March 8, 2013

The Endless Immensity of the Sea


If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.

Antoine de Saint Exupery

It’s easy in church planting to get lost in planning and forget vision. The quote above from Antoine de Saint Exupery, the writer of the classic The Little Prince  (Le Petit Prince mais non? –  Redacteur en Chef), highlights how planning, or task, can get in the way of vision.

“Just how much timber do we need for this thing?” “How come I under estimated how many nails we would need?”  “This isn’t marine grade plywood! What happened to the marine grade plywood I ordered?”  “‘Measure twice, cut once.’, I told you three times!”  It’s easy at this juncture to forget the restless, brooding ocean that awaits the finished product.

de Saint Exupery is not saying that structure does not matter (the boat actually has to be built if it’s going to be sailed), however church planters can often fall into the trap of being so over-commited to process that they fail to impart the beautiful goal to their people. It pays every now and then to take those helping you build the ship down to the ocean and gaze wistfully out at it, building the longing, sensing the adventure, detecting the fine mist of spray blown up by the wind, and then to hear the satisfied urgency of “Ahh, that’s why we’re doing it!”

Teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.  What does that look like for church planters?  What does it look like for me in Midland, Western Australia, as Damon my offsider and I share our vision with our people on our planning day this Sunday? here’s what that looks like for us:

for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

This verse from Isaiah 11 sums up God’s goal for all of creation, a goal that has been thwarted by sin and rebellion back in the garden.  If you know the context of Isaiah, the first chapters are a harrowing indictment of a city gone to seed – God’s city gone to seed. There is no hope at all if the very city set up to be a beacon of God’s glory is itself, in Isaiah’s words, a prostitute that is full of murderers, rebels and thieves.

Yet, and gloriously yet, Isaiah’s prophesy begins with a corrupt city and ends with a renewed and beautiful planet. Here is God’s promise in ch65:

And I, because of what they have planned and done, am about to come and gather the people of all nations and languages, and they will come and see my glory.

These two passages help explain each other.  The knowledge of the LORD is not information about God.  We are not sharing the gospel with people in order that people know God’s vital statistics.  No, what we want is for people to see his glory! We want people to look at the one who has, in Jesus, begun the process of fulfilling this prophecy (and who, in him, will one day bring it to completion), to  go “Wow – what a glorious God!”  We want Midland to be filled with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea.  We want the shires of Mundaring, Swan and Kalamunda to see the glory of God.  We want restoration in lives, healing in relationships, forgiveness in the dark recesses, wholeness among the broken, humility in the proud, generosity in the rich, softness in the hard-hearted. That’s our vision. That’s the endless immensity of the sea into which we want to launch.  And that’s why we’re building The Good Ship Providence Midland.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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