The rain intensified as we stared out the large windows into the darkness and talked about our next hiking trip to Alaska. We were killing a few moments while waiting for one more guy to show up to our weekly confession group.
It is worth noting at the outset that our gatherings are never without incident. The building in which we meet is nestled quite conveniently in a downtown residential area where substance abuse, domestic violence, and crime is commonplace. We have rushed outside on various occasions to play peacemakers by breaking up fights, to pray with those who are high and/or drunk, to give food to those who are hungry, to offer shelter to those who are homeless, and to comfort those who have been abused. While we show up weekly for our own benefit, to confess our sins one to another, there is no doubt that we are really there for the ministry of the neighborhood.
And on this particular rainy night… it would be no different.
The door opened and a completely soaked young man, about 20-years old, walked in and threw himself down on one of the vacant 1970’s sofa chairs, as if we had been expecting him. And by our response to him, he may have thought that we were indeed expecting him, as we greeted him with the delight of a long, lost friend.
“I’m drunk,” he stated, almost expecting us to be horrified.
We didn’t take the bait. A drunk guy walking into the church building seemed like the best dry place to be at that moment. Plus, we had all rattled the bottle at some point in our lives, so we were no different than our wet acquaintance.
“What’s going on man? Just wanting to get in out of the rain?”
Reaching for a sober thought he said, “I walk by this place all the time and want to come in to see what’s going on. I guess the alcohol gave me the courage to come in this time.”
We were certainly glad he came in… and we told him as much. Whether the conversation was Vodka-induced or not, it just didn’t matter.
This guy was clearly seeking something. And we were privileged to be the ones who could potentially help him find it. We just didn’t know how desperate he was to find it.
“I’ve been thinking about killing myself lately.”
“Oh yeah, why have you been thinking that,” we asked gently.
“Because I don’t have a purpose in life. I think about it all the time and I have come to the conclusion that since I have no purpose, there is no reason to live.”
He continued with his line of thinking.
“My friend told me that if God wants us to be at peace… and if death will give me peace… then God wants me to die so I will be at peace. So I have thought about killing myself.”
All I could feel at that moment was a deep and profound sense of sadness. Yes, for him, but even more so for the millions and millions of people in our country who are just as confused and hopeless.
There is no question that we live in an incredibly unique time in history in which there is a strange mass collision of shallowness, superficiality, competing narratives that try to explain our existence, and depersonalization wrought by technology, all accompanied by a growing disdain for spirituality, in general, and religion, in specific, from a hyper-rationalistic culture.
And it is my belief that this collision is leaving a growing number of people, especially younger generations, questioning their worth, their value, and their purpose in life.
The truth is that, whether some like it or not, humans have a longing to know that their lives matter and that there is a purpose for which they live.
And on that rainy night, we were witnesses to both the wreckage and the longing. The cry amidst the scattered parts was for someone, anyone to help make sense of the devastation.
From that vantage point, all one can see is rock bottom. All one can feel is utter hopelessness.
Who can help me? Who can save me? Who can help me make sense of my life that is falling apart? Do I not have a purpose?
He was asking the right questions, at the right time, to the right people. But, too many times, I wonder if those in the same exact situation as this young man are left completely alone in their brokenness and alone with their unanswered questions.
It makes me wonder about the church and what we are doing and how we are doing it. With more people than ever abandoning faith, and the wreckage of lives continuing to pile up, I wonder when we are going to come to the realization that something needs to change?
As those who have been in the wreckage ourselves, and as those who have asked in the past about our own identity and purpose in the devastation, we know that the real beauty of the wreckage and all the broken and busted parts is that they can be pieced back together by a Restorer.
And that is the greatest news one could ever hear. But I wonder if we ever get a chance to share that with anyone on a daily or weekly basis?
For it is God who thoroughly restored us in Christ and gave us a new identity. But even more than that… God gave us a purpose for which to live- that we may continue the task of restoring the lives of others.
And if that is where we have found our worth and our value. And if that is what wakes us in the morning and has our hearts and our passions throughout the day. And since we have found life in Christ and have been given the ongoing ministry of restoring people to God, of picking up the pieces and slowly, and lovingly putting them back together, ought that not be the task of the church?
Don’t miss the point here- I am not talking about this abstract, generalized idea of the church in which we each can agree that there is a problem, but easily hide and take no responsibility ourselves.
If there is a problem, we as individuals are the problem.
And you… yes you… not your pastor, not your church staff, not someone more educated in the Bible… YOU… have been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ for the purpose of being a minister of reconciliation… a minister whose task is the restoration of people to God.
And that was our purpose that night as the church.
“I don’t think that God wants you to die. In fact, God wants you to live…and to live a full life. And I am not quite sure that a full life and peace is found in death.”
I had his complete attention.
“There are two ways,” I started.
“One way is full of life, love, joy, kindness, unity, peace, turning the other cheek, forgiveness, mercy, service, grace, and hope… and it is beautiful and our hearts long to be a part of something so exquisite. That is the way of Christ- it is our true identity and our true purpose in this life. Christ gives us a new identity and then our purpose is to take that new kind of life to others. And that is what you are being invited into right now.”
I could see his eyes beginning to tear up as if he could never imagine that such a life is possible. Restoration was taking place in the rubble. And then I continued.
“But there is also another way. There is the way of death, hatred, bitterness, revenge, retaliation, division, self-centeredness, rage, resentment, judgment, pride, and despair. This way is not of God. And it is this kind of existence that strips away our true identity and true purpose in this life.”
“I don’t want that,” he said.
We all stood together, embraced as brothers, and began to pray. And it felt as if the prodigal son had come home. Home to the open arms of the Father through the embrace of a few guys who realized that we are all ministers who God is using for the restoration of others.
And these open arms are wide enough to hold together all of the broken pieces and loving enough to help put them back together.
It was a beautiful moment for the church, the people, that night.
And we were honored to be a part of what God was doing.
Questions to Consider:
Being that our country has changed and is continuing to change so rapidly and so dramatically, with more people than ever abandoning faith but searching for identity and purpose in their lives, how are you, as a minister of reconciliation… as a minister of restoration… realizing your purpose amidst the wreckage?
Church Leaders, how are you equipping your congregation to understand their identity and then to realize their purpose as ministers of reconciliation outside of the church building?
How does your individual church need to change in order to begin ministering to people in the midst of our cultural wreckage?
I would love to hear your feedback!