It’s Thursday afternoon and the conference is winding down. There’s only one general session left, and while there is anticipation to hear the speaker (Tony Evans), there is still the sadness, weariness, and relief that accompanies the end of a conference. How to describe it? It might be akin to the feeling at the end of a week at bible camp, at the end of a retreat, or even at the end of a college school year. Sadness because these past few days of enjoyment, learning, and fellowship with brothers will soon be over. Weariness because none of us have gotten enough sleep over the past few days. At 6:30 AM on Tuesday, the dining hall was full of breakfasters. By this morning, it was only half full at 7:00. Relief because I know within the next 12 hours I will be back at home, sleeping in my bed, with my wife at my side, and my daughter in the crib in the next room. Relief in getting back to a routine that is more “normal”, even if it means that I will again become the feeder instead of the one being fed. I think similar feelings accompany all endings; we look back with fondness and lingering regret even as we look forward, knowing that we won’t really be happy if things stay the same; life is made up not of stasis but of change. Memory provides the anchors that give us a mental, emotional, and spiritual stasis even in the midst of life’s perpetual motion.
Even for Thursday afternoon, the student center is still noisy with activity. Only the tenor of the noise has changed, from the buzz of Monday’s anticipation and the rumble of Tuesday’s discussion and rumination, to Thursday’s dull roar of completion and the rattle of luggage wheels crossing the tile floor on their way to the cars in the parking garage across the street. Still the people are here. Students reading. That software vendor finishing up a late lunch before taking down his display and heading home. Two young mothers sharing a table with three three small children and a double stroller. There are two men in a booth behind me who have been critisizing the worship band that’s been playing at sessions this week. “You can’t even hear yourself sing when they play.” “You don’t know whether you’re singing off or on.” “It’s only really good when you’re singing with the pipe organ.” It appears that some things never change.
There have been so many good teaching moments over the past several days, and so many ideas for writing, that I’m going to have to just write some short drafts of them right now, and then flesh them out as I have time over the next few weeks. It’s hard even to know where to start. We have heard from a huge cross-section of evangelical teaching. Ravi Zacharias, the Indian philosopher and logician. D. A. Carson, the intellectual professor par excellance. Gary Haugen, one-time leader of the United Nations team that investigated the Rwandan genocide. James MacDonald, the pastor of Harvest Church here in Chicago who at first glance would have you think that Tony Soprano, or better yet, Michael Chiklis’s character from The Shield had taken to preaching. Direct. Hard-nosed. Bang-on. Colin Smith, his Scottish brogue beginning to be tempered by 15 years in the States. Sam Solomon (I suspect somehow this was a pseudonym), an Afghani who warned us of the evils of the system of Islam. Joe Stowell, the long-time president of Moody, passing the torch to his recent successor. Each of these deserves an essay in their own right, and then separate essays for the things I learned from them.
I hope that, months from now, I can point back to this week as a defining point in my life this year. That sounds very dramatic, and I don’t mean it to be. But this conference has challenged me to a renewed passion for Christ, a renewed desire to lead in my family, a renewed desire to make a priority of the Word and prayer. I have been too dry for too long; when Erwin Lutzer warned this morning of the pitfall of losing clear focus, and neglecting the disciplines, I felt at the same time the prick of conviction that I have done so, and some small (though I keep thinking misplaced) comfort that I am not alone in that struggle. I get so caught up in the things of ministry that the time in prayer and the Word get neglected. I think of it this way: how many hours have I spent in the last month working on church stuff? I’ve worked on two websites, set up a blog, installed a new projector, led worship for an outdoor Sunday service, led a worship team practice or two, and that’s just what I can think of from the top of my head. I have spent hours and hours on good stuff like that. But how many hours have I spent in the Word and prayer? Honestly? An hour? Two? Certainly not more. I say this to my shame, and in the sadness that an active, busy life of ministry can be the mask for an inner man that too often is missing meals and not getting rest. I need to change some priorities. God help me as I try to get things balanced better.
This post is meandering more than the well-formed post would; I wander from observation to insight to self-examination and back again. Hopefully I didn’t lose you halfway through it; I guess I should remember that if you’ve gotten this far, you’ve read it. If you’re my friend and you read this, get back to me in a couple weeks and see how I’m doing. My only trouble with being consistent is being so on a regular basis.