Yesterday, while just doing some reading, I found a story I'd lost. It is by, and about Henri Nouwen. I've used it as an illustration in the Residency program, but couldn't remember where I'd seen it. But there it was, right where I'd left it, years ago, in the Upper Room Guide to Prayer for Ministers, page 124.
The opening line grabbed me again: "We're often not as pressed for time as much as we feel we are pressed for time." Then he tells about being so pressured with his demands of teaching, that he took a prayer retreat at a Trappist monastery. While there some students on retreat asked him for five meditations or teachings on prayer. Nouwen wrote that since he was at the monastery, the decision wasn't his. So he went to the Abbott saying he came on retreat to get away from having to teach for a period.
The Abbott told him to do it. And Nouwen protested, saying he didn't want to spend his retreat time preparing meditations. And the Abbott replied, "Prepare? You've been a Christian for forty years and a priest for twenty, and a few high school students want...to be a part of your life in God for a few days. If you pray half an hour in the morning, sing in our choir for an hour, and do your spiritual reading, you will have so much to say you could give ten retreats."
Nouwen writes: The question, you see, is not to prepare but to live in a state of ongoing preparedness so that, when someone who is drowning in the world comes into our world, you are ready to reach out and help. It may be a four o'clock, six o'clock, or nine o'clock. One time you call it preaching, the next time teaching, then counseling, or later administration. But let them be part of your life in God - that's ministering. (Originally in Leadership magazine, Spring, 1982)
For a preacher, finding a good old illustration is like finding an old friend. And this one speaks to me at several points. Nouwen, like a lot of other spiritual giants, knew that when he had a lot to get done, he needed to take more time in prayer. When I've got so much to do, I want to cheat on my prayer time.
It gets me that Nouwen lived under orders. He didn't make the call himself about teaching, but went to the Abbott. Wonder how our ministry would change if we quit being such "Lone Rangers" in ministry, and when to trusted friends, spiritual advisors, or coaches for decisions in ministry.
And finally, the whole idea of living in a state of ongoing preparedness. My perfectionism tells me I've got to get the research done, cover all the bases, and come up with my best effort, which then is re-worked. One of the good things about blogging regularly is that it pushes me out of that mode. Give yourself with what you already know. Live in the state of incompleteness, always in preparation, always in expression. But do so grounded in prayer.