In early 2010 I sat in a meeting with church leaders. I had been a senior pastor for just over a year. We were having a meeting to discuss a new building that was to be constructed to house our church in the next year. This turned out to be one of the those meetings a pastor never forgets.
If you could choose between the two, who would you rather be Saul or David? If you know much of the Old Testament story of these two men I imagine you would reply David pretty quickly. Me too. I mean who doesn’t want to be the guy that drops a 9 foot tall giant with a rock to the forehead? Who doesn’t want to be the guy who’s considered to be the man after God’s own heart? Most would say, “sign me up,” right away.
Difficulty in ministry and even difficulty in declaring the Gospel does not indicate what God is doing with your labor or with His Gospel.
When Paul goes to Thessalonica (Acts 17), initially, both Jews and Gentiles respond favorably to the Gospel. Paul reasons in the synagogue and proves that the Messiah must have suffered and died, a concept lost to the Jewish people in their religion. Many people, Luke records, come to the faith in Jesus.
But, like usual for Paul and those who labored with him, jealousy with the religious group who worried that they would lose their power and influence began. Paul will be swiftly run out of town and left to wonder if the Thessalonican people will continue in the Gospel and whether the church will grow. Paul does not get to return to find out. These folks are so vicious they even follow Paul to Berea and try to disrupt the delivery of the Gospel there. Unable to go to Thessalonica himself, Paul sends Timothy to see what has become of the Christians and the church there.
This is where we get to see the incredible power of the Gospel of Christ. Against all odds, not only does the Gospel continue in the hearts and lives of those who heard and responded to it, but the church in Thessalonica becomes arguably the greatest church founded by Paul. As Paul writes to the church he tells them, even a little bit to his surprise, what he’s heard about them:
“And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,” (1 Thessalonians 1:6-9)
Wow! Can you imagine being Paul and hearing Timothy’s account of what he found when he went to visit the Thessalonian church?!
This leads me to two conclusions:
First, the Gospel is not limited, in any way, by external circumstances. The Gospel is that powerful!
Secondly, whether you’re in vocational ministry or a volunteer, if you find yourself leading and ministering in times and places of difficulty, remember this: your labor for the Gospel is producing more than you would ever dream. Sometimes you don’t get to see it but the Gospel is still producing. It’s that powerful!
God’s at work, always at work, even when you can’t see it. Whether your a leader or volunteer in your church remember this, God’s ability is wrapped up in His Gospel not in our ability. Just declare and live the Gospel, give your life away and watch God do things that will glorify Him that will surpass anything you ever dreamed!
I often think about how perspective can make such a difference in attitude. We tend to be more driven and have more perseverance in our work when we believe things are going well. Often in life we evaluate how things are going based upon our perspective. I certainly understand how this works. But, how much should perspective control our attitude?
I’ve always been intrigued by the story of Ezra after the foundation of the new temple is completed and the different reaction between the young men and the old. It’s all based on their perspective. The young men shout with excitement because there will soon be a temple again. They’ve only heard about the former temple that was destroyed when their parents were hauled away to Babylon. The old men as children, however, saw the glorious temple of Solomon and were convinced the new temple could never live up to the glory of the old one.
The book of Ezra explains the confusion of sound as some cheered and other wailed at the sight of the new temple foundation:
“And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. 12 But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy, 13 so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away.” (Ezra 11b – 13)
Have you ever experienced anything like this in life? I sure have. I’ve been in meetings with ministry leaders in which we looked at the same decision or situation, some view it with optimism and others with trepidation. The difference based solely upon perspective.
The question is; how much of our perspective really plays a part in God’s plan?
There’s an answer to this question, I believe, when Paul’s makes this monumental statement in his letter to the Philippians:
“…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” (Philippians 4:11)
The truth is; God’s plan is not limited or perpetuated by man’s perspective. God’s perspective is different, greater and more clear than ours every will be in this life. He is great, powerful and is working out His plan according to His perfect will. The good news is, how I feel about it doesn’t make any difference as to whether God will do what He’s set out to do.
I think this truth comes to fruition in Paul’s quotable statement that followed the verse above; “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
I believe God wants us to have an optimistic perspective simply because we can trust Him in His work. As that work involves us, we work with confidence that He will complete what He’s set out to do. But, even if we’re experiencing struggle, we know, our perspective will not hinder the work of God. Just as the men of Jerusalem, both young and old, saw the completion of the temple, we will see the completion of God’s work too.
I was reading through the flood narrative this morning just thinking what it must have been like for Noah as he spent all those years building the ark. God not only asked to do something unprecedented but it also took as many as 55 to 75 years for him to make it happen.
Can you imagine? God giving you a task that will take so many years to fulfill? Of course for us today, since we don’t live 800+ years, 55 to 75 years is a life time. But, the days were just as long, or short as it were, in the days of Noah as they are today. A task that takes ten years, or even five years can seem like an eternity!
But, I’m reminded in the story of Noah that God is working out a pretty big plan of which He’s chosen to develop over a long period of time.
So, what kept Noah going? I’m positive the Noah was just as human as we are. I’m sure he had the same emotions, the same seasons of life (some good and some difficult) and I’m sure Noah had times when he was wondering why he was doing what he was doing. Don’t you think he ever stopped and asked himself, “Why am I building this ark,” in all the years that he labored to do so?
Through Noah’s story, however, the same phrase pops up four times between Genesis 6:22 and 7:16, “Noah did all that the Lord had commanded him.”
Noah continued in the work that he was commissioned by God to do, even in the days it was difficult to do so. Then, some of the greatest words in the Flood narrative during the most devastating time in human history, Genesis 8:1 happens, “God remembered Noah.”
If you find yourself in a difficult season with the work God has called you to do, just remember, God hasn’t forgotten you! It may be a difficult season but as you continue in faith, just as He did with Noah, God will remember you.
 http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2010/06/01/long-to-build-the-ark. accessed 11/05/2012