You have a dream.
There’s something you want to accomplish for Christ. You are gifted to do it. Godly leaders have recognized God is calling you to do it. You are sent out by your local church.
More than that, that’s grace.
After all, how many people don’t understand their life’s purpose? Worse, how many don’t even know that life has a purpose? I remember talking to a young man who had planned his life out. He knew where he wanted to go to school. He knew what job he was going to pursue. He knew where he wanted to live. But then I am asked him, why? Not why do you want to go to that school or get that job, but why are you here on the planet? He had thought about many things, but he had never thought about that.
But you have. And you haven’t just thought about it, you are taking the right steps to pursue it. It’s great to know your purpose, but it doesn’t do you much good if you don’t do anything. And doing something is honestly a whole lot harder than it sounds. It’s very easy to justify inaction, so if you have stepped out to take appropriate action, that’s huge! Clearly, God’s at work in your life.
But, the way He works might not always be as clear as you expected.
We moved to Africa with a plan. And we went through a whole long process. We tried to be so careful. A good friend of ours recommended a church. We came over and visited. Multiple times. We preached. We talked with leaders. We had numerous phone calls. A team even developed to help us help orphans. Someone wanted to donate land! They all seemed excited about what we were excited about. Then we arrived. And all those plans fell apart. When we started getting into specifics, people weren’t quite as interested as they had been. The people involved in helping us start the orphanage, all the sudden didn’t want to do that anymore. Even the man donating the land got sick and backed out. We were confused. We did not know what to do. It was a long move across the world. We had tried to go through all the right steps to get there. We believed the vision was solid. And yet now we were living in Africa, and the specific dream we had seemed like it had been crushed.
You know what?
It was hard, sure. There were things I could have done better. Definitely! There were things others could have done better. Yes. Was it our plan A? No. Was it disappointing? Certainly.
But, that’s the way it goes, most of the time.
You have a plan, God’s got a better plan.
If you are going to make an impact, you are going to have to learn to keep going even when your plan doesn’t seem to be working the way you were hoping it would.
Let me give you a couple simple steps.
First of all, you are not alone. Say it with me. You are not the first person this ever happened to. Read church history. Read the book of Acts! Paul wanted to do something. But Acts 16:7. “And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.” So, how did Paul respond? He didn’t freak out. You shouldn’t either. Jesus is a lot smarter than you. And he is more generous than you. He loves the church much more than you do.
Second, you should probably recognize the fact that it’s not working out the way you want is part of how God’s helping you become more effective so that something better will actually work out in the end. What does it take to get something great done in this world as it is right now from a human perspective? One thing it takes is endurance. But how do you get endurance? Usually through pain, right? Or better, you get endurance by not giving up and continuing to do what’s right with a good attitude when it’s painful. If what I am saying familiar, it should. James 1:2-4. “Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Third, you need to get good at waiting. A lot of life is waiting. Most of us aren’t very good at it. Learn to enjoy it. Waiting for a blessing can be a blessing! Now I realize, that’s easy to say when you are not the one waiting. When you are looking for God’s blessing and you believe you have sincere reasons for doing so, the time in between your prayers and seeing God’s answer can feel a little like forever. Back when we were church planting, we were looking for a space for our church to meet and minister. It took so long. It didn’t seem like God was hearing our prayers. But God never delays unless there is a reason. What possible good could come from not getting what you want when you want it? It can give you a greater passion for what you are hoping to happen. You realize more how much it is needed. It forces you to think about what you actually deserve. We get so proud so quickly. When everything is going your way, you can begin to assume it’s because you earned it. That’s a spiritual pit. Sometimes God makes you wait to humble you and that will make you more thankful when He does answer your prayers. He is an expert on joy. He knows the best way to increase your joy. And so, sometimes he makes you wait before he answers your prayers so that you will be able to enjoy the blessing He gives you to the fullest extent. Mark it down. God’s always doing you good even when it might not look or feel like He’s doing you good!
Fourth, remember that it is very difficult to judge what is happening in your life as it is happening. Have you heard of Jonathan Edwards? If you haven’t, pick up a biography. There were some huge revivals that took place during his life. In fact, there were times where Jonathan Edwards seemed to almost think the town in which he was ministering had completely been transformed. At one point while he was preaching, he was not even able to finish the sermon because the audience was in ‘hysterics.’ It wasn’t much after that, the people in the town in which he ministered signing a covenant to live according to the New Testament rules for Christian living. Imagine what he must have thought and felt! And yet, it wasn’t very much later when that same town turned against him to the point where when asked whether to continue the pastoral relationship with Edwards, “only 23 of the 230 members voted on his side.”
I am sure there were real fruits to the revivals that took place there and the surrounding areas in those days, but looking back we can see how difficult it must have been for Edwards to accurately judge. It would have been very easy to think more was happening than really was. It’s also sometimes tempting to think the opposite. What an incredible discouragement it must have been for Edwards when the church began to turn against him. After all, he was only trying to stand for biblical principles, and principles that shouldn’t be all that controversial really, and yet they had so much animosity towards him, that they sometimes spoke of him with indignation and contempt. He became so discouraged that he started doubting whether he should be a pastor. He told someone all he could do was study.
No, not really.
Hundreds of year later people are still reading his books and writing books about him.
Obviously, in the middle of all the ups and downs God had a great plan for Jonathan Edwards. But it was hard for Edwards to tell how up the ups were and how down the downs were when he was in the middle of them. And the same is true for me and you. There are going to be times in your life when you may think you are at the point of your greatest success. And, perhaps that success isn’t as successful as you imagine. And there are going to be other times, when you will think that you are pretty much useless, when God in the long run has a great purpose and plan in store for you. You need to get our eyes off of yourself and onto your Savior. You serve a glorious God who never fails to bring glory to Himself and while you rejoice in what you think are your successes and grieve over what you think are your failures, you need to persevere no matter what, because God is doing much more in both than you can ever possibly imagine.
Finally, be careful you are not putting as much hope in what you do for Jesus as you are in what God’s done for you. If you are a Christian, your name is written in the book of life.Take a second and think about that. I mean seriously. Imagine being able to travel to heaven. This is God’s home. Somehow you wander into God’s library, look up on His bookshelf. And you see, there’s this very special book, He’s written, there. Can you picture that? God’s bookshelf. And on the bookshelf, there’s this book, called Life. On the spine, it just says Life in capital letters. You take the book down. It’s just this huge book. But, you open it up, and you see it’s got this list of all these people, specific people, whom God’s written down and described. As you are turning the pages, you see, you. Your name is there. It’s written by God’s own hand. And of course this is just a picture. But it’s a picture of what? It’s a picture of being known by God, being chosen by God, being cared for by God, and being safe, being certain, being sure, that it’s always going to be like that, forever and ever and ever, because your name is written there in God’s book of life, which isreally the reason we should be rejoicing.
And you and I need to hear that, because, if we are honest, sometimes we get so excited about all these things we see happening, in our ministries, as they are succeeding, which is great, but the the problem is, sometimes, again it’s not as much about Jesus as it is about us. Listen to me now. Because this is where it gets tricky. Sometimes, the reason you struggle with such deep disappointment when your expectations aren’t met in ministry, is not so much because you are concerned with God’s glory. It’s because you are concerned with your own.
When things don’t go the way you want, that’s hard! But it’s also good. It’s a time to hit the pause button.
What really is driving me?
You can imagine writing a book about Jesus and you write this book about Jesus and it gets published and it starts selling and you are excited, and of course, you are excited because it is helping people and that is good, but I mean ultimately, the thing we have to think about, is, which is really more exciting, you writing a book that mentions God or God writing a book that mentions you?
Are you hearing me now?
Because, you don’t just want to live a life that makes an impact and gets things done. You want to live a life that honors God. And sometimes, the reason it feels like God is stopping you in your tracks is because He is working at keeping you on the right track.