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Courage for the Calling

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05 March 2015

This Reflection was written by Craig Stewart, Director of The Warehouse, South Africa.

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"As we enter the season of Lent, we must be reminded of our identity as children of God, and choose faith and courage to step up and step into God's story in our world."

It’s been a disorienting and distressing couple of months in South Africa and the world at large. The South African State of the Nation Address, more profoundly revealed in the activities surrounding the speech than the speech itself, the ongoing scourge of xenophobic violence, the careless oblivion of many to the increasing cries of the poor, and various global conflicts, have left me wondering at times whether working for the transformation of society and our communities has any benefit at all. 

Ezekiel 31 tells of a large tree that became too proud of its grandeur and came crashing to the ground. I think we are living in times where the ‘big trees’ are falling. In times like these we find ourselves saying with the Psalmist “I look to the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord.”  It is into this context that we start our new financial year at The Warehouse (March to February), and as a result the last few months have been filled with dreaming and discernment meetings, operational planning, budgeting, board meetings and spreadsheets. For the most part I enjoy this process as we reflect on the events of the previous year, and seek to align our plans with the discernment of God's activity in His world.

In a sense, we are like the disciples returning to Jesus and reporting on what we have seen, and we are like the spies returning from visiting the promised land with stories and samples of wonderful fruit and possibility. And then, as we stand on the edge of the new year, we recognise that there are rumours of giants ahead of us that can create anxiety and intimidation. I think it’s a common experience for people working out a call from God to work towards transformation, which may be why God's angels so often started their messages with a call to identity and boldness and courage. 

At the start of Jesus' ministry he is baptised by John and hears the Father say to him "You are my son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." I am often struck by the fact that this isn't happening in response to a miracle of feeding thousands of people, healing someone or teaching a crowd about the Kingdom, rather it precedes all of these. As we plan diligently in the work of proclaiming God's kingdom I'm tempted to see it as a way of earning God's love and approval, but that kind of striving doesn't lend itself to the work of transformation and discipleship. I do the work because I know my identity as a beloved child invited to co-labour with my Father in the work of transforming the world, entering into his work in the world rather than doing my own and asking him to bless it. 

I remember John Atkinson’s sermon on faith at Christ Church Kenilworth a number of years ago.  My ‘take-way’ was the idea that we've tended to see faith as an emotion - I feel filled with faith - rather than an action taken in response to God's prompting regardless of how I feel. Over and over again in scripture we see the injunction to be courageous as God calls someone to something. The work of transformation can be a daunting place - standing on the brink of a transformative conversation about race, power and domination that will be hard and filled with risk; taking the chance to pray for a stranger who is living on the street, entering a new community with a yearning and desire for transformation. All of these have the potential for significant fruit, but they also have very real and palpable giants who stand in the way of the work being done. 

I am very excited about the plans in front of us as The Warehouse this year. I am also excited about what God is calling us, as believers, to be and do in our nation. But as we step up and enter that we also need to use the season of Lent to remind ourselves of our identity as children of God and to choose faith and courage in stepping into God's story in our world.