Dancing with the Devil in God’s Opera

As many of you know, I have recently moved back to South Carolina to plant a church. This requires much work on the front end, long before we hold our first worship meeting. I plan to spend time on this blog periodically updating about the steps I take in church planting — the trials, the victories, and everything in between. Part of this process includes preparing myself to become the kind of person that can withstand the pressures of church planting. To this end, Anthony Braswell, a church planter in my denomination, offered me this sage advice: I will need to equip myself physically, emotionally, and spiritually to see this task through.

When Christy and I headed to the mountains at the end of May to celebrate our fifth anniversary, I saw it as a time to begin to address those three areas. I saw the Appalachian mountains as a perfect place to grow closer to God. Surely the beauty that inspired such great writers as Silas House and Wendell Berry could inspire me as well. Nature is, after all, what John Calvin called the opera dei, God’s theatre, where we could see the handiwork of God almighty. We watched in the morning as the sun peeked from behind a veil of trees, as if it were waiting for the precise moment before it popped out fully, exposing its full and bright glory. We looked out from our cabin to green mountains, finger-painted by the hand of God. Surely, I expected, that this would lead to some sort of spiritual breakthrough.

It did not. Instead, I found myself waking up late at night, grappling with the enormity of the task ahead. I counted one by one the reasons I would prove insufficient to the work I needed to do. Where I expected to behold the beatific vision, I found the Man at Jabbok. I was not, nor am I now, entirely sure who or what it was that I wrestled with that night. Was this Satan, testing my resolve? Was this merely my own insecurities? Or, like Jacob, did I wrestle with God? I don’t know, but I do know that I came on the other side with a newfound resolve to continue in my mission.

At the lowest point, I resolved only that, even if I was utterly unqualified for this task, I could do nothing else. I knew that there was one thing and one thing alone that would make me feel as if I had done something fulfilling — that is to plant this church. If I was not the man who could do it, I prayed that God would make me that man. I believe that God continues to fashion me into the kind of pastor this church needs.

I want to put these feelings out there — my doubts, my insecurities — out there as an offering to those who have at any point believed God has called them to do something big. I came down from the mountains with a realistic sense of who I am and what I am capable of but also a renewed sense of what God can do. If the God who decorated the world with a word promised to see me through, what have I to fear? If God be for me, who can be against me?