“‘For I know the plans I have for you’, declares the Lord. ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'” (Jeremiah 29:11)
After my resignation from the church where I had pastored, I needed to find a job. I was still a credentialed minister of course, but unfortunately nobody pays religious professionals to not be professionally religious.
A couple weeks after I started the new job, my new supervisor heard through the grapevine that I was a minister. He couldn’t wait to confirm it so he asked me first thing the next morning if it was true that I was a minister. An irrepressible smirk creased his features.
I told him he had heard right.
But was I a real minister?
I reassured him that I could marry and bury people so yeah, I guessed that I was.
His grin widened even more as he happily outed himself to me: he wasn’t much into God he said, and in fact he was an atheist.
I told him that was okay.
(With an attitude like that, no wonder I’m a former church pastor…)
But I’m not apologizing for being okay with his unbelief. After all, it was his unbelief, not mine.
I’m not sure if it comes from insecurity or entitlement but evangelical Christians are often known for being easily offended. In poll after poll we are seen as angry and judgemental about silly things. Mind you, there is a good reason we are angry and judgemental about silly things … it’s because we are angry and judgemental. About silly things.
We call it ‘defending the faith’ but it’s actually more about having a privileged, immature view of the world.
Our best skill as Christians should instead be as a conduits of God’s love; a healthy presence in other’s lives. It’s much less stressful to simply be available and honest. It’s much more productive to leave the hard work of convincing and changing people in the hands of the Spirit of God.
But be prepared, God’s Spirit is slow, patient, and takes its sweet time. I know this because God has been a lifetime of patient with me…
Patience with others as I would expect them to be patient with me. Patience with the time it takes for another person’s personal journey. Patience with myself for my own journey.
Or as Saint Peter puts it, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9
Remember John Newton, the guy who wrote the famous hymn, Amazing Grace? As the story goes, he was the captain of a slave ship who, during a terrible storm, was suddenly confronted with guilt about his life of violence and had a conversion experience on the spot. It’s commonly believed he wrote the song shortly after that, and moved on to his abolitionist pursuits.
Except no, it didn’t happen exactly that way.
Newton held the simple rank of seaman aboard a slave ship when he was born again following a near shipwreck in 1748. He continued to traffic slaves until late 1754 when an epileptic seizure caused him to end that chapter of his life. He later moved into the mundane careers of tide surveyor and customs agent before finally becoming an Anglican clergyman. He got around to writing his classic hymn fairly late in his life.
It wasn’t until nearly four decades after he began working in the slave trade that he finally began to work actively as an opponent of slavery.
We have just passed Christmas and are now barreling toward Happy New Year! Some of you are excited, others are reluctant; some of you will make resolutions, some of you don’t bother with them any more.
No matter if you are impatient for what comes next in 2020, or if you feel a dread hanging over the coming year – can I just remind you that God doesn’t think of time like we do. He takes the long view: for you, for me, for his kingdom, for the world.
I recently stumbled on this quote from Augustine of Hippo, one of the earliest Christian philosophers and theologians. He’s commenting on the December 25 date that believers had chosen to celebrate Jesus’ birth. It is obviously not the real birth date but Augustine notes that its proximity to the winter solstice, the darkest day of winter, is no accident.
“Hence it is that He was born on the day which is shortest in our earthly reckoning and from which subsequent days begin to increase in length. He, therefore, who bent low and lifted us up chose the shortest day, yet the one whence light begins to increase.” (For the Feast of Nativity)
Augustine is reminding us that the date of Christmas is symbolic, occurring in the winter when darkness dominates and swallows up our lives. But be patient, he says, because just as surely as spring will bring more light to our days, God will do the same in our lives.
In God’s timeline, the coming year is only part of the story; part of the intended whole. Slowly but determinedly he will bring increasing patches of light, resolution, meaning, peace.
In other words, we trust God with our patience and through our patience.
Oh, and the supervisor guy I mentioned at the beginning? Well, it took time but we became good friends and I was able to be there for him when it mattered.