Oil exploration is one of the most difficult, expensive and risky forms of business. After all the surveys of the landscape are done, a number of test bores are dug to test whether the geological surveys are pointing in the right direction. More often than not, the dig is unfruitful, and the search must begin again. Occasionally, however, there is a strike of significant proportions, which gains significant publicity (unlike the laborious tasks which precede).
I have come to recognise much of the spiritual journey has strong parallels with mining. There are many days of laborious digging: search the scriptures, searching the heart of God in prayer, and searching of our own heart. Long dry and unfruitful periods can often appear, where little progress is evident, the frustration can quickly set in. Some days, however, there can appear the gush of fruitfulness: major gains are made, or opportunities afforded.
This was brought home to me in the past week. There was not much different from other weeks: time spent in prayer, reflection, reading; mixing with people – listening, sharing, talking. But it seemed that floodgates had opened. On one day there were three significant ministry encounters: people sharing burdens, raising questions, wanting someone to share the journey. At the end of the day I was both exhausted and exhilarated. And it was not an isolated day. It was as if there had been a “major strike” this week, when the sense of God at work was obvious.
It can be tempting to sit back and think that these have come in isolation, at random – and there may be a sense in which there is no obvious pattern to them. But at a personal level, there was a significant amount of preparation. The time spent in solitude and in “fruitless” endeavour has actually been a preparation for weeks such as these. It is not a sense of having been faithful enough for God to use me, but of being attuned and aware for those moments which present in such a way.
In an era when productivity is valued, and measurable returns are the only ones which matter, it is easy to put aside the spiritual disciplines as a waste of time and energy, perhaps even regarding them as self-indulgent. But, as Jesus often reminded his disciples, we do not know the day or the hour when he might appear. It may be in the thirsty, the hungry, the refugee, the prisoner, or the homeless person. We need to be ready for those moments of encounter.
And simply because we did not gain an obvious response does not mean that we have not done what God asked of us – after all, in the parable of the sheep and the goats, the sheep were oblivious to the fact that they had done the work for which Jesus had commended them.
So… keep digging!
August 24, 2003