Connecting to the Bigger Story

What do we hope for in living our spiritual lives?

I, for one, hope for intimate relationship with God; I hope for authentic relationship with others journeying this road of faith and I hope for some sense of being actively connected to God’s mission on earth.  As it relates to mission, while much of that plays out in our contribution to the world around us as well as loving our families and friends, how it works out in our expectations of encounters with his active Kingdom is left in question for me.

What does living mission out in authentic relationship look like? When do people become a project instead of someone to love? When do we diminish them instead of lift them up? When are we involved in guilt driven expectations instead of feeling the call to love as our motivator?  When are we too casual and expect nothing of God in our relationships?

Those are some of my questions.

Yet, I come back to some basic starting points.  Maybe if we connect to those universal longings in ourselves and in others then we are open to connect with what catches the heart of God which doesn’t diminish people but invites them. I came across these words penned by Barak Obama that for me captures some base universal spiritual human longings,

“Each day 1000s of people are going about their daily routines. Whether it is dropping off kids, driving to work, flying to business meetings, shopping at the mall, getting their hair done or car repaired.  They are trying to stay on diets, exercise programs or taking care of the environment.  Yet, they are coming to the realization that something is missing.  Many are deciding their work, their possessions, their diversions and sheer busyness are not enough…..They want a sense of purpose, a sense of a narrative arc to their lives. They want to feel they are part of a bigger story, a bigger picture. Something that will relieve the chronic loneliness or something to lift them above the relentless toil and pain of daily life…. They are looking for a sense of providence.  They hope someone is listening and cares and that they are not destined to travel down the road to nothingness.”

This kind of spiritual hunger is increasing in our culture and in our lives. Here is where our story connects or where we find our place in the bigger story.  Here is where we, as Jesus followers, keep from the same nothingness in our daily routine. We are all looking for the same thing aren’t we? Are we not all seeking an overarching narrative to our daily lives?  Seeking something that makes us feel a part of a bigger unfolding story – part of God’s story.  For me to be part of a kingdom of priests or a missional community is simply to connect to that over aching narrative in a more intentional way in my daily routine where I live, play and work.

We know Jesus said in Mark 1:15, “The Kingdom of Heaven is near.” What I hear in that declaration is that God is not far away; the bigger story is happening right around me. It releases excitement and fear in me as I read those words with present faith. It is an excitement that a real. God is writing a real story and I can be a part of it and fear because how do I know I will do my part well, or figure out my part, or see my part in the mission?  I know I am loved and accepted but I want a piece of the action of God. Don’t you?   Why do I miss it and why do I catch it at times.  What keeps me and us from seeing it and stepping into it? Isn’t this what we want?  Yet, why is it so hard to find the space and time to just “be” with people and be attentive to the story unfolding around us?

Is this the life of faith I am called to live out?  What does living missionally really mean then?  What are your thoughts? 

Stumbling into story
Todd Rutkowski

~ by blueporch on January 7, 2010.

21 Responses to “Connecting to the Bigger Story”

  1. I have a new friend named Chantal – she is a early 20+ small spa business owner, bartender and planet beach winner. As I walked in to an esthetics appointment – lying on her table, we embarked into a life giving – conversation that would speak deep life into my heart. Chantal started to share about her fear and anxiety in a pageant competition she was walking into, then moved into conversation of her background, broken family, unmentionable stereotypes she faces every day. Initially, I’m thinking “ok, girl I just want to disconnect and not talk right now, this is a time for me to relax not counsel you” not entirely being willing to that something way bigger was on the move. As I listened to her and opened my heart to what was unfolding I saw the Holy Spirit begin to do something so beautiful, I began to ask the Lord to speak in and through me. Before I knew it … there was a heap of tears, vulnerable acknowledgments and prayers in the midst of lying on a spa table. Slightly awkward yet, oh soooo natural! I walked out of that room, with this incredible sense of life fulfillment and the Lord saying so clearly and strongly that He always makes way for His Kingdom to break in, often times in unusual places!

    The week before Christmas I met a grade 12 student named Connor who addressed a crowd of 1800+ high school students regarding a dream and a passion he was so simply stirred towards. Helping orphans in the Congo.

    His hope was to ‘BE a person of change’ beginning with the every day people in his path of everyday life (family, peers and educators) sharing awareness and movement to inspire change and action. This 1 VOICE then multiplied to an entire high school and beyond!

    I watched him share his heart, not necessarily filled with eloquence or great humor. Just honest compassion, integrity and purpose. I was reminded in those moments of a simple principle I work to remind myself of every day.

    “What do I see, where is the need and what do I have to help meet this need?”

    Connor inspired me in those moments once again of the ordinary connecting to the extra-ordinary. His Kingdom breaking in to the natural. I know he also inspired many others as he to date has raised $10,000 to go towards building classroom sections in the Congo to educate and help Orphans. He continues to inspire courage by just BEING CHANGE.

    Likewise, Chantal continues to inspire me …reminding me in such simple ways of His ever break in presence thru the unusual, in ordinary places, IF I remain open to the unlikely. “What do I see and what do I have to fill the need I see now?”

  2. It seems that the greatest struggle to “living missionally” is finding the healthy balance between internal and external expressions of grace. By that I mean that we cannot love our neighbour, whether that person is a perfect stranger or our best friend, if we have not first learned what it looks like to be loved by God, to be lovable, and to be secure in the knowledge that it is our destiny to learn how to love others as we in our best state would like to be loved. When we are extending hospitality, grace, and genuine friendship to others , we are extending the heart of the Kingdom…but so often we forget what it means to be true friends to people in our quest to be “evangelistic” and instead the relationship becomes project oriented, stunted, awkward. Living missionally leaves no room for anything but being genuine with people, sharing your brokenness, creating sacred spaces were anyone can feel safe, heard, appreciated, valued, where differeing viewpoints, religious beliefs, cultures, and ideologies are encouraged rather than debased, and where a sense of community is forged through shared struggles as well as shared joys.

    Perhaps the greatest challenge I have faced in trying to walk out the vision of the Kingdom is the knowledge that, once initiated, any authentic relationship that provides opportunities for grace, change, and love is going to involve more change, struggle, sacrifice, and truth on my part than anyone else’s, and the person in greatest need of any kind of transformation in order the reveal more of the Kingdom is ultimately going to be myself. If I can learn how to love deaper, give more, listen harder, trust more, then I think there will be some kind of impact on the people who are sharing life with me.

    • I love this Sandra…it’s totally what God has been showing me. We need to learn to be friends…really good friends to people. Most christians really suck at this. Like you said…it’s usually more about our agenda than loving those beside us. We usually don’t really listen, we try to convince them of something or give them some “pat” answer or tell them “we’ll pray for them”. I’ve been on the other side of these christian answers…and I remember feeling so alone and so disappointed in christians.

      • Sandra and Jennifer – I appreciate what you have both written. I don’t have a salesmanship fiber in my being. I try to stay open and ask God to give me the friends I need around me…and they might even need and like me. I embrace and enjoy the blossoming of a friendship as long as it lasts with it’s ebbs and flows. Over time some become closer and others not as close. We are so not designed to “go it alone” in this life. When the scary stuff comes up you really start looking around to see who is in your corner, who you can draw from and who you have developed trust with over time. It is an honor to find myself in a friend’s corner.

  3. i think one of the biggest barriers of living missionally is often the illusion that it’s gonna suck a lot of life out of you…in fact, you do need to be available to live relationship/friendship alongside others, but it can often be accomplished in the simplest things…

    this past friday night we had a block ‘potluck’, during the party I collected phone numbers & email addresses…then emailed them out to everyone…I was surprised by the response of appreciation by everyone for a simple 15 min. of time to throw out an email that I’m hoping will help connect neighbours better…

    i agree with sheri…find a need (no matter how simple) and then try to fill the need…it’s not rocket science…

  4. I’m sure everyone’s journey to living more missionally, or can I say living more like Christ would if he were here in body today varies. My hope is that ‘living missionally’ is not some new fad or catch phrase to replace phrases like “have you been washed in the blood” or “are you born again?” I know, we all kind of smirk when we hear that, but will my son smirk 10 years from now as he hears the phrase ‘living missionally?’ My gut feel is that he won’t because of the emphasis in our lives on the ‘live’ part of living missionally. This is tactile, real, and something measureable in the day by day. He can see if I responded to a leading of the spirit around me, or if I’m too busy pontificating new ways of describing my faith, and thus seeing faith stories simply moving across the screen of my words and desires, rather than making their way into action. For those who know me well, I am a person of action and activity, and I personally am loving the journey of learning to let the Holy Spirit lead me into action. Last week he initiated this by putting a person in my path who of all things needed a roof fixed. 10 years ago as I was serving on the staff of a large church he was a specialist we brought in to take us through some team-building exercises. He probably would not have passed our membership class but was on a definite faith journey. So out of the blue comes this call and we have this “Is this the Merlin I know?” to which I asked… “Is this the _________ I know?” YES!!. One of my observations was that by now they must be empty-nesters to which he said that his nest was completely empty as his wife had just decided to leave him. Awkward silence after which I just said I was going to pray for him. He asked me to pray for reconciliation as he still loved his wife. So there you have it, what am I going to do with that this week? That is my very real question as I seek to live missionally with the things God plants right in front of me. I’m realizing that the degree to which I am learning to live missionally is the degree to which I respond to the things the Spirit plops down right in front of me. I hope my son doesn’t smirk 10 years from now!!!

  5. Living missionally… I think I have compartmentalized it over the years. So much is intentionally connecting with those the Spirit has put in my path. There is also the part where I need to create sacred spaces to take it deeper with those relationships that seem to have His finger prints. These spaces can be anything from spiritual discussions to feasting. As a leader in an emerging missional community I find there is a great tension, a pull even, to take these people somewhere. On one hand we are commanded to love people to Jesus on the other our missional command is to be making disciples. But what should it look like? I realize that context plays a part but it seems like the old conventional models of “church” provide such a comfortable set of parameters for which to create those sacred spaces in which we are to disciple. For me, living missionally is wrecking so much of what I knew or what has been so predictable. My journey, thus far, has lead me to discover that I am being beckoned to live out the imago dei among the people who have yet to hear.
    At a recent meeting of a group of local pastors we discussed the various reasons why we thought we were not seeing the breakthroughs that we had labored and prayed for (I thought the fact hat we began talking honestly and openly for the first time in a year was a significant breakthrough). Much of the conversation surrounded the extremely vivacious drug culture. In our city, drugs are often used in public spaces, out door coffee shops, and in school yards…almost everywhere. This one pastor’s son (another pastor) visited and was walking through the city when he ventured into a local park where there was a lot of heavy drug use. He was indignant that there was such a blatant disregard for authority that this would go on regularly. He angrily took his son from the park and exclaimed “That’s why there is no breakthrough in this city. I just had to get my son out of there!” When I mentioned in the meeting that if Jesus were walking with us today we would likely find Him in that park before we would see Him in one of our church services, a quiet roar settled on the group.
    I’m sure this pastor loves the people. The fact remains, though, that its messy, hard, exhausting, unpredictable, painful, and often wrought with the “not yet”. Discipleship as I have discovered, begins long before a person even encounters the King. Loving is costly. I am still a recovering churchaholic, striving to tear down the compartments of spirituality and long for the day when authentically loving people is all that drives me.

  6. I have many challenges to living missionally and I am in the process of working those things out. The tension for me comes in the “be” vs. “do”. When I am “being” I feel like I can connect; I feel that this is organic; and I feel good BUT I also feel that I need to be “doing” more. Maybe this is an inherent drive I have in my life – and probably so – but I also seem to loose some of the intention when I am just “being”. I can get caught up in the being and forget about the intention. I fear that I am missing opportunities because I have got caught up in the “being”. I, also, fear that my guard slips when I am just being and I can take offense or get caught up in the situations where it is my opportunity to share.

    This is the stark contrast to the “doing” where I feel I have to live at attention (like a soldier) always being attentive for opportunities and disciplined to keep my attentiveness sharp. This feels unnatural and unsustainable but it also feels like the goal for how I want to live. Sounds weird!? If my being could match the intentionality of my doing…

  7. i’ve always wrestled with “doing” vs. “being” too…i guess my thoughts on that today, is that we only need to be concerned with “doing” if we’re trying to “get people somewhere” (the usual motivation behind evangelism) or “build something” that we’re about (church, business, etc.)…both advantage us to some degree…both of these things often interrupt the process of simply loving people in our life path…seeing the Kingdom unfold around us and being Christ to those we walk beside…if we remove the distraction of the ‘goal’ to relationship, then all we have is to simply love from the centre of who we are (our “being”)…

    any “intention” in our lives should be in the direction of being obedient to the Spirit’s direction…this should never be ‘heavy’ or ‘ill-fitting’ (matt. 11.28-30 msg)…

    i agree with daniel snell…our ‘default’ of “doing” built into us from years of modern church living…the process of ‘re-defaulting’ is a difficult process…takes a lot of time and purposed decision-making to live out of our “being” with no agenda

  8. Lately I’ve we’ve been challenged over and over as a community to place our thoughts, affections, and attention solely on Jesus. It’s from that place that I believe we’ll find ourselves smack dab in the middle of ‘Missional Community’. I am forever reminded that in order to pour our lives out on ‘the porch’ we must lay them down at ‘the altar’.

    I often wonder if our questions and ideas around things like community and life wouldn’t simply find answers should we discipline ourselves more in prayer, simplicity, worship, etc. (not that these conversations aren’t important and even necessary… but my deep desire is to not miss the forest for the trees.)

    Is that fair?

  9. I would agree that wanting the questions and ideas to be simpler by involving ourselves in the disciplines of prayer and worship etc is certainly fair, but is the challenge perhaps that we define those things very differently from the next person, and have yet to learn to validate the expression of another’s faith in the midst of working out the Kingdom? I would agree that the “doing” would be far more effective by “being”, and that the disciplines (positive or negative) we fill our daily lives with will bear the fruit of being and doing in some kind of balance. Hopefully, the simple disciplines we can cultivate in our life would involve the idea that prayer can be the intercession of one heart helping carry the burden of another who is suffering; that worship can be a well spent day at work, or creating something beautiful with the talents God given us. Sometimes just recognizing our place in the vastness of creation is enough to bring back a healthy perspective of purpose, destiny, love, community. Lately I’ve experienced that some days it’s all about the trees that someone (maybe for generations) has missed, some days it’s all about the forest of the bigger picture…

  10. What does authenticity actually mean? I have thrown this word into my conversations but what am I actually saying? Does this mean that I blat out my emotional and intellectual process indiscriminately and that the community I choose will be able to accept that? Does it mean that I can express my questions, my doubts and my fears without being subjected to criticism or accusation? Does it mean that all that appropriateness stuff and timing shouldn’t matter? Does it mean that I am constantly discovering who I am in the moment that I give another person permission to discover who they are in the moment? Jesus is apparently authenticity so can we even process this without Him being central? Just asking.

    • Seeking authenticity is a worthy pursuit, but, like anything, it should be tempered by love for others. If I get too focused on “being real and speaking truth,” I may forget the “truth in love” part.

    • Thank you for your questions, Anita; I am gradually seeing that it’s more about asking the right questions than getting the answers right. But to answer them in order: I don’t know, I don’t know, probably not, yes, no, yes, no…haha.

      So authenticity…. I would agree with Robert that it is always better to err on the side of love than simply truth as there is always a degree of respect needing to be offered in order to avoid outright rudeness. (My personality has a particular bent towards bluntness that often gets in the way of delivering the truth with love attached in the drive to just get the message across…). As for what healthy authenticity looks like, maybe it’s about admitting to ourselves where we’re at with our spiritual life, emotional state, physical health, life goals, relationship struggles, dream building adventures, or anything else that engages us at our core being. Knowing as best as possible where we are at in the scheme of things allows us to respond to the world around us with greater clarity, or authenticity. The danger may come when our sense of entitlement to being authentic causes us to disengage from those relationships or situations which are there to help shape us. It doesn’t give us license to avoid those necessary struggles which form our character, such as the difficult engagements with our family members who just don’t “get” us, or the co-workers who practice their faith differently, or the taxing environements that shake us out of our comfort zones and slough off some of the rough edges. There’s definitely a lot to be said for a safe place to be oneself, but also to know that there are a lot of us still trying to find ourselves while in relationship to a beautiful, broken world.

      Jesus was so sure of his identity within the Trinity and his effect upon creation that ever word he spoke and action he performed was fully authentic; how much more amazing would my moments be if I were just as aware of my own sacred identity and the authentic purpose I was created for? Just asking…

  11. For me living missionally this past year has pretty much meant not ticking anything off my imagined list of how to live missionally. It’s been a waiting game which always means trusting. Living in isolation of previous friends and family and church community, we still felt as though we were guided here for some purpose. I still prayed, more than normal actually. I still talked about Jesus if prompted and had the opportunity. I still worshiped, singing more loudly than I ever would at church with my less than musical voice echoing across our 23 acre property, safe in knowing no one but God could hear me!
    Not a lot seemed to be happening. I wondered many times if we had really heard God’s voice when we thought we should move back to Australia. Three specific times I asked God to give me some small sign that this was not all in my mind and that there was a purpose. I was OK with waiting if I just had some small sign. Each time I asked I got the sign the next day. It was enough for me to be satisfied with waiting. I was OK with waiting and just ambling through each day, in fact I liked it too much and that was my worry. That was why my prayer was “I’m OK to wait and let Your plan play out if this is You and not just me”.
    Things have changed now and at Christmas time I was surprised to have been able to invite 18 people to a Christmas BBQ. Some were random Christians, all with no church to attend (not unlike us) and very different church backgrounds. Some neighbours, and some social friends met at golf and with no new friends made in the two years since they moved to the area. It felt good to be hospitable again. It was a great night of friendship and celebration. Everyone kissing and hugging goodbye at the end of the night
    Recently I felt God prompting me to stop shirking leadership and to step up and accept my role. I took comfort in feeling like it was just to lead where He led and to relax and be who he created us to be and to share the gifts He has given us. I wondered if we should start a “home group” for the random Christians we had found and become friends with. It made sense yet it didn’t feel quite right. I was especially concerned that if we initiated the group we would have to lead it and that scared me. I did not know how to deal with “where” they were all at spiritually and didn’t feel like I knew them enough to go deep with them.
    After some praying and thinking it felt more like we were to start a regular potluck Sunday not just for the Christians but for all the friends we have met and anyone else who would like to attend. We have the home to suit this and it’s fitting with our gifts. It feels like we might be doing church backwards but after all it is an upside down Kingdom. This feels like a way to build friendship and develop authentic relationship, a place to hear people’s stories and to build trust among each other. The Holy Spirit will direct us from there (in His time and not mine). It feels like a home group built out of the potluck Sundays would be far better for everyone than having a Home Group of strangers who have the occasional potluck.
    Surprisingly, two other couples, both very close friends, have purchased homes within 3 klms of our home since we moved here 11 months ago. Considering this is a town of 2300 that is amazing! I still shake my head in wonder when I think about how it has come to be and still wait to see what God’s bigger picture is. Can’t wait!

  12. The Obama quote is really helpful. It reminds me that, although people around me may seem like they have it all together, we are all looking for significance and purpose. If people’s lives are mostly work and entertainment, there is a real void. There has to be, because we were created to live outwardly and invest in other people.

  13. Thank you Sandra and Robert for your responses to my questions. Sandra I am impressed with the fullness of your comments and the writing ability to express them. I appreciate reading everyone’s replies but feel I fall short in expressing my own heart.

  14. Truly I believe and highly value that the understanding and walking out of TRUTH + LOVE are most definately NOT polar opposites to be painted as a picture similar to Mary and Martha (devotion and works) but a beautiful harmony and synergy meant to be expressed and experienced TOGETHER!!

    TRUTH and LOVE in TANDEM! Isn’t that what the entire Gospel is about. Truth is that which sets us free and love is the package it is to resonate through. One must not be separated from the other.

    Poor Martha …to this day I still believe that tho many a sermon has painted her as only a “doer” and not a “lover” I still believe she had a heart of extreme love and devotion for the One she took delight in serving.

  15. “Lovingly follow the truth at all times — speaking truly, dealing truly, living truly — and so become more and more in every way like Christ.” Eph. : 15 & 16 TLB

  16. […] Connecting to the Bigger Story January 201020 comments 3 […]

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