On Friday night, Dr. Peter Scazzero spoke at the baccalaureate service on “Hard Lessons Learned Since Graduating from Gordon-Conwell.” Dr. Scazzero is pastor of New Life Fellowship Church in New York, and author of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.
Scazzero planted a church that grew fast. On one level, he was a success, but when he looks back he realizes he was gaining the whole world while losing his soul. He was tired all the time. One of the churches they planted split, and he caught himself cursing while driving one day. His wife was tired of being a single mother, and on January 1, 1996, his wife told him that she was quitting the church they planted, because it was bringing her death and not life.
It was one of the kindest things she ever did.
Scazzero made some changes, and the 11 years since have been some of the best of his life. He outlined five hard lessons that he wishes he had learned earlier.
1. Be a contemplative
Our first call is to seek God. We learn from Mary and Martha that our priority is to cultivate a relationship with God. If we are too busy, we end up living on other people’s spirituality. We live in a state of partial attention. The most loving thing we can do is cultivate our relationship with God.
Bernard of Claveau would not allow anyone to serve who was not a contemplative. If we are too busy, we are being slothful.
It is an act of rebellion to be contemplative in our culture. Nouwen reminds us that it is impossible to grow spiritually without silence and solitude.
2. Be yourself
Be true to the unique life God has given you. It’s good to learn from others but be yourself. Let God flow out of your strengths, weaknesses, and gifts. Do what God called you to do.
3. Embrace your limits
We need to develop a theology of limits. The first act of rebellion in the Garden was about limits. John the Baptist teaches us, “A man can receive only what God has given him.” Embrace your limits. Example: marriage is a limit – and this limit is a gift.
4. Learn to wait on God
Scazzero says that he has ADHD, so it’s hard for him to wait. Lots of people in the Bible never waited on God: Abraham when he had Ishmael, Saul, Judas.
We don’t know what God is doing, but things aren’t what they appear to be. The things we think are blessings don’t turn out to be, and the things that we think are curses turn out to be blessings. God’s kingdom is slow, often unimpressive, and it comes through servanthood. Don’t worry – God will build his kingdom, but not on our timetable.
5. Grow in loving well
Charity and Its Fruit by Jonathan Edwards changed Scazzero’s life. The only measure of true spirituality is agape love, and you can’t fake that.
The best gift we can give others is God flowing through us.
On his deathbed an old Hasidic Rabbi said: “When I was young I set out to change the world. When I grew older, I perceived that this was too ambitious, so I set out to change my state. This too, I realised, as I grew older, was too ambitious, so I set out to change my town. When I realised I could not even do this, I tried to change my family. Now as an old man, I know that I should have started by changing myself. If I had started with myself, maybe then I would have succeeded in changing my family, the town, or even the state – and who knows, maybe even the world.”