to be very hard to keep your personal walk with Christ going" he had said. "You are going to get so wrapped up in your studies that it will want to take the place of Jesus, but it can't."
It felt like I was so busy working FOR Jesus that I had ceased to even talk to Him anymore... and it hit me like a ton of bricks.
I ended up through a long series of events at Christ City Church in Memphis, where I am now a member, and being prepared in more ways than I could have dreamed for church planting. The people there for the FIRST TIME refused to allow me to find my identity in what I did. That is not ministry, they said. YOU need to just spend time with God, spend time with His people - LOVE HIM, LOVE HIS PEOPLE... and then follow what He says.
I tried so hard to find something to do - something to validate myself, something to scratch that itch of action... but Jesus wouldn't let me.
Something crazy happened in the past year. I was forced to be still for a second and actually listen. And it was THEN that I heard it.... Through God's Word, through his people... my identity or value as a person (or a minister) has nothing to do with anything I possibly can do, but who I am loved by. I realized anew that I was loved DEEPLY by God, and that before ANY other responsibility, He just wanted me to want HIM.
It was a rude awakening, and something that seems to be a given in seminary life, but it really is so hard to keep in mind - Jesus loves me.
Seems almost silly, right?
That's what I thought. But then it hit me... this identity was freeing me to tell my story, freeing me to no longer fear my imperfections or my past. The fast that JESUS actually loves me gives me the proper motivation for doing all of the ministry that I had been training for over this past 4 years... I am just a guy, who has nothing to offer, who has been saved by God because of nothing that I did or will do...
God's just good like that.
So as I prepare to walk in a few hours, I feel almost juvenile in the way I feel about my faith with Jesus... but at the same time I realize that this is my ammunition to combat injustice, wickedness, depression, hate. "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8.
Why was it so hard for me to really GET that? I don't truly know.
I have a heck of a lot of head knowledge now, and I am thankful for that. I know how to evangelize, how to teach, how to parse Greek and Hebrew, how to lead worship - but at the end of the day, the question really is this:
Do I really REST in what Jesus has done for me?