Twenty-six months ago our family began serving the Emmanuel Baptist Church, in answer to God’s call. We were scared to death! Truly, this was the most fearful, most difficult, and yet most exciting thing God ever unfolded in our lives. One reason I write about this journey is that God has taught us much through it, and many friends in ministry have written to me of the parallels they see in their own stories. If these events could encourage you to live by faith and follow God over your fear, then I would love to fan the flames for a moment—thanks for giving me that moment.
Emmanuel Baptist was a family facing amazing potential and staggering challenges at the same time—in most respects, we still are today. By human perspective, we had reason to fear. And I’m profoundly thankful that the faithful body of believers at EBC never stopped praying, believing, and hoping that God would restore His church.
These past two years, we have often marveled at God’s grace and, in retrospect, regretted our fears. This journey has been like walking through a fog, with only enough light to see the next step. With every passing week, God strengthens and stabilizes His church, and lifts the fog a little at a time. He has worked in spite of our fear. Maybe these principles will fortify your own “foggy” experience in following God.
Here are ten faith-lessons that will hopefully shout-down your fears:
1. His will trumps everything else as a source of joy—In truth, joy is a product of knowing you are in the center of His will, accomplishing His purpose. This is the reason that Christians can have abundant joy even in hardship.
Joy is not circumstantial, it is internal. It is not material, but spiritual. Joy is an alignment thing. If you can’t find joy, you aren’t aligned with God’s will—your calling and purpose in life. Great peace and great joy return when you are in alignment with your Creator and His call.
2. Fear is a smoke-screen that keeps us from God’s greatest blessings—Fear is like a monster screaming in your face not to go forward. It’s only power is intimidation. It paralyzes and imprisons you. It threatens you. It badgers you. It manipulates you. But fear only has the power you give it.
The moment you stick a fist of faith through your fear, you find it’s like a thin vapor—it’s not the wall you thought it was. When you follow God, you’re always headed for an eventual moment of laughing at yourself that you ever feared anything or anyone.
3. Weakness really is a platform for the display of God’s strength—“God, I’m the wrong guy. You made a bad choice here.” This was my recurring argument with God in the early days. I can’t do it. I know I can’t—that’s for sure.
But isn’t this the pattern of scripture? My inability becomes a platform for His ability. My weakness gives a place to His greatness. I’ve heard this my whole life, but living it brings it to a whole new level. Wherever you feel unable, inadequate, and weak—you’re in a good place. Welcome to the club. You’re in a perfect position to see God be glorified through your weakness.
4. You can’t always plan out or program God’s agenda—I love to plan. I love to get ahead and strategize. Yet, dozens of times in the last two years, my planning becomes an effort to control God’s agenda and pace. There’s a fine line between “taking oversight” and “taking over.” There’s a “God-respecting” kind of planning, and then there’s a “God-usurping” kind of planning—and they look a lot alike.
I’m learning that, quite often God doesn’t want my plan. He wants my attention. From there, I will see and hear and know His plan—and then I can follow in faith and watch Him work. And that is simply awesome. The burden of following is much lighter than the burden of planning.
5. God gives clarity only when He’s ready to give it—Sometimes this is agonizing, especially for a planner! I want answers! I want them now! Actually, I wanted them last week! Sometimes I pray, “God, how long do I have to follow you in the dark? It sure would be nice to see a bit more of the path ahead.”
He says, “Why does it matter? Your eyes are supposed to be on me any way. Am I not enough? Is there something you hope for the path ahead that would be more attractive than I? Are you fearful that I might be caught off guard by something in a blind spot? Do you wonder if I’m in control? Maybe you question my goodness, my graciousness, my generosity, or my inexhaustible love?”
Right about then, I retract my prayer, refocus my heart, and choose to rest in contentedness. He will show me what I need to know when I need to know it. I accept what I don’t know, resting in WHO I do know!
6. Each church family is uniquely God’s work—I love boxes and cookie-cutter patterns almost as much as I love planning. I’ve seen a lot of healthy churches in my Christian life. I’ve seen some unhealthy ones. I would love to duplicate the health of other places. The biblical qualities of health are consistent across all locations and cultures, yet there isn’t one healthy church that’s exactly like another.
God isn’t mass producing identical ministry patterns and personalities. He’s doing a unique work, through unique people, in unique places, with unique cultures, in unique ways all over the world—and all within the confines of pure biblical doctrine and sound faith practice. If I try to make EBC perfectly fit another pattern (other than scripture), I will break her.
It’s been a joy to see God do a unique work, and a glad experience to take my hands off the cookie-cutter. His unique work is far more marvelous than my rubber-stamped efforts to recreate the familiar.
7. God alone has the right to determine success or failure in spiritual terms—More on this in a coming blog post, but often our ideals of success and definition of failure isn’t accurate. Our standards of measurement are ours. Obedience to God is success on His terms. Results are His department. When I try to define my own success in other terms (usually ones I can measure), I’m either going to be too generous or too hard with myself.
My ideal of success would drive me too hard, hurt others, and crush a loving church family. God’s ideal of success (obedience) will balance me, bless others, and nurture a loving church family in “green pastures” near “still waters.” I’m learning to let God be the sole determiner of ministry success, and to make obedience my highest goal.
8. Waiting on God is often the path to greater clarity—Waiting can be painful. Yet, so often and in so many places God says, “If you’re going to follow me, be prepared to wait.” Why is waiting painful? Because we make it so. We let it be painful. We bring the pain upon ourselves. Waiting is painful simply because we insist on knowing what we cannot know. We beg God to show us what He isn’t ready to reveal. We fret in anxiety, as if greater anxiety somehow moves God to relinquish information.
My heroes are the long-termers, men all over the world who have patiently labored and cultivated for decades. They’ve learned to wait. They’ve released the anxiety of not knowing. They don’t need to know anything but JESUS.
If you’re waiting on an answer, don’t despair. You’re right where God wants you to be. Waiting isn’t so bad if you’re doing it in good company. So enjoy Him, and in His time, He will bring the waiting to an end.
9. God’s solutions are already in place, you will find them at the door of trust—Many times in the past 30 months I have faced some seemingly insurmountable, complex problem. Fear started ranting again. The planner in my head started scrambling for options and solutions. Anxiety began to grow. Frustration followed. Stress and pressure built up, as if these problems are mine alone, and as if I’m completely on my own to working them out.
Then, somewhere in the emotional tossing, God’s Spirit says, “Lateral!” (That’s football language for “toss me the ball.”) Then, I repent and cast all my cares upon Him. For every problem He already knows the solution. And the path to that solution always begins at the door of TRUST. “Ok, God, this is your problem now, and I will trust you and follow you to your predetermined solution.”
10. Spiritual leadership is more about following God than figuring out the path—This builds on both the planning thought and the trust thought. The challenges of the last 30 months have been mountainous. And never at any moment has God revealed more than the next step or two. Sounds like lame leadership. After all, leaders are supposed to have the whole plan mapped out, right? Not spiritual leaders. Impossible. I cannot know what God hasn’t shown me yet.
Spiritual leadership follows God, and God rarely reveals much more than the next step or two. Take that step, then the next. Then look back over two years, or five years, or a decade, and guess what you’ll see? You’ll see an incredible plan, complex, intricate, providential, divine, and wonderful. You will see a plan so masterful that it is, in its own way, quite miraculous.
And you’ll say, “Wow! Only God could have done that!”
Then He will say, “Precisely.”
Then you will know He has been glorified through your faith. For this, after all, is the whole point of your whole journey.
“Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.” Joshua 1:9
“And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,” Luke 1:46