Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. (James 1:2-4, NLT)
More than once in my life I have been strongly disappointed that my times of great spiritual awareness and growth in faith don’t come when things are going smoothly. Instead, my most comforting quiet times, most spiritually enriching study groups, and most vibrant prayer times, when I have felt God’s presence and affirmation strongly, have been during times of struggle, grief, and searching for his way through tough situations.
I have noticed in those times that God has always caused me to be connected with some sort of group of fellow-believers, people who remind me that he has guided others through similar situations, that he loves me in spite of how well or poorly I am handling it, and that he can be trusted to walk with me this time as well. He has provided repeated reminders through childlessness, divorce, disappointment, and the death of loved ones.
It probably won’t surprise you to hear that he has used music hugely in this. Working for decades with and among the choir and the worship team has consistently reinforced to me his Word’s truth and his faithfulness. Coming together into his presence in praise and worship on Sunday mornings is wonderful and necessary for us. But I believe God enables us to deal with our rough edges and broken places most effectively in small groups of fellow believers who stumble along beside us as we follow the way of life.
So, here we all are now. Dealing directly with the pandemic for almost two years has challenged our culture, shaken our sense of being even a little bit in control, and left us uncertain, insecure, and suspicious. Most recently, a wave of the COVID virus swept through the congregation and our pastor has been called away to a different ministry. Some have expressed doubts and fears to me for the church and for their own ability to hang on in faith. I can enthusiastically affirm this: God’s got us and he’s got this, too.
I am exceedingly grateful to God that he allowed me to recognize the pattern he has taken in my life. He has always provided the support, encouragement, and people I need to weather the storms of life. I’ve witnessed some of the storms he has brought this church through, too. I am confident he is with us in this one, as well. His plan is to use this current unsettledness, as in my whole life long, to smooth our rough edges and mend the broken places.
The Bible gives numerous examples of God’s people lamenting (read the Psalms!), so I think it is healthy for us to mourn for “the way things used to be.” But we can’t stay there. We need to actively seek the good he wants us to find. We need to examine ourselves to see if we have allowed our feelings to be hurt too easily, if we have been unable to forgive someone for their offenses. We also need to ask God to show us how we have offended, so that we can repent and restore fellowship with others who also are struggling through in this time.
I’m pretty sure most of us can find ourselves in one (or even both) of these two groups. But, just this past Thanksgiving week, I was arrested by a question: How long did God wait for me to get my act together before he loved me? The answer: He loved me first and then he began the process of changing me. I still am in that process, as are all of us.
Back in 2013-2014, when the church participated in the Vitality process, we searched the Scriptures for guidance. We based our Relational Covenant on a passage in Colossians. Here is the full thing:
Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. Let the message about Christin all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father. (Colossians 3:12-17, NLT)
Our current challenges are opportunities to grow in faith and maturity. Let us determine to get on with that so that we can discern God’s good will and purposes for the church that meets at the corner of Grove and Clay. Let us seek to grow up into the holy people he already is making us.
In Christ, Ruth Johnson