My grandfather was fond of saying, "Life ain’t no ride on no pink duck.” Think about your life for a minute, 'cause I'm willing to bet that if you're honest about it, you'll quickly admit that life — even while living it right in the very center of God’s call — isn’t always easy.
Some recent examples come to mind: Trying to lead a meeting whose agenda was left in the dust of disunity. “Raising” kids instead of simply allowing them to “grow up”. Wanting business decisions to be shaped by integrity not greed. Listening for God’s voice in the midst of so many others.
For most of us, the question resting at the center of this reality isn’t "whether it’s God’s plan for us to live lives of ministry", but rather, wanting to be authentic, and in the midst of the reality that our lives frequently contain chapter titles we’d never write, the heart-question is "how can we purposefully let our form flow out of our substance rather than merely hoping that substance will flow out of our form?"
In dedicating his book "Meditations Of The Heart" to a friend of his, professor, philosopher, theologian, poet and mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Howard Thurman says a most wondrous thing ... “To Eleanor Lloyd Smith, in whom the inner and the outer are one.”
This is what I am talking about. Basically, it’s the old “Which came first ... the chicken or the egg?” scenario. The chicken, what’s inside the egg, is the substance. And the egg, the shell, what we see on the outside, is the form. Whether we’ve thought of it in these terms or not, we all know the difference between "form and substance." Some folks might also refer to this reality as the difference between "form and function."
And so, wanting to be faithful to whatever ministry we’ve been called to (and maybe especially when things are difficult, or aren’t turning out the way we think they should) it’s often the fear of failure or of other’s shallow critique which leads us to settle for "form" while God keeps yelling ...
I care more about what’s inside you than what you’re
trying –– in your own strength –– to look like on the outside.
Let Me work in you first and then what I do
through you will be Me coming out, and not you."
In II Timothy 3:3 the Apostle Paul says that many people involved in ministry will have “a form of godliness but deny its power.” Form without substance. Projecting religiosity but denying the inner reality of Christ. We've all lingered or even camped out in this place. Sometimes more often that we'd like to admit.
Form is based on our own intellect ... substance is rooted in God’s power. Form leads to performance ... but the result of substance is godliness. Every day we choose, but like truth over fiction, substance is often stranger than form, although usually less popular.
Form is what we look like. Substance is what we are like. Form we can fake — often very well. Substance is never homemade. And whether we’re willing to admit it or not, the difference between the two is obvious to us, to others, and to God.
Sure it’s tempting to sacrifice substance for form. Wanting acceptance without question and praise without evaluation, we settle for cosmetic alterations instead of obeying Christ’s call to be transformed to the very core.
Form is shaped by our own abilities and talents, but substance is made up of, and shown through our spiritual gifts and our willingness to operate within them as we are called to do so. As we minister, form can take the breath away of those on the receiving end, but substance will feed their souls.
As we pursue lives of substance and throw off the emptiness of form, we are hit with the reality that even the most mundane tasks are often more sacramental in nature and eternal in potential than that by which the standards of form appear to be far more lofty.
The tables are turned as the important becomes the impotent and the last becomes first. How we are perceived by others is important, but only as we give supremacy to the consideration of how we are perceived by Christ. Holy Spirit speaks with clarity, making known the mind of Christ and calling us to nail form to the cross and pursue lives of substance. Beckoning us from the inside out, God forever seeks our attention.
Speaking through friends and enemies ... through Truth printed, spoken, sung, prayed and pondered, God seeks our heads and hearts through waiting and through doing. Through work and play, through reason and through idiocy, through eternity and through any given moment God summons us to understand the difference between form and substance. Are we listening?
In our busyness we must let the realities of our lives and the commands of discipleship to Christ settle us down to where we’re able to listen and shake us up to where we’re willing to change.
God, help us seek a spirituality of substance brought about not simply by adjusting our vision to the blur we so often find ourselves in. But rather, by looking in and looking out and looking in and looking out, may we come to a place of focus, clarity and resolve. May we be people of courage, our choices reflecting a willingness to examine our motivations and our fruit by a standard which dares to seeform as chaff and substance as wheat. Godspeed.