Thursday, July 08, 2010

No remedy but faith and patience

I've been thinking a lot about grumbling lately. Not that I have any personal experience with grumblers. But I read books you know. I talk to pastors, most of whom are out west, and they tell me about dealing with grumblers in their churches. Chuckle.

Seriously, in a time of much excitement and movement of the Holy Spirit, I should not be surprised by this point in my ministry that there is a small number of folks who grumble. I think every pastor can relate to that. I have sought counsel from some pastor friends about the grumbling few and have received many different insights and opinions. But there is a still small voice reminding me to wait on the Lord. Today that point was reinforced in an unusual way.

Charles Simeon is a hero of the faith. His life was fascinating, his ministry was faithful, and his preaching was beyond compare. Yet, it is interesting how grumblers can sometimes occupy our attention to the point that we forget the lessons we have learned at times past. I had run across this episode from Simeon's life years ago, and it blessed me then. In recent days, I hadn't even given it a thought until I ran across it in Dave Harvey's excellent book, Rescuing Ambition. (Side note: this book is wrecking me two ways ... one for being too ambitious, and another for not being ambitious enough).

Simeon knew that God had called him to be a pastor, and he desired to exercise that calling. When he came to Trinity Church in Cambridge, most of the members did not approve of him. Harvey writes, "Most of the members opposed his evangelical convictions and were intent on frustrating his ministry." What did they do? For twelve years, they boycotted the church's Sunday services and locked the doors on the pews. (Those unfamiliar with the old pews that had locking doors on them will not understand that, but visit an old historic church and you will see how they did this). Anyone who wanted to attend the services had to sit in the aisles because they couldn't open the pew doors. This went on for 12 (TWELVE!) years!!! As Harvey writes, "During all that time, Simeon preached, pastored, and waited."

In Simeon's words, "In this state of things I saw no remedy but faith and patience. ... It was painful indeed to see the church, with the exception of the aisles, almost forsaken; but I thought that if God would only give a double blessing to the congregation that did attend, there would on the whole be as much good done as if the congregation were doubled and the blessing limited to only half the amount. This comforted me many, many times, when without such a reflection, I should have sunk under my burden."

Eventually, faith and patience proved to be the remedy God would honor. The pews were eventually unlocked, and Simeon enjoyed 44 (FORTY-FOUR!!!) more years as pastor there. When asked about passages of Scripture that helped Simeon along the way during those difficult dozen years, he often referred to Lamentations 3:25: "The Lord is good to those who wait for him."

So, what do I draw from that for the present time? First, I really don't have it so bad. Simeon exercised courageous patience when a MAJORITY of his congregation opposed him. I have been blessed in that my grumblers can be counted on one hand (if there are more, I'd rather not know). Second, Simeon's opposition at Trinity lasted for 12 years! That is exactly how long I have been in pastoral ministry. Though I have seen conflict, opposition, and strife in this dozen years, in retrospect those periods have been few and brief. I have seen far more joy than sorrow in the labor. Third, I am reaffirmed in what I sense from the Lord, and that is to let Him fight the battles. As for me, patience and faith, and faithfulness to the task, are the orders of the day. I will wait for Him, and enjoy His goodness in the midst of the grumbling. Fourth, when I consider that Simeon ended up serving Trinity for 56 years, I have to imagine that the final 44 years were not completely free from grumbling. But he endured by God's grace. So, I think overall, my lesson to take away from Simeon's experience is that I need to quit whining and keep my hands on the plow. One of many lessons I am drawing from Harvey's book as it reminds me on every page that my glory is insignificant, but God's glory is infinite. So I need to abandon selfish ambition and embrace a passionate ambition to bring glory to God through what He has called and equipped me to do for Him.

No comments: