Scripture reading for today:
Dreaming of Better Days
Reading Scripture can be tricky. I think we often fall into a trap when we read about the lives of our spiritual fore-parents. We sit in our comfortable armchairs with our leather-bound book filled with crisp, white pages and wonder to ourselves how “they” could be so foolish and unfaithful. Of course, if we could put ourselves in their places we would know how gritty and difficult their faith journeys actually were.
Abraham and Sarah are wonderful examples of this. I can’t even imagine the strength it took to pick up an entire household and head out on a precarious journey to only God knows where! Then, during that trust exercise, to feel the days slipping away. They were getting old and they knew that death comes for us all. So, they needed to pass on, not just their wealth, but their name. No son was forthcoming, as was to be expected in their old age, so they picked out an heir to carry on their line.
It’s at this moment that the word of the Lord comes to them; you will not choose an heir, you will bear a son. From that son will come whole generations of children—like the stars in the sky or the sand on the beach. How full the couple must have been!
Then the bad news.
They will be slaves for four hundred years. After that, they will come out again with many possessions. Can you or I even imagine what it took for Abraham and Sarah to keep going after that?
I believe we can.
I think for most of us, we have come to a maturity in our faith that knows that faith in Jesus doesn’t mean a perfect, pain-free life. I think we know what it is like to live in the in-between time, in the season of Advent.
Like Abraham, we all learn to live in this season the hard way. I had just turned twenty-one when Christ laid ahold of my life anew. In those first days, life was so easy and filled with grace. I quickly made a plan that I would go to Bible College, become a pastor, have a family, and pastor a church, living happily ever after. By the second year of school, things had shifted significantly. A lot of my old habits, which I had put aside so easily the year before, were back. I felt overwhelmed by my class load, so I procrastinated. I began to wonder if I was cut out for pastoral life. After all, how could I preach one thing and live another?
Then I met the woman who was later to be my wife. We dated briefly before we were engaged, and then we were married. The plan was for us to finish our degrees part-time. But, when you have to work until 2:30 in the morning and then you add a baby to the mix, school just got put on the back burner. Marriage and a child also highlighted the brokenness which was deeply rooted in me, so I started counselling. Every week for eight years I went and unpacked my history and my identity, growing and stabilizing in important ways. But, year after year I got farther from my desire to be a pastor. It seemed less and less likely that I would ever become a pastor. Finally, I gave up my dream and determined to settle into whatever God might have for me.
That was the point when I received a call to pastoral ministry. It had been eight years since I had sat in a class, but now I was going to finish my degree just one course at a time. After two years of work I earned my undergrad degree and quickly found out that churches only wanted lead pastors who had a Masters of Divinity degree. So, after some discernment, I enrolled for a Masters program in Seminary. Another four to five years for that degree. Halfway through that program, it became clear that I needed to find a denomination to serve with (my church was non-denominational) and begin to build that relationship.
After a discernment process, my wife and I felt we were being called to the Free Methodist Church in Canada to serve. This meant moving to a new church and building relationships so that I could begin tracking as an ordained minister. This process itself took approximately six years to complete. After a couple of years at the church and several courses and some writing pieces, I had my first set of interviews with the denomination. These interviews would lead to my becoming a Ministerial Candidate and allow me to apply for pastoral positions in the movement.
Things did not go well.
During the interviews, I said some foolish things and my demeanour was arrogant and abrasive. As a result, I was put on hold. It was only for a year, but from my perspective, everything felt like it had come to a grinding halt.
I had begun my pastoral journey in August of 1995. I had returned to it with a calling in August of 2005. I had started with the FMCiC in June of 2010. Now in May of 2012, I had to wait with no guarantee that things were going to move forward for me. I knew that I was largely responsible for things, but I wondered what God was up to!
All I had to cling to in that season of waiting was raw hope in God. If he called me and directed me to this denomination, then he would bring things to completion. Abraham and Sarah were waiting for God to fulfill his promise of land and children. Israel will wait in captivity for four hundred years for God to lead them out and establish them as a nation.
As you wait in this season of Advent with personal pain and the pain of the world, I encourage you to put your hope in Christ, the one who is coming again to heal our hearts and our world.
Heavenly Father, we confess that this place of waiting is a painful place to be. Continue to remind us of your word of promise and help us to be hopeful people while waiting. Lord Jesus Christ, we long for you to come and to put all things right. Holy Spirit, intercede on our behalf with the words that we cannot utter for our selves and the world. Amen.
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