Thursday, May 31, 2012
A Future Filled with Hope
I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the LORD; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. Jeremiah 29:11 (CEB)
This passage of scripture was very important very early in discerning my call to ministry. I was trying to figure out how on earth I could possibly follow God into ministry which in my denomination is itinerant. I had three children, a husband who was employed in Oklahoma City, and a good job that paid more than the starting salary for newbie preachers. How on earth could we possibly entertain such a notion? I needed to go to seminary, but the closest United Methodist seminaries were in Dallas and Kansas City. They required a significant period of time to be away from the family, something I was unwilling to do. Maybe when my children were older and I had saved up some money I could follow this leading, but God was persistent.
I couldn't see the future and was uncertain how I could follow this calling with everything happening in my life. Then I came across the above verse, completely out of context, with the kind of holy highlighting on it you cannot ignore. It was to me at that time, and many times since, a promise from God that through the years of my ministry I have clung to time and again. And God has never failed me.
In my most recent appointment it seemed as if the congregation needed to hear this promise. They needed to know that God had not forgotten them and that they still had purpose and meaning for the Kingdom of God. They wanted to believe this, but as I began to preach to them about God's promise I realized that there was still some lingering doubt in their hearts. The unspoken question was "can God still work through us?" After being here for a couple of years, I can say that God is still significantly at work there.
I am moving from that congregation and to another. There are people who are upset about my move because things have begun to go well and there are accomplishments happening beyond expectations. They think it has something to do with me, but it doesn't.
In the Hebrew Scriptures the people cried out for a King, and through a prophet God told them that all they needed was God. A King would only draw their attention away from God. They would think that their success was because of the King. A good King would continually point them to God, but as we read the scriptures, this was not necessarily the norm for the children of Israel.
I want the people of any congregation I have served to understand that any success I may have in that place is only if I can point them to God, not if they think I am God. Then I have failed. Perhaps that is why two years is long enough in this place, that they may know that it isn't about me, it is about God at work in their midst, and with or without me God still has a future filled with hope for them. They must be faithful to God's calling and continue on the ministry God has for them in that location.
To any congregation I have yet to serve, I want the same thing to be known. I believe we are called to be a ministry team. There is a division of duties to get the task completed, but no one in a team is more significant than another or the team cannot truly be successful. In the secular world success is measured individually - what have I done, not what have we done. This is not true for the body of Christ, we are united in the body of Christ. It is not about I or we but about CHRIST without whom we are insignificant.
The next two verses in Jeremiah has even more promises from God.
When you call me and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. When you search for me, yes, search for me with all your heart, you will find me. Jeremiah 29:12-13 (CEB)
Let us call upon and search for the Lord with all our hearts and our ministry, together and apart, will further the Kingdom of God - which after all is the whole point.