2 Posts from December 2010

Looking Backward and Forward . . . and Upward

For years I’ve wondered at how God places us in a holding pattern between two holidays. I think it’s for the purpose of evaluation. During this time, life naturally slows its pace. It’s a perfect occasion to push the “pause” button . . . and take stock of our lives.

Just think about this last year—or better, the last two or three years. Things haven’t gone at all like you expected, have they? You may be living in a completely different city than where you lived three years ago. In fact, you assumed you would be living in that previous location all your life. But you’ve now come to realize there are other places to live . . . and that God’s grand plan for you includes a complete change of scenery.

Perhaps you haven’t moved, but you now hold positions and exercise responsibilities that you never would have imagined several years ago. Frankly, you may find yourself “between ministries” (that’s what we pastors call “unemployed”), whereas a few years ago your position seemed secure.

For some . . . “tragedy” has struck (from an earthly perspective), and a dark shadow has been cast across your life . . . or perhaps within the life of someone in your family. At such times, it helps to cling to the perspectives of Joseph and Paul, who factored God’s sovereignty into the struggle of their lives (Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28 —please stop and read!).

Finally, there are a few of you who can say that these have been years of sheer delight. You have grown and discovered new areas of God’s goodness and God’s world—even regarding your own person—that you never knew before. You have received new insights into the Word of God. You’ve been given a deeper understanding of many in the flock you pastor. Your family and your friends have grown closer.

Whatever we might say about the events of the past few years, we have to confess that most of these things have come without announcement. We really had no way of knowing they would occur. “The mind of man plans his way,” Solomon reminds us, “But the LORD directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).

As we close out the old year and prepare for the new, you and I find ourselves shaking our heads in amazement as we look back . . . and lifting our eyes in faith to heaven as we look ahead.

Truth be told, the future remains a vast, unknown, open space. Yet it lies completely in the hands of our sovereign Lord. “Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases” (Psalm 115:3).

As you step out into the unknown, stay close to Him.


The Urgent and the Important

When America’s thirty-fourth president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, began his administration, he instructed his aides and his executive assistant that there should be only two stacks of papers placed on his desk in the Oval Office. The first would be a stack of those things that were urgent, and only the extremely urgent. The other was to be a stack of the important, and only the extremely important. He said years later that it was interesting to him how rarely the two were one in the same. He was right.

The conflict between the urgent and the important is inescapable. How easy to get the two confused! It is common for us to think that by staying busy and working hard we’re dealing with the important things. But that’s not necessarily the case. Those things most urgent rarely represent the things most important. And therein lies the reason so many people today feel such a lack of satisfaction after working so hard for so many hours each day.

Not only is that frustration true in the world in which we live, it is all-the-more true in the churches we pastor. When we substitute the urgent for the important in the church of Jesus Christ, we emphasize work, activity, involvement, doing, producing, impressing, and accomplishing. But it leaves us feeling flat and empty within. Exhaustion replaces satisfaction. Furthermore, it smacks of the secularized world in which we live. Who knows how many people have been turned away from Christianity, longing for the true, living God but encountering at their church a secularized substitute?

I’m convinced that this explains why so many activities in so many churches have been distracted from the one essential ingredient that makes a church unique in this postmodern society: worship.

When we look at life with a horizontal perspective, the urgent takes center stage. It is loud. It is popular. It is product-oriented. It is impressive. The horizontal highlights all things human . . . such as human achievement, human importance, human logic, human significance, human opinion, human efficiency, human results. It drains our time and demands our attention. As that ever-present tyranny screams at us, the most natural reaction is to yield, giving it our first priority. After all, it’s urgent! We’re all-too familiar with its voice.

The important things, however, are different. They are quiet and deep. They are vertical in their perspective. They highlight the things of God—God’s Word, God’s will, God’s plan, God’s people, God’s way, God’s reason for living, God’s glory, and God’s honor. And the goal of all these? God’s worship.

The underlying objective of a church committed to the important things—rather than the urgent—is the cultivation of a body of worshipers whose sole focus is on the Lord our God.

 Is that your church’s objective?