A family crisis this last week knocked my world offline. Nothing was normal, even in the smaller ministry particulars like writing this blog. I violated deadlines, missed fellowships, got behind in spiritual pursuits. Life has a nasty habit of losing molecular cohesion and flying apart in different directions. Surely, we think, this kind of thing should only happen to the unfaithful. Lovers of God’s mission ought to find a smoother way while pursuing His cause.
We think we should be allowed the convenience of focus without peripheral chaos. And never, under any circumstances, should obstructions prevail against, or threaten what we do for His name. When contrary winds do blow, the faithful bend their backs harder, row deeper, sweat more profusely. We worry more, try harder. Of all the good gifts given besides our very salvation, we treasure our gifting for service the most–the precious “talent” that the master has delivered to his servants for use as He is away.
Worldly Christians find this valuation strange, for their joys are still found in earthly things. Even when they talk of faith, it surrounds how to turn God into a dispenser of temporal goods.
But those who have tasted the deep satisfaction of laboring in God’s field, and the nearing joy of His judgment seat, can say with Paul, “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service” (1 Tim. 1:12).
While this gift is priceless, at the same time it appears to us a priceless glass work, intricate and fragile. Should circumstances manhandle it, we fear its destruction, and tend to respond with all the protective powers our mortal strength can summon.
At times we’ve experienced bitter circumstantial crises that seem oddly tangential to our work. They have nothing to do with failure concerning numbers of people reached, or power in preaching.
Epaphroditus, a man related to Paul’s gospel work, became ill. It was not an attack of persecutors, nor an injury incurred during a preaching session (Phil. 2:25-27). It was simple sickness–nasty, undramatic, unlikely to earn anyone a kudos in church history. It must have exerted an emotional downward drag on the apostle, as he wrote, “Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious” (1 Tim. 2:27-28).
Such inconveniences create additional burdens, and seem to fall outside the pale of spiritual concerns. It is as though we have been left alone with them, while God inhabits a completely separate place. And so we begin to feel we are fighting a war on two fronts–one where we lead Bible studies, write, teach, and shepherd in God’s presence, while in the other we endlessly battle personal emergencies all by ourselves.
But Paul had a foundational understanding of his own apostleship, that it was “by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope” (1 Tim. 1:1).
God had commanded the going forth of ministry, but His command was not a spoken edict like one given by an earthly monarch. The kings of this world issue orders all the time, basically telling the individual to go forth and be actor, director, producer, camera crew, set designer, head-of-wardrobe, casting chief, and make-up artist. The responsibility is all on the shoulders of the servant. If something gets in the way, tough, solve the problem on your own time. Just get the job done.
But God’s command to Paul was meant to be a reality surging through life circumstances like water through cheesecloth. Paul was never to be left alone solving a myriad of bedeviling practical details so he could hurry up and get back to God’s plan. The God who sent Him was with him in the thick of life’s bogs.
Like when a member of his ministry team got sick.
When transportation broke down.
When good weather didn’t hold.
When personal health worsened.
When funds were tight.
When human bureaucracies ran like syrup.
We dread these circumstances and many more like them, because they represent diversions of time and energy away from real ministry.
Yet God foreknows all the potential entrapments of life, the upside down situations, the apparent unnecessary and unrelated events. Though they pose hindrances to the forward vector of our work and afflict us with grievous sufferings, He often allows them to remain in the path of His servants.
When circumstances arise that seem to forbid our ready obedience, and our anxieties ratchet upwards, we only need to remember that it was He who commanded our service. He initiated it. We rightly continue to find ways of active involvement and not passivity, nevertheless, slowdowns and delays are part of the way He executes His perfect will.
God not only commands, He knows.
God not only knows, He works.
God not only works, He succeeds.