It’s the time of year when my beloved and I are marking an ‘anniversary’ of sorts. Not the joyous anniversary of our marriage or our first date. It’s an anniversary of the closing of a chapter in Christian service. It’s a somber time where we reflect on the years spent in preparation, studying, going, serving and ultimately leaving.
The details of the past 36 years are actually irrelevant in earthly terms. It is a story of two people loving God, desiring to serve together in His chosen place. As we reflected and prayed together this morning under cloudless skies and golden sun, we remembered ministry comrades – seminary students, missionaries, pastors who have also had their careers ended before they expected to be finished.
As we shared fellowship today we talked about men and women who serve us at war or in protecting our country. Sometimes their service lasts one day, and sadly, they are gone. Others serve to the very end of their lives before they are finished in their career. When a soldier gives their life in combat, they are returned to us as a hero. Indeed, they are a hero. They sacrificed of themselves to protect our nation. Others may not die, but are returned as the wounded and scarred. All heroes. We owe them so much.
Our thoughts returned to our fellow workers around the world and we could see a spiritual picture rise from the discussion. Christian workers – pastors, missionaries, teachers and the like are the ones who have dedicated themselves to full time Christian service in love and loyalty to our Saviour. They are the ones who teach, preach, comfort, guide, lead and direct in a wide variety of activities in the name of Jesus. They don’t choose their vocation for money or fame. Their work is done out of love for God.
This important global work from the beginning of humanity has been met with opposition, disloyalty, grief, shame, pain, torture. While there are earthly rewards – certainly, the cost is great. Paul, the Apostle was a diligent, faithful man who gave his very best to bring the message of Good News to the people. He suffered so much, including beatings and imprisonment – yet buried in the depths of 1 Corinthians 16: 14 he exhorts us to ‘Do everything in love’.
The work of the ministry is very hard. It is very rewarding. It is a rollercoaster of highs and lows. To see someone understand what Christ has done for them, is probably the most incredible experience you can have in this Christian walk. When we have felt so tired from ‘doing’, yet we would never dream of quitting. We were God’s soldiers and faithful soldiers don’t give up and walk away. Hebrews 12:1 instructs us to run the race with endurance. The Christian walk is not a sprint. It is a gruelling marathon.
One year following the culmination of ministry preparation and service since 1979 has been very hard. It has been filled with grief and sadness. Lots of tears. We didn’t want to give up. God has selected a different assignment for us. Isaiah 55:8 says ‘MY thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways MY ways, says the Lord’. God’s plans for us and our precious co-workers that have been assigned to God’s Waiting Room, are higher than our plans. Our wounds from ministry are completely understood by the ONE WHO was wounded for us. While we know that God is not finished with us yet – HE has a plan for our lives, our race seems to have been halted. We are overcome with sadness about this fact.
While we grieve, we HOPE. We hope in God. HE is our Guide, our Rock. It doesn’t make the sadness lighter, but it does provide context. We are in a temporary situation. We will be with HIM forever. For now we need to rest secure in HIS promise that HE will never leave us. HE does have a plan for our lives. We rest confident in this fact.
The marathon isn’t finished! It has become very difficult as we are getting closer to the end – and this was recognized by Paul in Philippians when he said ‘Forgetting what is behind, and straining toward what is ahead, I press toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me.’ It would be amazing to receive God’s approval for a race well run.
So we need some refreshment and a time to reset before we continue running. THIS is where the healing begins.