Next week I will be joining a group of young clergy from across the Wesleyan Methodist family for an exciting time of spiritual renewal, learning and growth. The Order of the Flame evangelism conference has been equipping leaders for 20 years, and it has been an integral part of my own journey.
At the first gathering of this group, I had a life-shaping experience of the Holy Spirit. I’ve shared this part of my story in other contexts, but in essence, through the preaching of one particular leader and the praying of another, the Holy Spirit spoke to me in a powerful way that changed the entire direction of my ministry.
As you might expect, when I think of both of those leaders, I am filled with gratitude. That is why, many years later, when I was speaking with a friend who had served under the leadership of one of these men, I was surprised to find that his feelings were not as positive. For him, this leader represented a very painful, frustrating, and disappointing chapter in his life. Our mutual surprise at the contrast of our experiences let us both to immediately ask, “What is God trying to tell me in this?”
It has now been many years since the conversation with my friend, but the questions we raised together have returned to my mind as I prepare for our 20th anniversary Order of the Flame gathering.
What do we do when those whom we esteem so much are discovered to have feet of clay? And what do we do with the new awareness that the one who may have caused us pain was also an integral channel of the Spirit in the life of someone else?
Three things stand out.
First, I believe it’s possible to be both clay footed and Spirit-filled, as I wrote here: “Despite our inadequacies and mistakes, God’s grace prevails. That is the witness of Scripture. Moses stuttered; Peter was a dufus; and Paul was a hard-core persecutor. We carry the treasure of God’s grace in a clay jar so there will be no question where the power comes from – not from us but from God.”
The second thing is hidden within the first, but is important enough to stand on its own: “we’ve all got clay feet. Unfortunately, some of us tend to forget that fact. That kind of self-certainty never leads to being Spirit-filled. Not all of us overlook our clay feet; some of us are just better at keeping them covered. We’re so intent on keeping up appearances, so focused on making sure our outsides are presentable, that we miss out on the transformative power of the Spirit on our insides.”
These are two unfortunate responses to having clay feet. But if my first point is true, that it’s possible to be both clay footed and Spirit-filled, then a third thought seems to be worth pondering:
“Scripture says we are the unadorned clay pots into which God has poured God’s precious message. That means that clay feet or no, God has generously let us in on what God is doing in the world. But if we’ve all got clay feet then a first step toward being Spirit-filled is to take honest stock of them – realizing how clumsy our clay feet really are; how much pain they can inflict when used to step on, bump into or stomp on others.”
If we’re truly to be the unadorned clay pots into which God has poured God’s grace, we need to be exceedingly cautious about how we tread in the lives of others. In a matter of days, I will be surrounded by clergy looking to me and the other leaders I’ve assembled with expectation, awaiting inspiration, guidance, wisdom. How will I tread? Lightly? With grace? Out in the open?
Will it about me? Or will I be the errand runner the Spirit needs me to be?