The Myth of the Blank Page
‘Let’s work from a blank page.’ To a creative person nothing could be more exciting. The first mere doodle may become a strategy. An idle brainstorm become a firestorm of new purpose. I love blank pages. They are full of possibility. We love new beginnings. Novel ideas thrill us. So many possibilities!
I note recently in my reading that this was true when guys in Europe split up the map of Africa. They started afresh, with a blank page, ignoring thousands of years of tribal history and millions of actual people. We did the same on Australian land. New ministers do it in old churches too, for they love the idea that everything can start afresh with them. (They don’t love the equally true idea that everything can turn stale with them, but it logically follows as well.) The blank page is a very powerful image.
But what if our lives aren’t a blank page with Jesus? What if Jesus has already been at work in us, even recently? What if what he has been doing draws a line, or sets a trajectory? What if ‘now’ is not a slingshot into the great unknown, but a place that Jesus has already slung us towards?
I believe he has. I believe he is already writing the script, if we are willing to read it.
The Discipline Script
Hebrews 12 wakes us up with the alarming news that God has a lot to do with some of our hardship, and he is actually using it in His love. He is writing our story.
'Have you completely forgotten this word that addresses you as his child?
It says, "My child, do not make light of the LORD's discipline, and do not
lose heart when he rebukes you, because the LORD disciplines those he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his child". Endure hardship as discipline.....
No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it
produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained
(Hebrews 12:5-8, 11)
Now, if I am reading it rightly, there are times in our life (perhaps a lot of times) where God is very keenly and actively at work in us. What is more, he clearly has a trajectory of growth for us. This growth may be different to the stuff we do or about to do, of course. It may be he is making us less greedy, and that will hardly determine whether I do youth ministry or join the music team in my service of Him. But it may well include the things we do, or re-shape the things we do or over-turn them altogether.
If God is already writing a script in my life by discipline, then why have I opened a blank page that satisfies my sense of possibility? Surely it is better to continue the story he is writing with its much more satisfying reality of promise?
Not Planting, But Reaping
Time to switch up our metaphors for planning. When we come to vision and planning we love to add to our 'blank page thinking' new images – sowing, planting, forming, pioneering. This is a blank mind thinking.
If God has already sown into us, planted a seed, formed us up and cut the path ahead of us, maybe a change of image would help. What if we were not so much planting, but reaping?
If Hebrews 12 is right, then God has already done work in us which simply awaits our participation, or rather our ‘submission’. (Hebrews 12:9) And it is a reaping work, because ‘later on, it produces a harvest of righteousness for those who have been trained by it’.
‘Vision Might Begin With Confession’
I recently heard this line from Craig McCorkindale, as he reflected on Nehemiah 8-10. As Israel set out on plans to rebuild and repopulate Jerusalem, Israel paused. They did not look upon a blank page. They looked upon a city that had been written on in blood and written over in more blood. The city was a ruin made barely habitable again. It clearly had history. They were not at the beginning, they were somewhere in the middle. Their days were clearly full of promise, but they had a past. God had been among them. He was still among them. He would work yet. They dwelt on their sin, and on God’s discipline, and prayed that they might see a harvest of righteousness in days ahead.
This is not a place many people go to voluntarily. Jesus has to drag most of us there. Wise people learn to live there longer.
So, I think really, really good visions for ministry often begin not by looking ahead, but by looking behind - by noting the hard stuff, by attending to the heart, and by being excited about what God might yet still do not just in spite of our history of sin but even with our history of sin.
He loves us as his children, and he has plans for us. I would rather read God’s script than write my own. Wouldn't you?