Subtitle: “Bites from sheep and the sovereignty of God.” This week, we continue with Lesson #5 in the series “What I Wish (as a Pastor) that I had Known, Understood, Believed and Lived 30 Years Ago.”
Number 5: You must remind yourself daily of this simple, but profound and incredibly comforting truth: God is sovereign and in full control of all the circumstances and details of your life and ministry.
You can’t pastor for very long without feeling the deep sting and pain of “bites”from the sheep. Some of those bites are intentional; many are not. Some from close friends, some from people you don’t even know. Intentional or not, the bites still hurt.
I remember attending the Congress on Biblical Exposition in Southern California back in my early 20’s and hearing Chuck Swindoll say (with some level of jest), “If you plan to go into the ministry, you need to develop the hide of a rhinoceros.”
I remember saying to myself as a young 20-something pastor, “I have a thick hide! I’m sure I can take it!”
It wasn’t more than two or three years into my church plant that I was dealing with a mini “civil war” between feuding factions of moms who vehemently disagreed about how to raise babies right (nothing from anything I had preached or taught, mind you, but by material brought in from the outside)! I said, “This has to stop.” So I stepped in and took leadership to try and bring “calm” to the situation.
Rather than bringing calm, I found myself right in the middle and being “bitten” from both sides! After several weeks of this, I remember sitting alone in my office and weeping tears of heartache, saying to myself, “Lord, Why? What have I done to Your church? How did this happen?” Yes, that “civil war” was finally resolved, but there were always plenty more “bites” as our church grew and developed.
Through all of these experiences, I have come to learn that the doctrine of God’s sovereignty is one of the most, if not the most, comforting doctrine in all of Scripture.
God’s sovereignty means that…
Nothing has happened, is happening, or will happen apart from His permitting it. Your life and your circumstances are in God’s hands…this means every person, every circumstance, every detail, every misfortune, every unjust situation, every sin done against you, every hurt and heartache. ALL of it has been allowed by God for your good and His glory! God’s sovereignty means that nothing has come into your life as a believer that God has not either caused orpermitted! (Proverbs 16:9; Romans 8:28)
Randy Alcorn quotes Margaret Clarkson in his book If God Is Good:
“The sovereignty of God is the one impregnable rock to which the suffering human heart must cling. The circumstances surrounding our lives are no accident: they may be the work of evil, but that evil is held firmly within the mighty hand of our sovereign God.”
“Fly this banner over every wound and every regret: ‘Satan meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.'” (Genesis 50:20) – John Piper
Some of these include “bites” that come because of poor leadership decisions that we have made. Maybe it was our fault and we didn’t handle the situation in the most godly, grace-filled manner. God is still sovereign and promises that He will bring good into your life and glory to himself because of those decisions and events! That’s the promise of Romans 8:28. You must learn to move beyond your mistakes – learn all you can from them and then push forward!
No matter who has hurt you, how they have hurt you or why they have hurt you…God has allowed it for your good and His glory. Yes, Satan meant it for evil in your life, but God meant it for good!
This frees us and helps us to always forgive fully and completely those that have done evil against us!
Nothing will poison your ministry more than harboring an unforgiving spirit. An“unforgiving Christian” is an oxymoron! Refusing to forgive those that have hurt you, offended you, let you down and/or disappointed you is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Beware of the insidious acid of bitterness.(Hebrews 12:15; Ephesians 4:31)
Throughout my life, I have made it a practice to ask myself:
“Is there anyone in my life currently or in my past that I am holding a grudge against? Is there anyone from my past, that, if I suddenly ran into them at the mall, I would want to turn and avoid them instead of moving toward them with Christ’s gracious and merciful love?”
If I realize that I’m still harboring some unforgiveness, I immediately confess it and ask for God’s “all-sufficient grace” to help me to move toward those that have hurt me and offended me, rather than away from them. I ask God to help me to model genuine Christlikeness (who moved toward us – from heaven to earth – when we had sinned against Him and had spit in His face). I ask God to fill my heart with mercy and grace – the kind of mercy and grace that He has shown to me over and over and over!
A verse that haunts me whenever I am even considering acting in an unloving or unkind or even apathetic manner toward another person that may have hurt me, is James 2:13.
“…judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful!”
Let that soak in! I ask myself, “Paul, do you want God to show mercy to you?” Yes!!“Then you need to make it a practice to show mercy to others! Yes, even to those that you think don’t deserve it – just like you don’t deserve God’s mercy!”
Do you really believe this promise of God? “Vengeance is Mine,” says the Lord, “I will repay.” (Romans 12:17-21)
Do you really believe Scripture when it says (of Jesus), “While being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously”? (1 Peter 2:23 NASB)
John Piper says it well…
“Who is a better candidate to take vengeance – you or God?
“Consider God for a minute. No wrong ever committed against you, not in the darkest hour of any night, has ever been missed. It is written in a book in heaven. He knows every wrong committed against you. He sees the evil of the wrong far better than you see it. He hates the evil of the wrong 10,000 times more purely and righteously than you hate the evil of the wrong. He claims the right to settle accounts for you. And the big issue, then, is do you believe he will?
“When you are wronged, God is saying to you:
“I saw it. You’re right. They’re wrong. I hate what they did to you. You give me that anger. I’m going to settle this for you, and I will settle it better than you could ever settle it. Justice will prevail. Do you trust me?”
Four ways to battle the unbelief of bitterness:
1) Believe that what the Good Physician prescribes for you is good! (Colossians 3:8)
2) Cherish being forgiven by God! (Ephesians 4:32)
3) Trust that God’s justice will prevail! (1 Peter 2:23)
- We must leave room for God’s wrath.
- God hates evil far more righteously than you ever could.
- Though absurd, Jesus entrusted himself to the Righteous Judge.
- If you hold a grudge, you slight the Judge.
4) Trust God’s purpose to turn the cause of your anger for your good! (1 Peter 1:6-7)
Always remember: God will always have the final say. Always! Either here on earth, or in eternity!
Always cling to the belief that in the end “God will sort it all out!”Misunderstandings that people have about you, your family or your ministry will one day be set right. Righteousness will prevail. Entrust yourself to him who“judges justly” (1 Peter 2).
Entrust all of the “unknowns” in your life and your ministry into God’s faithful, caring and capable hands!
“God’s sovereignty is no more ‘fatalism’ than grace is cheap or mercy is merited. God is free to be God, thankfully!” Scotty Smith
“But He knows the way that I take; When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold. My foot has held fast to His path; I have kept His way and not turned aside. I have not departed from the command of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than necessary food.” (Job 23:10-12 NASB)
You must choose each day to believe that…
1 – God is who He says He is;
2 – that you are who He says you are;
3 – and the He will do what He promises He will do!
Remember: We walk by faith, not by sight!
“Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” (Isaiah 46:4)
“I have learned that God’s silence to my questions is not a door slammed in my face. I may not have the answers – but I do have him.” (Dave Dravecky)
A final important thought lest I be misunderstood: God’s sovereignty does not release us as pastors and leaders from the responsibility to provide the best leadership we know how. God’s sovereignty does not release us from our responsibility to grow, learn and develop as a pastor and leader. We still bear that responsibility before God.
I realize that for those of you that tend to be “hyper-responsible,” you don’t need to be reminded of the above concept. You already “feel” the weight of your leadership responsibility before God. You know very well that one day you will have to give an account of your life and your leadership before Him. (2 Corinthians 5:10; James 3:1)
I have found that one of the keys to healthy leadership in the pastorate is to always keep firmly grasped in one hand my personal responsibility to grow, learn and develop as a pastor and leader and to firmly grasp in the other hand themassively comforting and peace-giving doctrine of God’s sovereignty!