by Lance Olimb
Our Midtown staff recently spent a considerable amount of time together on a little mini-retreat. In addition to planning and calendar scheming, we spent time telling and listening to one another’s stories. Siblings. Parents. Hobbies. Sports. Mentors. The whole show. It was great to hear people reflect and recount significant aspects of their lives that were completely unknown to many of us in the room. I pondered a number of things as a result of hearing these stories, but one fact stood out most glaringly.
God always works in spite of us. That it what I really learned. Do you know that? I’ll explain what I mean. Every single person had some aspect of their story that involved an unlikely spiritual path. There was no one formula or path to Jesus. Some of the influences in our lives are actually downright embarrassing! And still God used them.
For instance, one heart-felt tale began with the words, “I wasn’t a Christian at this time but my friend introduced me to Rob Bell. And I watched every single one of his videos.” Yep. The same Rob Bell who now specializes in Oprah Winfrey level spiritual mumbo-jumbo. Not exactly a bastion of orthodoxy. Other stories included sincere but spiritually dead Catholic upbringings or churches "I’d-rather-not-name." We had parents who were not pillars of faith or perfect examples of Christianity. And yet, through these imperfect (more or less) means, God was writing the story of one of His children. More than that he was preparing future leadership of His church! Amazing.
I can’t tell you how much it helps me to know that God can redeem and restore any imperfect plan. We can, of course, be more or less faithful to scripture and to the gospel. We can be more or less faithful in preaching and outreach. We long to do these things well. But at the end of the day, lest we get too proud, we must remember that all good gospel work is God’s work. He speaks through and in us, yes, but also always must move somewhat around us as well! This means at least two things for us as we walk out our calling as His church in 2016.
First, prayer is no small matter. Ultimately, everything we long to see accomplished in people’s lives must happen as God moves in response to prayer. If our plans for the next 12 months can be executed with or without God, we must scrap those plans. He can never and will never be an optional part of our "success." Can we dare ask God for fruit that is utterly beyond our control? We not only can, we must.
Second, we can rest. Our plans will never be perfect. We will miss the mark. Our teaching will be incomplete or be less compelling than it could have been. When I think about all the ways that we are inadequate through ignorance, it stuns me. And that is before adding in all the things we miss willfully! We execute incomplete plans in sinful ways.
This reality could lead us to despair if we did not have a God who loves to draw straight lines with crooked sticks. He loves to pour out mercy. He deigns to speak through stuttering mouths. God works in spite of us so we can plan thoughtfully, work faithfully and then…. rest.
We are praying with you for a fruitful, restful year.