In the middle of the mess

Ministry is not about outcomes. Following Jesus is about being obedient and faithful

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By Taryn JostMessy string

I love a good story. I love good character development and complex story lines. A good story often involves messy situations, and that messiness is what sucks me in. I connect with a character’s struggles and emotions.

It’s funny how I can be drawn to the messiness of the story in front of me, only to find myself undone by the messiness of my own story. I like order. I’m a list maker and a rule follower. When I set out to do something, I love having a plan and a set of steps in place that practically ensure success. It gives me a sense of grounding and control.

As a follower of Christ, I would love nothing more than to sit down each morning with the Father and get a rundown of exactly what he has planned for me and his kingdom that day. I would love to know the impact of what he has called me to, along with the long-range plan that he has for my life and ministry. It would allow me to see the big picture and maintain a sense of control. It would feel nice and tidy.

I’m learning, though, that as much as the Father has written my story for me, it’s not really about me. Instead, it’s about the Author himself. It’s learning what it means to be in relationship with that Author and living in a way that always reflects the Author’s heart.

Doing life with Brien

Our friend Brien has played a huge role in teaching me this truth. He has shown me that this life is not about my impact. That the quality of my story is not measured by conversions or the number of people who attend the house church my husband, Vaughn, and I lead. Brien has pushed me to walk in the truth that this life is ultimately about being faithful and obedient to that which the Father calls me, all the while growing in my relationship with him.

Brien sounds like a wise man, eh? I’m guessing he is pretty wise in his own way. You’d have to be, to some extent, to survive on the streets as a homeless man for 20-plus years.

Brien came into our lives about six years ago. As our relationship with Brien grew, we began to open our home and our lives to him. I was sure that Brien needed us, and I was more than thrilled to get started with all I was going to teach him. Brien struggled in the manners department and had zero sense of boundaries. He was lonely and obviously needed Jesus. To put it crudely, Brien was a poster child for anyone looking to challenge themselves in living out the way of Jesus.

Early on I would think to myself how lucky we were to have Brien as part of our story. What an awesome opportunity to really experience the impact of loving the poor, the needy, the outcast. When we shared with people about Brien, they would see us doing true ministry. (The pride and ugliness of this whole thought process is not lost on me.)

And thus, we dove into doing life with Brien. It didn’t take long for the romance of a good story to wear off. No matter how much we extended ourselves to Brien, it was never enough. We wrestled with what it looked like to be generous while still setting healthy boundaries. We were also forced to wrestle with the heaviness we felt each time we dropped Brien off on the street corner in the cold. What did it mean to care for Brien, to love him well?

Unexpected transformation

As we educated ourselves about the resources available to Brien, we were met with his own refusal to follow or work through the process required to gain access to those resources. Brien would often call Vaughn and me in a time of need, only to berate us for not helping him the way he thought we should.

I’ll be honest: Brien took me places few other people could. He pushed my buttons in such a way that I often found myself nose to nose with him, screaming and yelling. My heart became weary, and my emotions were shot.

I found myself asking, “What do you want from us, Lord? We’re doing everything we can to help this man. This feels like a huge mess. I thought surely transformation would come as a result of Brien experiencing the love of Jesus.”

Over time it became evident that transformation was taking place—transformation in my own heart. As the years passed, I began to learn that ministry is not about outcomes. It is not something I can control with my actions and choices. It is not about having someone or something to point to in order to prove I’m doing it right. It’s not about feeling accomplished or effective. It’s not about whether I’m having any kind of impact.

In surrendering my desire for control and results, I’ve come to recognize that living the way of Jesus really boils down to faithfulness and obedience. And it really is a messy business. There are no handbooks or manuals that walk me through what faithfulness and obedience look like. Scripture does not spell out how faithfulness and obedience play out for me on Bannock Street in Littleton, Colorado.

Called to the unexpected

You’d think God would make it super clear. That he’d want us to know exactly how to do what he’s called us to do. Yet, as he often does, God does the unexpected and calls us to something that is not always clear. In doing so, we are forced to press into a more intimate relationship with him. I’m compelled to seek his face and listen for his voice. I’m forced to ask hard questions and recognize my own brokenness. And as my intimacy with God develops, he does a work in me that allows me to grow in my likeness of him.

I’m learning to be thankful for the mess I’ve been invited into. I’m a bit embarrassed as I think of all that I thought I might teach Brien. I’m humbled and thankful for all that Brien has taught me. I never pictured this part of my story playing out this way, and yet I’m pretty sure that’s exactly how the Father intended it. The less I know, the more I must trust the One that does.  With time, I’m learning to find life in this way of doing things.

Order is a good thing. We serve a God of order. However, it doesn’t seem like Jesus was ever afraid of the mess that was around him. As a matter of fact, I would say he embraced it; he ministered in the midst of it; he redeemed it. Living the way of Jesus is messy. Sometimes I think we see that mess as an indication that we’re doing something wrong. I think more than not, it’s an indication that we’re right where we’re supposed to be, and God is simply waiting to meet us in the middle of it all.

Taryn Jost is a passionate follower of Jesus and is learning daily what it looks like to make him her first love. She and her husband, Vaughn, live in Littleton, Colo., with their four daughters. The Josts lead The Micah Project, a faith community in Littleton.

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This article is part of the CL Archives. Articles published between August 2017 and July 2008 were posted on a previous website and are archived here for your convenience. To report a problem with the archived article, please contact the CL editor at editor@usmb.org.

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