A favorite author of mine is Ernest Hemingway. Aside from splendid literary works and grand stories of travel, people and otherwise, he portrays to me a man who can, as somebody once put it to me, "could spend a morning in a fishing boat off the coast of Taiwan, hop into a tuxedo, and spend the evening at the Ritz." That saying has resurged into my thoughts from time to time, and I must admit that I admire - and sometimes aspire to be - a man like that. I first encountered his literature on a road trip this summer, when a friend let me read The Old Man and the Sea.
The book's main character, The Old Man, had spent years in a small fishing village; he was worn, aged, and tanned by years of a hot ocean sun. The entire book is about his struggle to catch a great fish, which would, upon returning home, reap benefits he couldn't imagine. Days upon days he spends out at sea, with almost no water or food. The Old Man puts himself through agony and pain to reach his goal. Eventually, he does reach his home again, but with a fish that has long been dead, eaten by sharks and but a skeleton of what it was before.
I so easily try and personify not only Ernest Hemingway, but his character The Old Man. My worth is often times put in where I can say I've been, who I've talked to or what I've done. And I ceaselessly hang on to the hope of having these characteristics, not unlike how the The Old Man hangs on to his great fish.
A few hours after I had started to read this book, the van we were traveling in arrived in Colorado. The road trip we were on was part of a tour to different ministries and organizations, and at one point in the trip, we spent a few days in Colorado Springs. Let me tell you, this place is special. Driving up the winding highways on the east end of the mountains, the sun hitting high hills almost set a yellow hue on the far-off trees, and the planes from the air base flying low with the mountains as a back drop made the whole scene look like a model set of sorts. But the real beauty was in the Garden of the Gods. The team went there for half a day to work through our fears in ministry and to spend some time alone with God. At one point, a few of us managed to climb up a set of the towering sand colored rock formations to get a good view and a quiet place to sit.
Sitting there under a tree, I started to consider what my fears were. To be honest, I feared not having the chance to go out for my own great fish; to be somebody of substance and interest. What use would I be if I wasn't being dragged by the proverbial fish of success and wealth, perhaps even general acceptance? The fish of my life was dragging me away from what was the only thing constant in my life: the shore. The shore in all our lives symbolizes rest, peace, satisfaction and - most importantly - a home. It's the place that Jesus speaks about in Matthew 11:30; "My yolk is easy and my burden is light." In other words, the shore is the Gospel; it's the grace freely given in this life, death and resurrection of Jesus we see in the Bible.
This grace, though, doesn't mean that we stay on the shore. While The Old Man left from the shore with confidence, he was fishing in the wrong way. Jesus, of course, said to Peter, "Come, I will make you a fisher of men." The difference between the avid pursuit of success and the grace-filled ministry in missions is that we have the glorious grace, not the burden, of being fishermen. This means that when we cast out into this sea of the world, we fish knowing that the Great Fisherman, as it were, has given us a gift in allowing us to be out beneath the sun, fishing for people to show this incredible message to. Further than that, we know that when we return to shore after a long day's work, there will be no tally chart; rather, there will be a table to eat at and a host at the head of it that loves you more than you could ever imagine.
I'm a big fan of a publication called Mockingbird. If you haven't heard of it, I would suggest taking a read. Recently, I read a short excerpt from Gerhard Forde's Five Views of Sanctification. You can read the full article here.
The language of grace means that we don't have to continue to earn a good view of ourselves, because we are already valued so much by somebody that is greater than our success and accomplishments. I've been being discipled by a man for the past several months who has worked through all of this with me, and who introduced to me this concept of mission being a glorious grace. This morning, he showed me a passage in Isaiah 40:
All flesh is grass,
and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
...The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the Word of the Lord endures forever.
Preparing for my trip to London this summer has involved being humbled, and allowing God to show me the areas in my life that have withered away because of their temporariness. Going to school, working where I do, visiting this or that city, knowing such and such a person does not define who I am. A finished work, a glorious servant and a new identity as a co-heir defines who I am.
Last night, CROSS Conference aired a simulcast featuring several different speakers, including David Platt. In the final message of the night, he said, "Surrender to Christ, regardless of the cost." My Western eyes skim over that so easily, because I fail to realize the cost. The cost is, in fact, myself. Grace strips away any cause to boast, any word praising me and any motive for selfishness. It means that I serve this culture or any other with a brokenhearted joy, living off of the proverbial fish of Jesus' love in my life, instead of fishing ceaselessly for it.
It's scary, even counter-intuitive to the ladder-focused life I live. The call to minister to people is one that is a joy, not a burden; a privilege, not an obligation; a peace, not an anxiety. God gives us this message of grace so that we might spread it across the world, in communities filled with the same people Jesus approached in Galilee: fishermen.