“In the beginning God …” --Genesis 1:1
The Bible begins with God. If we want to get inside what the Bible means, we must begin with a basic understanding that God is the primary actor in the biblical narrative. He is the one initiates the story. He is main character of the story. And he is the producer of the story as the one who holds together the various actors who seem to never quite get what God is doing in his story.
As I reflect on my years of reading the Bible, I realize how I failed to see this basic, foundational point about the Bible. I read the Bible as “God’s love letter to me” as if I was the central focus of the story. When I was in college, I began in Genesis and worked my way through the Bible on a daily basis, and I would stop and journal my impressions and reactions to what I read. Recently, I looked at what I wrote. I must confess that almost every journal entry was about what I was doing for God, what God wanted me to do or what God was calling me to do. When one is in their early twenties questions about calling are pretty important. But it never dawned on me that I was turning the Bible into a self-help book so that I could be all that I could be for God.
Now 20 years later, I have come to see how I am not the protagonist of God’s story. In fact, I am not even a main character. This does not diminish my importance or value in God’s eyes. It is simply a confession of the fact that God acts and initiates, and our part is simply a response to his initiation. But so often, we focus way too much upon our initiation and too little on what God does.
It is similar to dancing. God is the lead. If I want to dance with God I need to learn to follow. But to be a good follower means that I focus on the dance that God dances and not upon the right way to be a “good follower.” As soon as the follower in a dance focuses on self and the right way to dance, he looses sight of where the lead dancer is going.
As I have explored and experimented with what it means to be on mission with God, I made a mistake that resembled how I read the Bible. I made mission about my actions, my calling, my doing something in the world. Mission became MY MISSION. I asked things like:
What can I do to serve the poor?
How can I better fulfill my calling?
What are my gifts and my unique contribution?
Who can I share the Gospel message with today?
How can I advance God’s Kingdom this week?
And while such questions seem noble and even right, I have come to realize that they are 180 degrees off the mark. The problem is the “I”, “me” and “my” are at the center of these questions.
Sadly, it seems that I am not alone in asking the wrong questions. This is a dominant way of talking about mission. Instead of starting with God as the initiator and actor, we start by asking action questions about what we can do to make a difference in the world. The questions we ask then become about what we are to do, how we are to perform and how we can act differently. We focus on our own feet instead of the feet of the lead dancer.
But it is God’s mission, not mine. He invites me into his dance of mission. To learn this dance, I must begin and keep my eyes focused on God and what he is doing and who he is in this world. For me, this goes against my achiever mentality that wants to get things accomplished and have some results to demonstrate that my work is of value. But when I slow down and seek to follow the steps of God, it seems that he is leading me and my community in surprising ways. And while most of the time, they are far from spectacular, the steps we take possess much more beauty and rhythm than any of my own initiatives that I think must be done.