As weird as this sounds, this is one of my favorite things to see on a Wednesday night after our students gather each week. Empty chairs, sometimes chairs are flipped over (not even sure why that happens), a few pieces of garbage and/or wrappers laying around, things are messy, the room communicating a general sense of disarray. As I walked through our student center last night this scene caught my eye again as it does every week and I felt prompted to stop and snap a photo with my phone because I sensed that God was trying to speak something to me. I wasn't sure what exactly but I knew that I had always appreciated this scene so I quickly snapped a few photos, proceeded to shut the room down and headed for home.
As I arrived back at the church this morning for another day's adventures, it suddenly occurred to me why I appreciated that empty room scene so much. For me it communicates a sense of accomplishment. Not a prideful, arrogant, "look what I did" kind of accomplishment but rather a sense of "mission accomplished". What happens in this room each week is vital to the development of Christ followers. Seeds are planted. Thoughts are prompted. Life directions are initiated. Principles are communicated that for some have never been heard. Ideas are shared that bring new life. Exposure to the Word of God is brought to the forefront.
What I appreciate most about this scene is not so much what happens in the room but what I hope and pray is happening when the people leave this room. As much as we like to emphasize that growth and development happens here, it's when people leave this room that the rubber meets the road and ideas and commitments are tested. Growth happens not so much on the mountaintop of church, surrounded by friends and those who believe as you believe. Real growth happens in the valleys when you have to decide of what you experienced on the mountaintop is going to carry you through the darkness.
The Psalmist David said it this way, "The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me."
I like to think that what we provide is an opportunity for people to lie down in green pastures, to be led beside the quiet water and to have their souls refreshed by the Lord. I'm no shepherd but I would imagine that it's obvious when a flock of sheep have passed through an area and have mowed down the surrounding landscape. The grass is likely trampled, perhaps a few dung piles laying around, a general sense of disarray in the area. As the shepherd (small s) guides his flock into a new area he probably feels satisfied at a job well done.
The Good Shepherd (Big S) offers this same opportunity to each of us as well. He's willing to guide us, tend to us, feed us, water us and lead us. Those are the sweet moments on the mountaintop but let us not forget that when we leave the mountaintop, He is still with us. The Good Shepherd never leaves our side. Take courage as you head into the valley, walk with boldness, trust that in those moments you will be growing into the fullness of Christ. Be encouraged and keep moving forward. -Andy