“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6–7, NASB95)
Five years ago our church went through the hard struggle of seeking to reduce its staff in response a felt need to restructure how things were done within the church as responsible stewards of the resources with which they were entrusted. This was a very difficult season in a lot of ways. There were even some who took offense and there were others who were more simply hurting. The hurt was not intentional, but it happened nonetheless. As part of this restructuring Robin and I spent considerable time questioning God about His future for us. I remember a meeting in May of that year when the question was posed before the congregation, “What about Joe?” This was a hard question to hear being asked because I was that Joe. I went home very troubled that day, and I cried out to God that same question. Over the course of the next two weeks a number of things unfolded such that Robin and I were brought to a point where we had the firm leading that God indeed did have something else in store for us. I must admit that I never anticipated the walk that would follow, one that still continues today.
It is a difficult thing to go through change, especially change that you did not want or anticipate. But it is something that happens to all of us. It even happens in churches as they continue to seek God’s leading for how they should walk properly handling what He has laid before them. There is no church that will get everything right all of the time, and there are congregations that will have to struggle as a result. The real question then is how both the leadership and the rest walk through it. Here in our passage for today we are told, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.”
On June 3rd of that year I was delivered the morning message in which I also let the congregation know what was going on with us. In that message, I told them that we believed God indeed had plans for us that we did not know, but until such time that He showed us those plans that this church was our home. In the years that have followed there indeed have been many struggles for us, but our church home has continued to embrace us and show us the love of our incredible God. Their continued prayer has been a huge encouragement as we look to God and wait on Him knowing that He indeed does care for us.
Just before beginning to write this post I watched a video that brought tears to my eyes. It was of an event that I loved to participate in while serving as a pastor, and realize how much I miss times like this. Over five years of searching to re-enter vocational ministry we’ve had several times when we thought it was going to happen, yet it didn’t. In some of these I know the reasoning while in others I don’t. During this I’ve had some very dark moments, but I’ve also had those ones where God has shown Himself to me and my family in one way or another not only to be faithful to hold us but also to continue to care for and direct us.
It has been a real struggle not to strive to push God’s hand away and set my own course. I can see so many things that “I” would have done differently or that “I” think were inappropriate or wrong. I know that I have failed many times in trusting Him, and He has been so loving in resetting my heart and mind. One of these resets was last week as I was listening to the radio in the car. Romans 4:18 was quoted speaking of Abraham, where we read, “In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, “So shall your descendants be.” (Romans 4:18, NASB95) God had promised Abraham that all of the nations would be blessed through his seed, yet year after year Abraham and his wife Sarah were unable to conceive and bear a child so that this very promise could be fulfilled. We read that both of them had begun to question if they heard right, and they even sought to take matters into their own hands. Sarah gave her husband maid servant through whom to bear a child and thus fulfill the promise. Of course, a child was born. But God made it clear to them that his child with Hagar was not that child of whom God spoke. So, they continued to wait. And even when two angels came to Abraham as men and refreshed the promise we read, that Sarah laughed. But despite their doubts in in the face of overwhelming odds, God fulfilled His promise and Isaac was born to a man who was about a hundred years old and whose wife’s womb was dead (Romans 4:19).
The words “hope against hope” rang loud in my head and my heart. God had made a promise to Abraham, and long after any one would have ever expected it to be fulfilled and when every human means of measuring it as possible was exhausted, God fulfilled His promise. When normal circumstances would say that all hope is lost, we read that Abraham continued to hope. He did not hope perfectly, but he hoped, and God was faithful.
In our passage today we read that we are to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God so that He may exalt us at the proper time. Things may not go our way in our lives or in our churches. The reality is that God is not about us having it our way, but us submitting to His way and then watching Him work. We don’t know how or when our answers or our help will come. We don’t know what form they will come in. We don’t know what twists or trials will come along the way. As hard as we might try to maneuver the path the reality is that God is the one who is sovereign over everything and He does indeed have a plan for each of us. He has prepared works for us, and He has declared that we are to walk in them. For the time being those works may not be the works that we desire the most or that we think we are called to, but they are the ones that God has before us and He expects us to be faithful in them as we wait on what He might have next.
God knows our hopes and our struggles. He loves us beyond anything that we could ever ask or imagine. He has eternal glory in store for every single one of us who are saved by the blood of His Son through faith. And, it is by faith that He calls us to walk even now trusting Him for the future. The reality is that I may not return to ministry as I desire, but that does not change the desire of my heart. I am to trust God to bring the two into line and direct my path, whether it is as I hope or as He surprises me by opening up something else. We are to look to Him for the strength for today, the health to do the tasks before us, and the provision to meet the needs that press.
Every single one of us has trials in our lives. Some seasons have more than others. We all are likely to be forced to make changes that we otherwise might not have wanted. This is all part of living in a fallen world. But we are always to be mindful of this one incredible truth—Jesus has overcome the world!!
“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NASB95)
Our God cares for us more than we can ever know and He is powerful beyond all measure. “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29–31, NASB95)
“Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:1–6, NASB95)