As the hot summer season rolls around here in the suburbs of Houston, and many people take vacations and attendance dwindles at church, I find I have to check myself and maintain equanimity as a church planter to not get discouraged, or to get down on myself and the whole project. The added economic downturn which is affecting our city deeply in the form of layoffs and job crises make this no easier – for some a vacation; for others, it really means not coming back.
It’s at times like these the waves seem bigger than the boat can take on.
And it’s in times like these that I recall to mind the various images of Ship in Storm, a common theme in art representing the Church, and especially the Lord of the Church, who is sleeping in the hold (btw – when is He gonna get up and do something anyway?!). I first encountered a painting of it when I spent some time at a Benedictine Monastery in Nebraska, gazing at it for a long time. I’ve since searched for a picture or a reproduction of it online to no avail, but I’ve found many other paintings depicting the same theme:
I think it’s a worthwhile exercise to meditate on each of these paintings as a form of prayer. In fact I mean to do so in my own spiritual practice. Because I have to be reminded not so much that we’ll get through the storm or the boat won’t sink – yes those things too – but more so I have to be reminded of WHO is asleep in the hold – and why. Or more specifically how.
How can He sleep during a time like this? Does He “not care that we are perishing”? And if I’m honest, in my more discouraged moments I shake a fist at the ceiling trying to provoke Him to wake up, pick up an oar and row and pull His own weight or something… anything… instead of this infuriating, disappointing God-slumber and inactivity.
“Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
I know on the other side of this storm is yet an expanded vision of God – “Who then is this???!” There always is. Like lovers, quarreling and fighting and yelling is sometimes and somehow the pathway to intimacy. Where else would I turn? Where else would I go? I recall the legendary words of Teresa of Avila upon being thrown from a horse in one of her ministry trips: “Lord, if this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few.” Sometimes sarcasm has an effect; God hears, and is indeed provoked. It is the encounter He is after; never mind the screaming.
Church planting requires guts. And sea legs. And ability to weather strong storms. It also requires tremendous patience for those times when the Master is asleep in the hold, inactive, unmoving. Frustrating times. We yell and scream. Wake up! Do something!