A little over a week ago I shoved all of my belongings into my VW Rabbit, said goodbye to the dearest people in my life, then contorted myself into the driver’s seat and set my heart and GPS to the same destination: go west young man.
God has called me to Pasadena, CA to help shepherd a diminutive and endearing flock called Prism Church, and I find my mind wading through a pool of introspection. Why did the Lord call me here? Why did the Lord call me here? What enemy-lain snares await me? Why do I think that I am prepared for this? I realize that it is God who calls and others who affirm, but one way that I can tell I am more prepared for ministry now more than ever before is this: I completely understand why in Paul’s list of “qualifications for overseers” (found in 1 Timothy 3), the Holy Spirit had him add verse 6 to the list,
“[The overseer] must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:6).
Paul wrote that because of me.
When my spiritual vision initially went from black and white to color, I became proud of what I now knew. Ironically, the same book which I was learning so much about also happen to mention that, though I was gaining information, I was not yet gaining knowledge (1 Corinthians 8:2). Luckily for me, the Lord is sovereign even over foolish zeal, and looking back I can see His gracious hand guiding my clumsy steps while allowing this little clayen jar to gather its share of cracks.
Now that I am venturing off into foreign waters, I see this shift working out practically. What I mean is, I find that I am moving from knowing the promises of God to needing them. And this shift is good. God’s promises are less proverbs to be espoused as they are precious ballast for our feeble rafts of faith. I thought I would share a few of these promises where this shift has been most pronounced, in the hopes that it may encourage your heart to cling to these truths afresh.
1. My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Here’s the reality, I just moved 2,500 miles to begin a job that, by definition, I am completely incapable of accomplishing. For only God can shine spiritual light which makes Jesus Christ irresistible (2 Corinthians 4:6), and only God can effect any spiritual growth (1 Corinthians 3:7). I have known theoretically that it is Jesus, not me, who builds and sustains his church but now the rubber has hit the road. This makes me feel weak.
And that is the point.
I am learning that all the weakness and self-doubt that I feel is not an accident, in fact, it is essential. As J.I. Packer wisely remarked, “God doesn’t allow us to stay with idea that we are strong. Oh, we may have that idea, but the Lord is going to disabuse us one way or the other, and it will be good for us and it will give glory to Him when He does so.”
God has promised that he will be my strength, that it is “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10); I have known that, but now I desperately need it. So I joyfully join in with the psalmist in singing, “My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me” (Psalm 63:8).
2. The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps. (Proverbs 16:9)
My view of “finding God’s will for my life” has changed dramatically over the past few years. I used to envision all of the potential paths in life like the doors in Let’s Make A Deal, with the “right” way hiding behind just one door and the “wrong” ways cynically crouching behind all the others. I have come to realize that this view of God’s providential oversight of our lives is not only unbiblical and wrong, but it is paralyzing, especially in an age of infinite options. I think even the question “what is God’s will for my life?” is wrongheaded. I think a better question is “what is God’s will period and how can I leverage my gifts to further that?” I do not think there is usually a definitively right or wrong answer to this question, to which the verse above speaks.
Though I know this better than I have ever before, I find that I need this promise. I need to know that God will be the one who establishes the steps down the path my heart has planned. Without this confidence I can drive myself mad with all of the “what ifs” concerning this move. I know God is sovereign, I mean I am the poster boy for “the young, restless, and reformed” for crying out loud, but now I need God to be sovereign.
3. As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)
I know the gospel. On the cross, Jesus Christ, the spotless lamb of God, took all of my sin and shame upon himself and perfectly propitiated the righteous wrath of God that my sins deserved. More than that, He clothed me in His righteousness and now when the Father looks at me His heart is full of love and joy because of the worth of His precious Son. I get the doctrines of penal substitution and double imputation.
Yet, I’ve found that stepping into ministry has caused the memories of past sins to come seeping out the cracks in the caverns of my mind, like the putrid stench from a backed up sink disposal. On the one hand, this is a good thing. It is incredibly humbling which is a gift of grace. However, I also know that one of the names for the enemy is “the accuser of the brethren” (Revelation 12:10), and I am painfully aware of the massive bullseye on my back as far as this goes. Satan hates Jesus, the Church, salvation, and everything else that is good and pleasing to God, so of course he is naturally going to try and turn godly sorrow into debilitating shame. As a wise and dear friend of mine once reminded me, “Shame is the currency of the Devil.”
So, more than knowing the gospel as simply the way I got saved, I have found find that I need the gospel more and more everyday. I need to know that God, because of Jesus, has fully removed all of my transgressions—past, present, and future—from me and is now pleased with me. As Paul so matter-of-factly puts it, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies” (Romans 8:33). That is right. That is true. Who am I to think myself a better judge than God?
4. “I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’” (Revelation 21:2-5)
This is the logical corollary to the last promise, for this is the ultimate purpose of the gospel. And I need it now more than ever.
One day all who are in Christ—the Bride of Christ—will be assembled together and will forever be united. I know this is true, but as I made my bittersweet circuit of goodbyes across Orlando and gave (attempted, rather) a farewell benedictions to my church family, this promise was the sweet balm that softened the salty sting in my eyes.
Saying goodbye is painful, especially when it is a more permanent goodbye like a move across the country, because we were not created for goodbyes. We were created for eternal communal bliss. But as C.S. Lewis once remarked after speaking about the future “weight of glory” that awaits, “. . . the cross comes before the crown and tomorrow is a Monday morning.” The book of Acts gives us a moving glimpse into Paul’s departure from his church in Ephesus,
“And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, 38 being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship” (Acts 20:37-38).
So, in these past few weeks I have tied my emotionally frail mind around this promise like a rickety boat to a dock. I know I will be with all of my loved ones who are in Christ forever, but much more than just knowing this, I need this.
I am sure there a hundred other promises that have shone brighter in my life and mind during this transition, but I will leave it here. May the Holy Spirit illumine these wonderful gospel promises more and more, in all of our lives, as the day draws nearer.