These are days of major transition for me. When the fall arrives I will assume the position of World Director of World Methodist Evangelism. In conversation with numerous people I’ve mentioned the huge shoes I’ll be filling in following Dr. Eddie Fox in this position. For 25 years Eddie has been a Spirit-filled, visionary leader. He’s got huge shoes!
The whole image of filling someone’s shoes got me thinking about my feet; not just about my feet in general – it was about my clay feet. I’m all too aware that I’ve got them. But thankfully, some of my most powerful spiritual experiences have come when I’ve recognized that fact rather than denied it. So as I prepare for this new phase of ministry, I’m counting on the possibility that each of us can be both clay footed and Spirit-filled. I’m counting on the possibility that despite our inadequacies and mistakes, God’s grace prevails. Thankfully my hope is consistent with Scripture. Moses stuttered; Peter was a doofus; and Paul was a hard-core persecutor.
I’m counting on all this because one of the truths of the gospel is that God’s grace prevails not because of us but despite us. We carry the treasure of God’s grace in a clay jar so that it can be clear that its power comes not from us but from God. In this time of transition, I believe one of the most important things I can remember is that I am only an errand runner for the Spirit. After all, for me, this faith thing started when I recognized God saying, “Light up the darkness!” and my life filled up with light as I saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful. So if people only look at me, they might well miss the brightness.
I know I’m not the only one with clay feet. We’ve all got them – even our most beloved leaders and mentors. We can’t afford to forget that fact. If we do, we risk becoming like the older brother who refused to join the party when his wayward younger brother returned home. We risk becoming self-satisfied and self-righteous – our brothers and sisters may be lost and in need of finding, but we certainly aren’t. We’re enlightened, open-minded; we never left home in the first place. That kind of self-certainty doesn’t tend to lead to being Spirit-filled. Something tells me that as long as the older brother refused to experience the party, he was going to miss out on experiencing the Spirit as well.
It’s not only about overlooking our clay feet. It’s just as dangerous to keep them covered, working our butts off to make sure no one notices. When we do that we become so intent on keeping up appearances and making sure our outsides are presentable that we miss out on the transformative power of the Spirit on our insides.
Scripture says that we’re the unadorned clay pots into which God has poured God’s precious message. That means that clay feet or no, in every ministry transition God generously lets us in on what God’s doing in the world. So if we’ve all got clay feet then a first step toward being Spirit-filled is to take honest stock of them. Maybe that first step is realizing how clumsy our clay feet really are; how much pain they can inflict when used to step on, bump into or stomp on others. Maybe if we’re truly to be the unadorned clay pots into which God has poured God’s grace, we need to be exceedingly cautious about how we tread in the lives of others.
Earlier this year I traveled to Nigeria to speak to a group of 20,000+ women over the course of four days. Many of these women had to walk a full day just to get there. It was a transformative, Spirit-filled time. Last week I had lunch with a woman who had gotten my name from her pastor. After googling me, she wanted to “pick my brain” about ministry and life. Another Spirit-filled time.
These kinds of moments have come and gone in my ministry, and more are sure to unfold with this transition; as they do, I need to continually ask myself, how am I treading? Lightly? With grace? Out in the open? Is it about me? Or am I the errand runner for the Spirit I need to be? Sadly for me, as my ministry moves forward, people are destined to discover my clay feet – if they haven’t already. I can only pray that others won’t miss the brightness because they are looking only at me.