- Written by Margaret Bernhart
Reaching the Heart Conference
RMI and seven local churches came together to help sponsor Dr. Larry Crabb’s two days Reaching the Heart conference held in Tallahassee at the end of October. Pastor Scott Graham has written a short article on his experience while attending this community event. We would like to thank the following churches for their financial and volunteer support: Agape Life Fellowship, Four Oaks Community Church, Killearn United Methodist Church, Northwoods Baptist Church, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Vineyard Christian Fellowship, and Wildwood Presbyterian Church.
How Does My Heart Need Reaching?
Surprise, enlightenment, repentance, hope, and joy–all parts of my experience as I sat under the teaching of Dr. Larry Crabb during his Reach the Heart Experience. Good teachers invite, challenge, and leave you coming back for more. As he described the radical shift needed in our hearts to have authentic community and live in transforming relationships, hunger and hope were ignited with a slight bit of trepidation, knowing the cost of what lay ahead–seeing my tarnished and ugly motivations. Real community and spiritual formation aren’t pipe dreams. To give us a vision for how true community functions, God reveals it through the unity and sacrifice of the Trinity–the intimate dance of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And we are all invited!
As I listened some questions came to mind: How does my heart need reaching? Do I have a sense of what the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are doing in my life? Is my heart open to receiving a divine, yet untamable love made available through Jesus’ sacrifice? And am I sharing that valuable life-giving Spirit-supplied energy with others? An honest evaluation of our hearts is needed if we are to become the community of believers that God has designed.
Jim Kallum, pastor and author of Risking Church, spoke vulnerably about some of his personal struggles and articulated how his church practically lives out spiritual formation through four powerful keys: Safety, Vision, Wisdom, and Power. A church is a safe place when others feel accepted. It fosters a vision for who each person is becoming in Christ. It is within this atmosphere where wisdom is offered that challenges the hindrances that keep believers from becoming all they were meant to be. And it is within this safety, vision, and wisdom that the life-transforming power of the Spirit is released. I began imagining, what the Church could become–pilgrims maturing and struggling well with life and others. The very thought of such incites hope and adventure within me!
Dr. Crabb shared that it is difficult to move forward in your spiritual journey without first knowing where you are spiritual. He used the metaphor of the red dot found on mall directories accompanied by the ever-important words, You are here. I felt challenged to reflect upon how the Spirit is presently moving and speaking in my life. Believing that God wants to reveal himself helps me contend with the busy culture and endless distractions that seek to capture my attention. “Certain things,” says Larry Crabb, “can be learned in solitude that can be learned nowhere else. The Spirit indwells us. Only silence allows us to hear His quietest whisper, the voice in which He communicates the deepest life.” I pondered whether my church brings focus or buries members in religious activity that ultimately keeps them from communion with God.
Dr. Crabb went on to describe the cycle of spiritual formation. It involves brokenness over our sins, followed by repentance, leading to abandonment to God, instilling confidence through God, and releasing of life that is authored by God. He makes clear that this process is only found by entering into a relationship with the Trinity. At the very center, what moves us forward is the core desire to know God more and to keep him in the first place. It’s not a walk for those who want to play it safe, as there is no formula. It became abundantly clear to me that without the power of the Spirit, all efforts to engage in spiritual formation are counterfeit. How vital this is not just for those of us who are called to soul care, but for all believers who desire to journey well and connect meaningfully with others. It challenged me to abandon my approach of trying to make things happen and embrace with curious patience the wind of the Spirit.
“What’s below the waterline? asked Dr. Crabb. Hindrances that exist above the water’s surface of our life are easy to see as the visible tip of an iceberg. Sins like adultery fit of rage, greed, and lust fall into that category. However, much rockier terrain exists below the waterline than what is visible. It is here where our self-protection, escapism, and self-obsession taunt every good motivation and hold hostage life-giving power. As we enter into our interior world we gain insight into how to cooperate with what the Spirit is doing–removing what hinders us from receiving the life he fully offers. It’s much easier to flee what is most offensive within us. Yet, by venturing down the narrow road, we will find what our hearts want most–knowing God more deeply and exposing what offends his glory.
Leaving the conference that evening, I was challenged and excited about the transformation that could take place in our churches if we sought to use suffering as an opportunity to engage more deeply with God, instead of finding relief from what burdens us. What if we focus on developing a character that brings glory to God, rather than achieving goals that satisfy our need to point to outwardly visible accomplishments? What if instead of trying to make things happen and getting God involved with us, we allow God to pour into us and get involved with Him? What would it look like if at the center of every expression of ministry, the core goal is to know God and then to allow vision and employable strategy to emerge from the life that God pours into us as we draw near and enter His unforced rhythms of grace? Could this be the New Way that Paul speaks of in the epistles–a way that follows the Spirit instead of the law?
How do our hearts need reaching? I know I gained some clarity that weekend. And as a result, I caught a vision of how to love my wife and family more richly, especially my daughter who has autism. Because of her condition, she is unable to receive love the way most do. Over time, this has been like a knife to my heart and I have bled tears and pain. I discovered that this ache is not something to avoid, as my daughter still needs a father who will wrap his arms around her and pour the love God gives me into her heart. I will be changed through the pain of unrequited love, and understand more vividly a God whose love is unchanging, even when I am a traitor, seeking other avenues to cover my pain and fill my longing heart.
By Scott Graham,
Pastor of the Vineyard Community Church