“A strange way to begin a ministry” – these were the words I found myself using to describe my current situation when chatting over coffee with a friend recently. I was referring to the heavy-duty medical treatment that has rather overtaken the start of my ministry at Horndean. At a time when one usually rides the wave of fresh energy and excitement that a new ministry brings I am having to step back from the role the Lord has undoubtedly called me to – so yes, a strange way to begin a ministry.
Yet even as I heard myself saying these words I thought about Jesus and remembered the rather strange way His ministry began. Rather than immediately go from His baptism in amongst the crowds, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested.
In the Old Testament story, the wilderness is the place where God forged and formed the Israelites so that they were fit to be the people of God. Just so Jesus, although already perfect, is led into the desert to face the temptations of ministry: self-reliance, short-cuts and self-glory. At the end of forty days, Jesus has passed with flying colours and His public ministry can begin.
Back to the conversation over coffee. Just as quickly as I recalled the rather strange way that Jesus’ ministry began, I also realised that the next (and most demanding part of my treatment) will last for 42 days (so pretty close to forty) and even more remarkably that it begins on the day after Ash Wednesday, so almost exactly coinciding with Lent!
Now I don’t want to pretend that I’m looking forward to this treatment that I face. I’m not, and it will be pretty grim, but from these realisations I now have no doubt that the Lord is wanting to use this time for me to be with Him in a special way and to refine and prepare me for the ministry that lies ahead. So I will allow the Spirit to lead me into this time.
I don’t know if you observe Lent at all, but perhaps I can invite you to join me, so to speak, in allowing the Spirit to lead you through this Lenten period in a new way, perhaps even using the challenges and struggles that you face to draw you closer to Him as well?
This whole business has all been so unexpected and challenging, but the timing suddenly seems a lot less strange.
Mark Wickenden, Minister