Want to know what to do with your life?

March 5, 2009

Last night, I went to TribeOne to hear John Perkins speak. 

I first read the name John Perkins about a year ago in a book by Charles Marsh called Beloved Community. Doug Banister, a Knoxville-area pastor who helped found Fellowship but is now downtown at All Souls assigned the book to all the Knoxville Fellows. Six girls and five guys were trying and failing to establish intentional community in Sterchi Lofts on Gay Street.

 I came in believing that this group of people was going to be my family and closest friends for ten months. To a degree, that’s what happened, but I was also the victim of my own expectations.

Yet, if it weren’t for a decision I made in late Spring of 2007 to join the Fellows Program, I doubt I would have even been in Knoxville to partake of Perkins’s wisdom. One of the first things he said was this:

“The good news is the fulfillment of a longing, a dream… that’s why it’s the good news.”bearlake

His insight is so obvious, so simple, but it cuts, it incises, straight to the human dilemma. We can’t fix ourselves.

Perkins went on: “Success from God’s perspective is to identify with people in pain.”

How do we do that?

He shared his poem entitled “Go to the People” that outlines his strategy:

Go to the people.
Live among them.
Love them.
Learn from them.
Plan with them.

Perkins talked about Jackie Robinson: “Jackie Robinson didn’t open no gate. He tore the fence down. He took the hinges off the wall.” He quoted Jim Elliot: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” He recited Acts 1:8 and 2 Timothy 2:2.

In other words, he spent the evening raining quotable quotes down on us.

My favorite moment, though, happened when Perkins was talking about the white pastor who mentored him in California just after he accepted Christ. Perkins’s voice trembled with love and respect when he recalled “Old Man Leech”: “Dreaming his dreams in me—that’s what discipleship is all about.”

Dreaming his dreams in me. That’s what Jesus does with us by causing his Spirit to dwell within us. That good news is almost too much to bear.

Discipleship is what the Kingdom of God is all about, and Perkins helped simplify that profound mystery for me.

What do we do? How then should we live?

On the day of Pentecost, about two thousand broken-heart people asked Peter that question after the Spirit fell like fire and the apostles began speaking in tongues. Francis Schaeffer asked that question his whole life. The French thinker and philosopher Jacques Derrida asked that question the year he died. Of all the questions he tackled over the course of his lifetime, that was the one that still bugged him.

How then should we live? What should we do? 

Perkins has a plan that keeps a spring in his step even at the age of 79: 

1) “Get to know yourself and develop a philosophy for your life that becomes the music of your life.” The music of your life…beautiful.

2) “In order to be the people of God, we have to give up our power bases.” Truman talked about how human power corrupts. We’re kidding ourselves if we think that we can move up the ladder in this world’s power systems and still be earthen vessels.

3) Forgive the people who wound you. Perkins: “I think forgiveness is the greatest therapy you can get.” 

4) Build “islands of hope” by choosing one or two people to walk with and disciple.

You want to know what to do with your life?

Choose a few people who are in pain. Pour your life into them. Dream your dreams in them. 

Now are you living out the gospel.

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