When I signed on to the Great Commission army, I though my my job description was straight forward; “Go and make disciples of all nations.” What I missed was the fine print; ‘This enlistment will cost you everything.’
Jesus told the parable of the man who found a treasure, sold all he had, and went and bought the field it was hiding in. Notice, the parable didn’t include any conflict or setbacks. At least not that we see. But I wonder. The man might have sold all he had, and found out someone else had bought it out from under his nose! He may have sold the farm under protest, animals and all, and fallen into marital conflict. Any number of things could have happened that sent him reeling. Setbacks are a form of contingency. A life of faith is full of them.
Here’s the big idea: Setbacks are the way God set’s up what He wants to do next.
Last year I lived through the most excruciating months of my life. Almost overnight, I found myself struggling with medical issues, facing a lot of uncertainty. I told someone recently, “during the darkest of those dark days, the toughest question was, ‘when will you deliver me, Lord?” Pulling at the oars of faithfulness, but not seeing any progress, starts to mess with you. Though I never doubted he would come through, I suffered in the waiting. Then he spoke. He seemed to say that this set back was going to be the greatest set up for how he wanted to use me in the future. In a way, God allowed me to see his foot on the treadle of the loom, and I was able to then rest in knowing the long pause was needed for what he couldn’t have done through me without it.
God is staging the church, like a general before battle. If you are anxious for life to get back to normal, you may not be seeing it from his point of view. When it’s time we will be ready. Our setbacks are a set up!
Annie Dillard, in A Writer’s Life, tells the story of asking an artist friend how his work was going. He then went into an elaborate story, seemingly having nothing to do with her question. It was about a friend’s account of retrieving a log in the ocean. He said his friend lived on an island, and saw a beautiful Alaskan Cedar in the waves, so got into his rowboat to haul it in. It was high tide, and the current slack. He hitched up the pale yellow eight-foot beam and started rowing back. But the tide changed, and began pulling the log south. He spent the rest of the day straining at the oars, and through the night rowing against the current, his bow pointing north, but steadily drifting south. Then he said, the line went slack and the current reversed. He rowed under the moon’s light, pushed along now by a northern tide, headed homeward.
“That’s how my work is going, Annie,” he said.
“You asked how my work is going. That’s how it’s going. The current’s got me. Feels like I’m about in the middle of the channel now. I just keep at it. I just keep hoping the tide will turn and bring me in.”
Yes, the tide will bring us in. Keep rowing. Press on. Your arms may be tired, seeing familiar markers pass by in the wrong direction. It may be dark where you are sitting, not even a moon. You’re thinking, no chance now of rowing myself out of this one. Stay at the oars. God’s in the tide and can reverse the current. He’s doing something beyond anyone’s understanding. There are no sermons that can explain what’s happening around us. No prophets have spoken. He wants to speak to each of us, one person at a time, and what he says will be different from anyone else. That’s because God has your unique life, and your contribution to the mission lining up with the current that will carry you into what he could have never accomplished without it.
So, let’s all keep rowing!