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How My Faith Blew Up and I Learned to be Human Again

The industrial revolution colonized my faith, and I never even knew it.

For so much of my ministry, I focused on doing things for God. I’ve been like a child who takes a toy their parent has given them, and returns it to the parent as a “gift.” One of the first revelations I received from God was that I own nothing. I can’t produce anything under my own power. Yet my response to God’s action in my life has always been about creating return on investment. It’s so hard to receive a gift without providing anything in return.

As a pilgrim in the north of England in 2005, I experienced something life-changing. It was an anointing by the Holy Spirit. God touched me in a way I’ll never be able to describe. I felt resolute clarity that God had called me into a life of service to him. I thought I was ready to give up everything.

My first response to this amazing encounter was to dream of evangelizing Europe. I find this embarrassing to recall. Not because Europe (or America) aren’t in need of the gospel. That’s a mission I’m still excited about. But the idea that I, as someone who had just received the Holy Spirit and who hadn’t even read the New Testament yet… It makes me blush. In truth, I needed people to continue evangelizing me. I was a baby in Christ, and I needed spiritual parents – not to start a family of my own!

It’s fortunate that I listened when God guided me to enroll in a small Quaker seminary in Indiana. I spent several years studying the Bible, Quaker/Christian tradition, and the practice of ministry. This was crucial. My time in seminary broke me open in a lot of ways. I learned to listen more. I submitted my sense of personal inspiration to the discernment of a wider community. I grew in maturity and patience.

But my production-oriented, industrial mindset remained largely untouched. My ministry was still centered on what I could do for God, rather than simply receiving the gift. My focus was on how to engineer tangible results that the world would recognize. I ended up transferring my desire to do something for God into a desire to do something for the Quaker movement.

I was on fire for Jesus and his kingdom. And I knew that the kingdom of God is one of unmerited love and grace. But I wanted to merit it. I wanted to build the kingdom of God with my own two hands. I wanted to be a successful minister, like my heroes from the Bible and Quaker history. More than anything, I wanted to be a minister after the mold of Paul and George Fox. An apostolic movement-builder and church-planter. A charismatic leader who could break open whole new frontiers for the gospel. A man whose faithful preaching and example lays a foundation for community.

It would have been one thing if I had merely burned to be faithful. It would have been beautiful if my dream had to been to use the gifts God gave me to bless others. To show God’s love through my actions, to be a servant like Jesus. But I wanted more than that. I wanted more than Jesus. I wanted results. I wanted to be measurably successful. I wanted to hit those successful ministry benchmarks as defined by the early church and the early Quaker movement. I wanted to win.

The spirit of this age, of the market, of industrial capitalism, was so strong in me, I never even recognized it. I gravitated towards materials from the Evangelical world. They promised to teach me how to be more successful, more productive. I, too, could have an earth-shaking ministry just like George Fox. I could turn stones into bread and throw myself from the top of the temple. Nothing would be beyond me.

It was all a lie. No matter how much I studied the work of other ministers and applied their techniques, I never saw the kind of results I was seeking. The communities I served stayed small. I couldn’t support my family with the income that my various projects brought in. My wife and I grew burned out. Our shared ministry was beginning to feel like a revolving door of failure. The image of ministry success that I dreamed of had turned into a nightmare.

And so, at a certain point in the fall of 2014, I gave up. I was finally exhausted enough to face the truth. My dreams disconnected from reality. My aspirations seemed to be running against the grain of what God was asking of me. I had no idea what God wanted, but it wasn’t this.

I’ve spent the last couple of years in the wilderness. I’ve backed away from full-time ministry. I’ve taken on full-time, secular work. I put my time and attention into family, career, and the nuts and bolts of making a life for ourselves in this city. I’ve found friends and activities that have nothing to do with any sort of ministry objective. This is new.

These have been hard years. It was painful to step away from the work that had defined my life so completely in my twenties. It was disorienting to release leadership and allow my communities to fall apart, lie fallow, or morph into new configurations I hardly recognized. These last few years have felt like dying.

But I’m thankful. These wilderness years have been a dark blessing. Through the pain and confusion, God has been scouring out my insides. He’s challenged my industrial, results-oriented mindset. The Holy Spirit has hollowed me out and broken me.

I won’t say I’m healed. I won’t say it’s over, or that I’ve figured my life out. There’s nothing that definitive. I’m living in a not-knowing that is powerful in its ambiguity. I’m living in the desert of the Real, and all I have to guide me is the hope that God will lead me, even if I don’t know it.

For the time being, I don’t want to do anything for God. I also don’t want to do anything for principle, causes, or movements, either. Any positive impact I make, any real joy I experience, is going to come from doing things for people. Not an abstract idea of people, but the flesh-and-blood human beings who live in my neighborhood, joke with me at work, and share my commute. My ministry field is the brothers and sisters that God has placed in my life. My measure of success is the joy, generosity, and love that I bring into theirs.

Maybe someday I’ll be part of something big. But that’s up to God. Until then, I’m excited to see what small can do.

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  • J. J.

    I appreciate your prophetic ministry, Micah, through what I know of it in what
    you write, a great deal. It might not be quite what you had in mind, all
    those years ago, when you had your experience in the north of England,
    but, in a way, for someone that you have never met, who is a long way
    from the US, to benefit from your reflections, struggles, and
    faithfulness, is a valuable thing. You might not think of it this way
    but what you are doing is, indeed, doing something for God, even if, as
    you rightly say, it is doing something for people too. Your measure of success is, I think, an extremely valuable one.

  • One of the passages from the Works of Stephen Crisp that has stayed with me for many years is, “And upon a time being weary of my own thoughts in the meeting of God’s people, I thought none was like me, and it was but in vain to sit there with such a wandering mind as mine was, while though I laboured to stay it, yet could not as I would; at length I thought to go forth, and as I was going, the Lord thundered through me, saying, that which is weary must die; so I turned to my seat and waited in the belief of God, for the death of that part which was weary of the work of God…” (The Christian Experiences, Gospel Labours and Writings, of That Ancient Servant of Christ, Stephen Crisp, Phila, 1822, p.30) Though it may not seem so at the time, it is the blessing of God that the works of our own hands fall through our fingers like the fine dust of the dust bowl days of the 1930s that sifted through every crack and crevice.
    The desperate need of humanity is life. True ministry is to point to the source of life, which is not us. When we step into the lime-light, we obscure other people’s view of the source of life. When we are pointing people to Christ as their teacher within them who will lead them into the pastures of life and teach them to drink of the waters of life; when we are pointing people to Christ, their eyes will be on Him, not on us. While that may seem obvious in retrospect, it is not so obvious when we are having to learn it.

  • louisquinze

    Yes , we all have to learn to do whatever it is in G-D’s strength, not our own masquerading as G-D. There’s a really good book by Maggie Ross about the ministry of the priesthood of all believers – ‘Pillars of Flame’. Really worth the eyesight. And it mentions that our wounds, like Christs as he offered them to Thomas should stay unhealed in worldly terms. To be a healer we need to be vulnerable otherwise we do it in our own power – not G-D’s. Remember ‘without me you can do nothing’ .
    Pax Christi – Christ is Risen – Alleluia!

  • Susan Smith

    Yes, Micah….I’ve looked for more words, but that is all the Master is giving me now. And an “amen!” to Ellis Hein’s second paragraph. Thanks for that faithfulness, Ellis. Susan

  • MM Farmer

    Forty-odd years ago I recall Elizabeth Watson defining maturity as “having a high tolerance for ambiguity and conflict.” Her words have rung true for me throughout the years. It seems to me it’s about answering the call wth our hearts from that still place of mindfulness. Blessings to you in your work.

  • Dave S.
  • charlesburchfield

    I second that emotion!!

  • Peter Dale

    Great, important post.

  • broschultz

    The following is called “Life’s workout”. Of course there is only one person that can sing it. Next time we catch each other remind me to share it.

    Some People think God has a need to be thanked by me and you
    But they’ve put the cart before the horse as we tend to do
    “thank you” isn’t just two words, it’s a workout that we need
    it helps us count our blessings and gets our mind to heed

    That life isn’t a rat race to be run each and every day
    it’s a workout designed by God that forces us to pray
    Love, Praise and Patience are the threadmills in life’s gym
    and the more that we use them the more we become like Him

    So when you’re feeling down, and before you get depressed
    lift your hands to heaven and rejoice in your mess
    laughter is God’s medicine, praise is His pill
    the Doctor’s always there for you and he never sends a bill

    Tell Him thank you for the people that He’s given you
    the spouse and the ex-spouse and the children too
    thank Him for the teachers who helped you to learn
    and for all the jobs and bosses and money that you’ve earned

    Remember life isn’t centered on what we own or wear
    where we live or who we know doesn’t count up there
    God is more concerned with our workout in life’s gym
    where Love, Praise and Patience make us more like Him

    God doesn’t need our thanks, He’s happy as can be
    He is the Great I Am, omnipotent is He
    He loves to watch us working out, knowing that some day
    We’ll be joining Him in heaven for a very long, long stay

  • Callum Geier

    Hey brother this is what christ and God has been teaching me too.We let him do the work Trough us the lord…I know what you are talking about…God has been speaking this same to me on this What you have posted.its about Jesus..We are human at end of the day.And its God who builds his kingdom…Prayers blessings frend..peace in the lord……

  • ThompsonJD

    I appreciate your honesty and vulnerability. It’s so interesting how we learn and grow, seeking and listening to that of God. It seems like you are listening and living, I am glad you are.