Saturday, July 26, 2014

Longevity in Ministry ~ Just think About a Horseshoe

For I am now ready to be offered, 
and the time of my departure is at hand. 
I have fought a good fight, 
I have finished my course, 
I have kept the faith: 
Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, 
which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: 
and not to me only, 
but unto all them also that love his appearing.

The senior pastor at my sending church recently preached a packed-full-of-great-stuff sermon - and I spent the entire time listening intently while scribbling notes like mad. Afterwards, I was talking with another missionary friend (who's also been home on furlough this year as well - talk about a treat for my family, having another missionary family with kids the age of my teens, but that would be another story for another day), and the first comment out of both of our mouths was that his sermon had such great practicability and application for those like us who find themselves seeking to serve the Lord while far from "home." 

Thus, over the course of the next several times I write, I want to share the principles our pastor outlined, along with my further study... with you. I hope you find it both as practical and encouraging as I have.


"Like longevity in life, some basic things are needed - right genes [children of God], right diet [God's Word], right exercise [involvement in ministry] and right environment [a place in God's community - the Church]. The Apostle Paul set it as his goal to walk worthy and finish well. So should we!"

But what do we mean by longevity? "Very simply, it is the number of years that God, in His sovereignty, allots you, no more and no less." The key word in that definition? Sovereignty. Theologia defines sovereignty as: 
The Sovereignty of God is the biblical teaching that all things are under God's rule and control, and that nothing happens without His direction or permission. God works not just some things but all things according to the counsel of His own will (see Eph. 1:11). His purposes are all-inclusive and never thwarted (see Isa. 46:11); nothing takes Him by surprise. The sovereignty of God is not merely that God has the power and right to govern all things, but that He does so, always and without exception. In other words, God is not merely sovereign de jure (in principle), but sovereign de facto (in practice).

John MacArthur has this to say about God's sovereignty: 
No doctrine is more despised by the natural mind than the truth that God is absolutely sovereign. Human pride loathes the suggestion that God orders everything, controls everything, rules over everything. The carnal mind, burning with enmity against God, abhors the biblical teaching that nothing comes to pass except according to His eternal decrees. Most of all, the flesh hates the notion that salvation is entirely God’s work....
I have to agree with MacArthur... 

People balk at accepting the sovereignty of God for many reasons. Another reason might be that God's sovereignty, while always perfect and just, just isn't always fair in the sense that everyone has the same challenges and/or opportunities. With that in mind, we must keep in mind that longevity for me might look different than longevity for you because God has different plans and trajectories for our lives.

Regardless of our personal opinions, the Bible clearly teaches that God is sovereign. Pagan kings understood and proclaimed that truth. God's Word, the existence of creation, the rules of physics, the intricacy of the human body... So many things reveal to men that there must be a sovereign God.

It is a truth to which we must grasp and cling tenaciously, however, if we hope to achieve longevity in the ministries in which God has placed us. Sometimes that is hard to do because it involves trusting in the sufficiency and sovereignty of God even when we can't see any reason to do so because nothing in life or ministry is making sense, no matter how hard we work, how we strive to obey, how intently we seek the Savior's face.

My pastor shared an illustration that I found very helpful when it comes to looking at the sovereignty of God. He'd heard it, I believe, from one of his Bible teachers. 

As men and women with limited perspective and a very finite view, we look at a crazy oxymoron where God says He is divine and yet, that we are responsible. His Word teaches both. It doesn't make sense, no matter how hard we try.

But that is because we can only see as if we are the standing at the open side of an enormous horseshoe, so enormous that we cannot see the U-shaped part of the horseshoe. Human responsibility is on one of the separate ends; divine sovereignty at the other. Our perception, and rightly so if we lived our lives based only on what we see, is that those two are separated by a wide space... irreconcilable... and made of material that bends or changes shape only under great pressure or heat.

There is great danger if we decide that because we can't see how they meet, they can't... that one or the other is more true... should take more priority... than the other and therefore we can discount the other. Those who believe the whole is God's divine sovereignty risk an extreme fatalism. Those who believe the whole is human responsibility risk extreme humanism. Neither extreme pleases or honors God.

God, however, looks at that horseshoe from above. He looks down and sees the whole and how those two principles fusing together and forming a single amazing, protecting, correcting, steadying and sustaining, healing and building reality. 

Those truths - God is sovereign and man is responsible - are so important... so necessary, as we consider this issue of longevity. 

How does a horseshoe serve a horse?

  • It protects from bruising and extensive wear, 
  • It corrects or improves performance/presentation issues (i.e. stride length, overreaching, etc.), 
  • It helps steady draft or trail horses by maintaining or providing traction as they work, 
  • It is therapeutic, aiding in recovery from injury or while building strength. 
Put simply, people use them because horseshoes extend the longevity of the horse.

And perhaps this image of the horseshoe will help you remember to trust God in His sovereignty... but all the while know that there is a rest of the story to come.

Do you ever find yourself swinging on that proverbial pendulum, seeking balance between divine sovereignty and man's responsibility?

What do you think when you hear these words, usually attributed to Augustine: 
Pray as though everything depended on God. 
Work as though everything depended on you."

Please join us again in 2 weeks, 
as we look more specifically at the sovereignty of God.


horseshoe photo credit: w0LD via photopin cc
all other photos are mine

Please note: 
Italicized words are from my notes or from the guided notes in the church bulletin
and are, to the best of my recall, actual content from the sermon.
The rest comes from my continued study and meditation prompted by that sermon.

To listen to the actual sermon "Start, Run and Finish Well," click here.

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