What Makes Me Effective

by Eric S Love
podcast available, September 25, 2011

i’m going to just talk today. big surprise, huh. i want to share with you what makes me effective doing “my” work of the ministry.

there are three things that qualify me to do this: (1) wisdom is justified by her children... there is fruit in my life, (2) i’ve made it my business to study what i call the human debate and learn how to be effective in it, and (3) i’m the one standing up here talking. any of you could do the same thing.

the human debate is this: it’s us dealing with the complexities and conflicts of our being human. these complexities and conflicts are only magnified when you add another human being to the equation. just like when you bring two atoms together and some physical or chemical reaction takes place, the same if true when two people come together even if for just the briefest moment. and i love that. it can be tragic. it can be painful. it can lead to intense pleasure. and it’s always beautiful if you can see it clearly. our humanity, the thing we are both bound up in and liberated by. that is the human debate.

so here’s my starting point: doing the work of the ministry simply means you influence others in your life wherever your life is lived. it’s that simple. (story of phillip? supernatural encounter with Jesus but no practical anchor point to give it depth and soil in which to grow.)

three places to look for influence: (1) those deep, intimate relationships that define us in so many ways, (2) those relationships we have with people because of consistent geographical nearness: we work together, our kids play ball together, we live next door to each other, and (3) those jewels we run into randomly at the market or the movies - strangers who we have have the honor to cross paths with.

essence? when to give it. when to keep it. (how much of yourself should you give? what is the measuring standard? how much is enough? how much is too much? well perhaps we shall see.)

purpose? what is mine? what is yours? how do we know? honor what you have, who you are. it’s easy to despise those things when you don’t see their significance. but doesn’t it make sense that God equips us with what we need to function according to His plan? again: our greatest significance lies in those real life interactions where we influence others. sometimes it takes little (a waiter, a cashier); other times it takes practically everything. don’t miss the significance of either just because they don’t look like proper ministry. (a preacher has the least influential position in the work of the ministry because he is pigeon holed to such a small, specific demographic: people who actually come to hear him preach. in the work of the ministry, preachers aren’t the rock stars: you are - because you live and breathe where the people do.)

Proper ministry - true religion - is loving people. so the best thing we can do is learn to love effectively. this can be challenging. (love can overwhelm us.... make us feel like we can’t do enough. if we feel that way it’s a good indication that we are tethering our love to some false sense of responsibility... we can’t love effectively when we do that. everything gets muddles and we lose sight of the two things which are our greatest commandments: love God, love others.)

this is why people often enable those they love the most. this is dangerous.

what about God’s plan? it isn’t some hyped up super-spiritual ambiguity whose instruction manuel might as well be written in latin. it’s written in the language of life, and that’s a language we all know well. how do you know God’s plan? the same way you know yourself. the two are siblings. they belong together. you have no responsibility (and frankly no right) to try and carry someone else’s calling. really, that’s the worst kind of identity theft. you have one identity: and it is yours. get comfortable in that. follow your instincts (you have the Holy Spirit, right?) and trust that God is not only Creator but He also knows how to clean up should you make a mess.

He is the best parent ever. Every parent knows that to have children is to have messes, and sometimes the greatest beauty is in those messes. we are endearing to Him that way. more than that, we are golden - an invaluable, incalculable prize that He really enjoys.

God really enjoys us - not because we live clean lives but because we live life.

don’t stress over the human debate. relax. embrace it. yes, life is complicated, but that doesn’t mean our reaction to it has to be. this takes practice and discipline, but we can learn to be genuinely comfortable in our own skin, with all it’s blemishes and wrinkles. those are signs of use, and use suggests experience, and - if we allow ourselves the privilege to grow - experience leads to wisdom. we may not recognize it as wisdom because we tend to make things like wisdom and holiness little unattainable idols. our goal is to worship God, not our own goodness.

my good is seriously flawed. but it’s still good. your good is seriously flawed, but it’s still good. learn to see that beautifully flawed good in others. learn to see it in yourself. it sounds a little self seeking to try and like yourself, looking out for number one and all that jazz, but if you are going to help someone be healthy you have to be healthy.

if you ever see a troubled kid, it almost goes without saying that there’s a troubled parent there as well. now this isn’t to scare us. we are all troubled after all. but being afraid isn’t the point. the point is recognizing our weaknesses, doing the best we can with them, and knowing - really believing - those weaknesses do not keep us from being just the way God wants us. (and we can grow in our weaknesses. in our weakness His strength is perfect. we can change.)

who would ever accomplish anything if they first had to perfect themselves? did you know mother theresa occasionally had diarrhea?  well she must have, though i’ve never read an account of it. but that didn’t stop her from being - literally being - the personification, the physical manifestation of Jesus to so many hurting people that there’s no way to really comprehend the extent of her influence. my point? we all make messes. sometimes those messes are harder to clean up. but our humanity is not a handicap. it’s our qualification.

 truth: we can help other humans because we are one. get it? it’s not that difficult to see if you divorce your own self-important hype from the real thing, the actual work we are here to do. and when we carry false responsibility it is nothing more than self-importance. it’s pride.

and guess what. pride is one of those quirky little things about our humanity. but even it can’t ground us when we need to be flying. it’s just something we have to reckon with and keep moving.

i have always had a knack for connecting with troubled and troublesome boys. (and i’ve ironed out a lot of my own self-importance in the last five or six years, which means i did this kind of thing for 15 years or so before i got those wrinkles out...) there are three reasons for this. first, because i am a troubled boy. second because i’m genuine - not because i’m perfect and know everything. third because i have learned to actually see people. i say it’s a knack. really, it’s a gift - one that i’ve cultivated by trial and error. i know it’s true and it isn’t arrogance to say so. it would be arrogant for me to argue with the obvious nature of the thing. i can sing pretty good, too. that’s not arrogance either. it’s acknowledging what i have. false humility is arrogant. being able to recognize what your good at is maturity.

so how do you know what you are good at? well look at what you do. what do you do well? that’s what your good at. now how does that come into play in doing the work of the ministry, in finding out what your purpose is? often times the greatest thing you can have going for you is something very practical, like a strong work ethic. seriously. it gives you credibility. that can’t be understated. people want to see authentic people. those are the ones we are ultimately drawn to in a lasting, meaningful way. it is easy to become attracted to someone because of some glamorous gifting or glitzy personality, but when there is no authenticity - and part of that authenticity is a genuine interest in others - then the attraction will become dead weight in our hearts. we may feel a genuine pull to someone and it could even have been love, but if we are simply attracted to an outward charisma - whatever your favorite flavor of charisma it might be - then it’s like visiting a carnival. you have a good ride of it for a while but eventually you throw up and all your left with is the remains of your funnel cake on your shirt.

three places to look for influence: (1) those deep, intimate relationships that define us in so many ways, (2) those relationships we have with people because of consistent geographical nearness: we work together, our kids play ball together, we live next door to each other, and (3) those jewels we run into randomly at the market or the movies - strangers who we have have the honor to cross paths with.

i’m not being sarcastic with that last one. i of all people can be ruthlessly loathsome toward strangers (on the inside at least) but there is this peculiar anti-reality i often find myself in. i will see a perfect stranger - often just see, not interact with - and find that they are just that: perfect. my spirit is moved with a compassion so deep and rich it takes my breath. i sat next to a woman on a plane a few weeks ago and i loved her by the time we landed. i know nothing about her, but i could feel her life radiating from her life a small wind.

see these people have families and friends, hobbies, jobs. they have deadlines and phobias. there are foods they love and foods they hate. this lady bought a sandwich on the plane and it made me smile to think: hey! she wanted a sandwich. i bought wendy’s at the airport. she waited to buy something on the plane. what is special about that? because whether she thought it through or not, it’s what she did.

it’s hard to explain. humanity is a beautiful thing. we are surrounded by it everyday and it just becomes the way of life. but it is so beautiful. each individual is so unique, and yet we all have the human debate in common. we are all part of the same race. have you ever watched a total stranger breathe and stop to consider that their bodies for the most part work the same way yours does? i know it sounds awfully existential and mystic. but my God it’s beautiful.

and you take that principal and it only becomes more pronounced and rich as you work your way across the relational spectrum. this person you work with day in and day out... you know that irksome thing they do when they get flustered, how they can’t keep anything organized and so something is always missing? you can take it to the bank. what a delightful little quirk. it’s significant because you see it and know it. and it becomes part of their beauty. and your husband or wife or best friend... you see them wearing that pair of shoes that long time back gave up the ghost - but they still got soul, or soles, and so the guy just isn’t willing to part with them. after all, they’ve walked through so much together. it’s like a symbol of something to them. and so it is for you, too. i was skyping with a friend of mine the other day who i haven’t seen in too long and they moved the camera so i could see something near the floor - and i saw the shoes they were wearing. i cried out, “i see your shoes!” and they would have been freaked out a little that it made me so happy to see those ratty shoes except they are familiar with my quirks. my quirks, or my obsessions as he called them once, are “what makes you you.” isn’t it beautiful that he knows that? he knows and, as he puts it, he “forgives” me of them. but really he likes them. he likes me and so he likes what makes me me, even if those things can be annoying sometimes (and though it may be difficult to believe, i can be quite annoying).

this is seeing people. and after a while when you practice really paying attention to people, you can see much more than those kinds of things. it’s discerning spirits. it’s prophetic. it’s just learning to see people, and that comes from paying attention.

grace is cheep and mercy goes a long way. there’s a picture frame at work this kid has that says “life is complicated. love makes it easy.” every time i see it i tell him it’s a load of B.S. love doesn’t make anything easy. grace and mercy does that. grace and mercy for you, grace and mercy for others. they are like shocks on a car. they absorb the impact of life. give them liberally, even to yourself.

there are relationships that require all of us - they come from our essence. that’s okay. those are the hardest and those are the ones that have the greatest mileage as far as putting life back in us. but most relationships thrive when we feed them from the overflow. it’s easier the further back across that spectrum you travel.

now, what i’ve described is what makes me effective. your job is to figure out what makes you effective.

Eric Love, 9/25/2011