I am a sap for Christmas movies.
I know. Most sell sentimental gooiness in heaping portions. In the movies (Hallmark or otherwise), everything works out right. After all, it’s Christmas, and that’s the way Christmas works. Everyone gets what they want.
Many are old standards. You see St. Nick defending himself in Miracle on 34th Street. Jimmy Stewart stands on the snowy bridge at Bedford Falls, licking the blood off of his cut lip. We relish in the good feelings and the practical morality of such films.
It tells the story of a struggling inner-city church with an overworked preacher whose marriage is slipping away. He prays a desperation prayer that gets answered in the form of an angel. While the preacher thinks help means “clerical,” the angel holds up a mirror to let him see himself.
I like the movie for a lot of reasons. I suppose the profession has much to do with it.
For 40 years, I have been in ministry. I have served a small country church in which everyone was related. (That was quite a ride!). Then, I went on to a larger church but with its struggles, as all churches of that size have. Finally, I am settled in a larger suburban church serving in various roles.
The one thread that continues to be true is ministry is fire-fighting most of the time. As the preacher (Courtney B. Vance) wrestles the competing emergencies of an arrested teen, a boiler that explodes. Members tug at his emotional sleeve. Those in serious ministry know middle-of-the-night phone calls and people who need counseling NOW for a problem that has lingered for 10 years.
We all came out of college with a headful of nonsense. “Spend 1 hour of study for every minute in the pulpit,” intoned the preaching teacher who never worked as a preacher of a local church. It takes about 2 days to realize how silly such advice is. Who has the luxury of that?
I started out with the same Messiah complex most young preachers have. Save the lost. Win the world. Take care of everyone.
It is a recipe for emotional, physical, spiritual, and familiar flameout.
Life doesn’t come in convenient packages for anyone, especially preachers. Your kids get sick, and your wife needs attention. When you have a fever of 103, you cannot soldier on. Confusion is not content with a recipe of “suck it up.”
The movie reflects a single value I have rediscovered continually over four decades. Everyone has a calling, and it’s not your job. If you do not take care of those God has placed in your care seriously, you won’t have a ministry. Neither will you have much of a life.
That’s not to say sit at home and do nothing. That kind of nihilism is deadly to the human spirit and to the Jesus example we emit. Jesus went to the hills to pray, away from the people, apart from the press of crowds, away from demands and schedules. If Jesus did it, why can’t we?
It is ok to say no. As someone has replied, every yes is a no, and every no is a yes. When you say no to good things, you can say yes to the best things.
Real ministry is to be a steward of God’s gifts. A hard worker, but a bad steward doesn’t serve the Master.
The movie ends with the typical “tied up with a red bow.” The church reclaims its purpose. The marriage is saved. Everyone leaves the church happy and smiling. It’s Hollywood.
But, in real life, the choices must come. And I don’t care what your profession. God wants you to take care of those he has entrusted to your care above all other demands.
Can we do that?