Summer gives us an opportunity to slow down. “The livin’ is easy; fish are jumpin,’” and all that. Without so many activities on the calendar we have more time to take trips, watch TV or kick back with friends or a good book. We all need seasons of restoration, but the cultural pull towards having fun and lazing around can make room for boredom and distraction to settle in like a fog.
In The Chronicles of Narnia: The Silver Chair, Aslan draws Jill and Scurbb into Narnia to accomplish a special mission: rescue Prince Rillian, the crown prince of Narnia, now missing for over ten years.The great lion gives Jill four signs to help them on their quest. She is to repeat the signs every morning and every night.
Before long her diligent daily reviews become more haphazard. Along comes the Green Queen with directions to Harfang, the village of the “Gentle Giants,” where shelter, a merry fire, and comfortable beds await. As they slog through a worsening blizzard they think less and less of the missing Rillian. More and more of hot food, clean sheets and soft beds.
They take a mission detour into Harfang where they are welcomed and comforted until…they see from a window that they have missed a sign. And in the kitchen, Jill discovers two giant pie crusts and a cookbook opened to a recipe for man pies. Danger brings clarity.
Their guide, the Marshwiggle, describes their mission drift this way: “If we had had our minds on our job when we were at the Ruinous City we’d have been shown how [to stay on course and follow Aslan’s signs]—found a little door, or a cave, or a tunnel, met someone to help us. Might have been (you never know) Aslan himself…Aslan’s instructions always work.”
The tragedies of this summer—terrorist attacks, cops shooting blacks, blacks shooting cops, our own heartbreaks and losses—remind us that we live in a world at war. Sometimes we need the reminder that, in this conflict and trouble, we who follow Jesus have a significant role to play. When Jesus described his mission he said,
I have come…
to bring conflict! Fire upon the earth! Not peace, but a sword, turning family members against one another. (Matt 10:34)
to destroy the devil’s work. (1 John 3:8 )
to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me. (John 18:37)
to bring Life! Life to the full. (John 10:10)
to preach good news to the poor. (Isa. 61:1)
to proclaim freedom for prisoners and sight for the blind. (Luke 4:18)
to release the oppressed. (Luke 4:18)
to seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19:10)
Jesus came to fight for the hearts and lives of people who need him. To show us, in the bright fires of conflict, what a breathtaking treasure he is. He has called us to a ministry of reconciliation and promised us competence and boldness to do it well. It is the only real solution to the heartbreak in our families and chaos we see on the nightly news.
We can default into pursuing comfort and having fun, like Jill and Scrub in Harfang. We can even pour our passion into chasing our visions of the small story we want to write, but what happens when we find our dreams, land a career? Then what? We find the love of our life, buy a home, and start a family. Then what?
Whether we settle for lazy summers or chase small good-life dreams, life becomes boring because so little is at stake. No tension or struggle to pursue higher hopes or dreams: no story = boredom.
Or maybe, in a world of constant access to a screen, boredom is not the summertime temptation it used to be. Maybe now the greatest challenge is distraction.
Whether it's boredom or distraction, real Life with vision, joy and intensity flows from seeing how Jesus lived and imagining what is at stake. Jesus does not offer me an invitation to include him in my nice Christian life. He offers an invitation to live in his larger Kingdom Story of conflict. Satan has engaged God in a battle for our hearts, and the stakes of the choices we make in our everyday lives are far greater than we imagine.
Sometimes we get so locked in the bubble of our work and family routine that it’s hard to get out. Few of us dig our heels in and cross our arms and tell Jesus we are not going to follow him on his mission. But in our nice, busy-life way we just default into drift.
Danger brings clarity. The fragility of our times brings spiritual well-being closer to the surface, both our own and others. It reminds us to pray. To get our minds “back on our job.” Prayer brings creativity and opportunity.
In The Great Adventure, Lee Strobel reminds us of a “little known law of evangelism: The more equipped we are, the more God seems to use us.”
Summer is also a good time to hang with neighbors. Grill some salmon. Make some ice cream. Smoke some ribs or pork butt (a South Carolina favorite). Have people over. Gently steer the conversation to the heart level. (What is your greatest challenge right now?) Offer to pray. Tell the stories of how God loves us, cares for us and meets us where we are. Be available. (More warm weather outreach ideas here)
Summer can also be a time for creative engagement with our church families, providing opportunities for outreach. The last few weeks I've pulled together a team to plan and host a Mid-Summer Starry Night Café women’s event. I love the way the arts connect with our hearts, and I see how they are under-valued in so many churches. I wanted to use the spiritual journey and artwork of Vincent Van Gogh to invite us to think more deeply about how we can see others with Van Gogh's and Jesus' eyes—seeing the image of God in each face. Responding with empathy and forbearance.
I wanted to use the Van Gogh presentation as a springboard into the kinds of IF: Table conversations we’ve hosted in our homes—six women, four questions, two hours of guided conversation. We’d never hosted an event focused on art or that combined a presentation with IF: Table conversation at a women's event, so my vision for this event felt like a bit of a risk.
Also, I’m filling in as interim Women’s Director and administration is not my gifting. But as I’ve leaned into Jesus I’ve been filled with joy and gratitude to see him prompt so many to step forward in their gifting to help pull our event off—one to handle the catering, another to recruit a team to handle the food service.
A couple of weeks before the event one of the men in our church approached me, “I have some of those clear, round café lights I could string for you.” “Great!” I responded. Two nights before the event I received an email from him: “I also have some star curtains I could hang. Pictures attached.” “Great again!” I responded. Once he did his magic the room looked like this:
Another young mom made the center pieces and set the tables. And another Mom, an amazing pastry artist, created cupcakes and plaque cookies as favors.
One of the highlights for me was sharing Van Gogh’s beautiful paintings set to Don MacLean’s song, "Starry, Starry Night."
It was a joy to partner together to produce the event and pray for God to use it. We worked hard, creating from our gifts, sharing them with others. (No boredom in sight!)
The result was far more than I imagined: The “Wow!” looks on so many faces as they came in. The warmth of conversation and laughter throughout dinner. Some women were deeply encouraged in difficult marriages and parental and prodigal relationships. One guest, a Muslim, wanted to come precisely because she loves art. And as God would have it, she wound up sitting by the Christian artist who had displayed her paintings in the room. Van Gogh's art and the story of his spiritual journey captivated the women.
As we keep our mission in mind, as we say, “Here am I; please use me,” as we take even small risks, we see God show up (“showing us a little door here, a tunnel there, sending the help we need”), reminding us that we are simply partnering with him in the great work he loves to do: loving and reconciling people to himself. His “instructions always work”—for his glory and our joy.
This for more info on hosting an IF: Table
This for more info on how I could help you host a Starry Night Cafe for your group
Parts of this post were adapted from my book Godsight: Renewing the Eyes of Our Hearts
How are you finding ways to stay on mission this summer? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below…