Saturday, August 14, 2010


This charming little set of steps lies at the base of Mount Maunganui. I loved them at first sight. Then I tried to ascend them. Climbing these steps is brutal. Especially while carrying a child. However, although there is an alternative route, I will always choose these picturesque stairs. I'm drawn to them; there's something symbolic in them. They, like the ascent to holiness, are much much more challenging then they appear. I observe the holy one, the saintly one, the godly one - I see simplicity and beauty. I try to be the holy one, I barely make it past the first few steps without tripping, tiring, aching, taking a break and wondering about alternate routes.
We're trying to focus here. At the heart of all the bowling games and purity talks and concerts and testimonies and ping pong tables and vocational conversations and pop tarts and spiritual books and guitar lessons and Scripture studies and text messages and saint lessons and paintball outings....well, what is at the heart of all the happy chaos of youth ministry? Why DID Richard let the boys' group play "Sting Ping" on his back AND post the photos of the half-dollar sized welts on his Facebook page? Why? What does that have to do with our mission here?
We have to keep asking and we have to be so clear on this. And the only possible answer is holiness. Holiness for ourselves and the teens. We have to be growing in holiness together. Not us for them. Not them for us. We're all encouraging each other here and holding each other accountable. Yes, it is our role to lead and, by grace, to have the integrity to be worth being followed. We have to check our map periodically here: what exactly is this "holiness" about which we talk so much? How can we help others get to a place where we are not yet ourselves? How can we illuminate the path while deeply respecting the uniqueness with which each individual will walk?
Some elements of holiness universal to all who achieve it: above all, that overarching love for the Lord that slowly remakes the godly one to be enough like Him that others can recognize He who alone is truly holy. The Lord's greatest attribute is His mercy, and the saint is quick to forgive. The saint is joyful - deeply joyful - and humble - and has courage for and in the Lord. The saint is disciplined, has control over the flesh, possesses a spirit of self-sacrifice in the service of others. The saint is detached from, rather than absorbed in, the things of this world. The saint authentically and consistently respects other people and has moral integrity, not compromising on or rationalizing about truth and goodness, always striving for growth. (At this point, anyone who has spent one hour with Richard or myself is probably feeling quite crestfallen to realize that we are actually not saints.)
And yet, holiness is not formulaic. For Richard and I, or the youth here, or anyone reading this blog to become saintly - it is so much more than simply checking off this list and forcing ourselves by sheer willpower to embody these traits. It's so much more. And so much more simple. Because it all comes down to only one thing, one act, one habit to be faithful to - and that is prayer.
No man, or woman, can be a saint without spending a trillion or more hours in prayer. In prayer we come to know the Lord and ourselves. In fidelity to prayer we show - and grow - our love for Him. In prayer He convicts and strengthens us. A whole separate blog could easily be written on prayer (and who knows, perhaps one day...) But the point for TODAY is that the absolute most essential part of our ministry here is our own prayer life. That is what we need the most people praying for us about. Likewise, the second most important part of our ministry here is our ability to help the youth develop their own prayer life. Mother Teresa said, "The only way to learn how to pray is to pray." I assume the only way to teach others to pray is to pray with them. Not to talk about prayer or hand out books about prayer, but to pray with them, pray over them, pray for them, pray near them. Every youth night for the older teens starts with Adoration and ends with Praise and Worship. Games are played to Christian rock music and the teaching begins with prayer. But it's time to step it up even more. And I think - I think - that might have been Richard's idea with Sting Ping - how else would our fine young men here ever have witnessed the kind of uniquely serious prayer, offered up with groanings, that the martyrs would have prayed as their own agonies began? Good job Richard! Good job. But I think the girls' group will just stick to practicing praying out loud together.....

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