For the past three years, Debbie and I have been wandering in a wilderness. I almost wrote “felt like we were wandering in the wilderness” but I really do believe that it really has been a spiritual wilderness. After 29 years in ministry, three years ago the elders of the church I was serving asked for my resignation. For two months after their request, Debbie and I visited some friends and some mentors to ask for spiritual guidance on what to do. We decided to give our resignation along with some suggestions given to our elders. These were suggestions made by our mentors to make the transition a bit easier on us, and our mentors believed, on the congregation we were serving. The elders decided not to take any of our suggestions and the “divorce” ended up being a very messy one.
Since that time we have been looking for God’s guidance for where our next place for ministry would be. That has been the journey in the wilderness. During that time I have worked at a variety of jobs, had many opportunities to preach and use my gifts but it has seemed that God has not opened any doors for full time ministries so we continue to wait. So often in this we have just cried out for God to send us a sign, an indicator, a LETTER! telling us what to do. But so far that has not happened.
As most of you know, we do not really expect a letter from God but waiting is hard and sometimes the idea of a sign or a letter is very inviting. Over the past few months I have had the opportunity to preach sermons where the Biblical concept of waiting on God was a major focus. One of those sermons was from Isaiah 40:12-31 which ends with these words: ” … but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint”. I pointed out that this list is the opposite of what we might expect from Hebrew poetry. We would expect to see it the poetry go from the lesser to the greater, start with walking and not fainting and move up to “rising up like eagles”. If that were the case we Westerners would make the point: “If you start out right you can walk with out fainting but as you try harder and trust God more then you can soar the heights like eagles! Just hang in there you can do it! One day if you are faithful you will soar!” But God is not saying that here. He is saying that as you learn to wait on the Lord (and waiting is not a passive activity, but one marked by prayer, meditation, time alone with God, using all the means of grace) sometime you soar like and eagle! But sometimes all you can do is manage to walk without fainting.
I don’t know about you, but I would much rather soar like an eagle! First of all it feels better and secondly for preacher types it looks better. Most churches want a pastor who soars like an eagle all the time, they would really be embarrassed if their pastor was only just slowly walking without fainting. For sometime now I have been able to walk and not faint but that is about it, no soaring like an eagle, not even an ungracefully fluttering into the sky for a few seconds like a wild turkey, just walking without fainting. Not even running without becoming weary, just wearily walking and being thankful that I was not fainting.
I am posting this blog to share my heart because I know many of you are waiting, many of you find yourselves in a wilderness of one kind or another. I have a list of pastors, some friends I know very well, some friends I have never met, just interacted with over the internet and some that I do not know, and they do not know me, that I pray for regularly. Men who have faithfully served a church, some have faithfully served churches for many years. Some are pastors, some youth ministers, some ministers of music who find themselves wandering in a strange wilderness because the elders they once served with treated them in unloving ways. These men have struggled (some for several years) to come to grips with wandering. They are waiting on God to work in their hearts and waiting for God to give them directions for their future. I pray for all of these men regularly because I know that the only thing that can make waiting spiritually profitable and endurable is God’s tender mercy communicated through the finished work of Christ.
I write this particular blog for another reason. I also write because Debbie and I are headed tomorrow to Billings, Montana to see if maybe, just maybe God is giving some guidance. We are going for some training with the organization, Relational Wisdom 360. This is an organization started by Ken Sande, founder of Peacemaker Ministries, to help equip individuals, couples, churches, groups and businesses to “build stronger relationships, develop valued influence and create compelling witness” and through those things help minimize the amount of conflict in these relationship. I can say that in the two months that I have been working through the material for these classes God has been working in an exciting way in my own life. I find God giving me new insights into my own heart to help me push aside my anger and other destructive emotions. I find myself more genuinely interested in the needs of other people (sometime people I only meet for a single day, like the woman cleaning my room in a hotel while I am on a business trip). I find myself more aware of God being at work in and around me every day, every single day. I can see the real value in this ministry as a means of helping people be better aware of their own hearts, better aware of God’s heart and better aware of the conditions of the hearts of those around them. Will this be a place for me and Debbie to use our gifts? We don’t know. God has not sent us a letter but we are hoping to find out. If you are a praying person would you pray for us over the next week as we attend this training and as we prayerfully make decisions in the coming weeks and months.
One last thing about waiting. All Christians know about waiting. Most Christians (if they are
spiritually honest) have yelled at God about being tired of waiting, tired of the wilderness. But we know that we are not waiting for God like Vladimir and Estragon were “Waiting for Godot”. We may wait a long time, we may wait until the end of our days and still not know where God wants to take us. But we know that God has already arrive on the scene. Two thousand years ago he put on flesh and blood and lived a life of poverty and suffering for us. He died in our place, to pay the price for our sins. He even put himself in the place of having to wait on God himself, a waiting that for him would be equal to an eternity of waiting as he waited on the cross for “it to be finished”. But he has also told us that while we wait, he has given us a picture of God to remind us of what he looks like as we wander in the wilderness. It is like the GI who gave his girlfriend a picture of himself before he headed over to Europe in World War II and told her: “Don’t forget me, as soon as I get back I promise you we will be married”. He gave us that picture when he told us: “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, … Whoever has seen me has seen the Father”