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What’s Worse than Falling Behind?

Several weeks ago, I walked into the office after a morning of study. Our pastoral staff men were finishing up a meeting in the conference room. I poked my head in and said with an exasperating sigh, “I feel SO behind!”

The statement immediately struck two nerves—first the one in front of me. The faces of all the guys lit up with laughter, and they said, “So do WE!” I was amused that they were so comforted by the idea that I shared the feeling.

The second nerve came from behind me, and it snuck up on me with the impact of a lightening bolt!

My friend and deacon, Bill Bechter, was walking down the hallway behind me and had heard my comment. Bill has been a Christian and part of our church for over 40 years, and has been unwaveringly encouraging over the past three years. Because of his age and wisdom, he has a way of saying profound things in the most unexpected ways at the most unexpected moment. This moment was another one of his wisdom lightening strikes.

With great delight Bill said, “It’s encouraging to have something to be behind in!” 

Then he laughed, and we all laughed. One single statement turned the whole emotion on its head!

What a GREAT perspective! Suddenly the pressure of “being behind” was flipped completely—and we were all gratefully blessed to have something in which to be behind at all! 

Worse than being behind, would be “having nothing to do—nothing important enough or no vision compelling enough to drive life forward or to fall behind in!”

Over decades, Bill has prayed for revival—for his church, for New England, and for his nation. He can recall high points and low points, in both his personal life and church life. He has told stories of exciting seasons in the life of our church, but also discouraging seasons—seasons in which things were more “falling apart” than “falling behind.”

I have thought much of Bill’s statement since that morning. I have come to believe that the idea of “falling behind” isn’t so terrible.

Falling behind implies that you are at least moving forward—your are still running, still engaging, still pressing toward the mark. Falling behind implies that your vision is still alive, your goals are still strong, your hope is sustained. Falling behind means you’re still facing forward, dreaming for the future. It may mean that you aren’t progressing as fast as you would like, but at least you are progressing! It may mean that you’re not where you want to be, but at least you aren’t where you used to be! It may indicate that there’s more to be done, more to accomplish, more to pursue by God’s grace, but at least you’re facing forward.

Falling behind has a tremendous upside. It means you may not be “in first place” (whatever that means) but it also means you’re not sitting on the locker-room or at home on the couch.

Falling behind could mean that your hopes or dreams simply over-shot God’s plans—that your pace was faster than God’s pace. It could mean that you did your best, but you didn’t get as far, as fast as you hoped—that you wanted things to move faster. But maybe that wasn’t God’s plan. Maybe falling behind means you launched out with intentions, at a pace that was unsustainable, and God graciously slowed you down to a healthy pace. Maybe it means you lunged out of the starting gate hoping to grow more rapidly, but God slowed you to a sustainable growth that wouldn’t ultimately destroy you. Falling behind may be God’s grace in your life.

The alternatives to falling behind are two-fold.

The first alternative would be “getting ahead”—but isn’t that a paradox? For if you’re falling behind, you’re most likely “getting ahead” at the same time. You’re most likely making significant progress—just not as significant as you at first planned. This is where the subjectivity of self-measurement bites us. Here’s an example:

After being at EBC for less than a year, I had another lightening bolt from Bill. In a moment of transparent exasperation, I said, “Bill, there’s so much to do in order to help our church go forward…” My “complaint” was uttered in dismay, as if it was all up to me. Quite calmly, Bill smiled and said, “Pastor, we’re light years ahead of where we were six months ago.”

From Bill’s perspective, we were way ahead. From my perspective, we were way behind! In a sense, we were both accurate, but Bill’s perspective was much more wise and healthy!

The second alternative to falling behind would be “falling apart.” Falling apart means we’ve stopped looking forward. Progress hasn’t simply slowed, it has stalled, or perhaps reversed! Falling apart means we’re not only “not reaching people” but in addition, we’re losing people. We’re not only “not painting and remodeling” but we’re seeing increased deterioration. We’re not only “not growing in God’s Word” but we’re forgetting what we already know! The vision has turned into memories. The mission has become “museum, on its way to mausoleum.”

So where are you? Are you falling behind? Good! Thank God for something to fall behind in! Thank God for vision bigger than you can fulfill, responsibility bigger than you can handle, work-load more demanding than your time allows. Sure those things bring their own management and stewardship challenges—but those challenges are good challenges. They are blessings that always beat boredom! For if you face those challenges—and many do not—then you are moving forward, growing in grace, and enjoying a life or ministry of at least some progress!

The next time you feel like you are struggling to keep up, like your to do list is longer than your week, like your responsibilities in life are bigger than your shoulders, or the demands on your time are greater than you ability to meet them, remember Bill’s wisdom…

FALLING BEHIND means you’re GETTING AHEAD and sure beats FALLING APART!

“It’s encouraging to have something to be behind in!”

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