“..we had hoped..” Luke 24:21
They say to be careful what you wish for. Sometimes we have to be careful not to hold on too tightly to what we wish for.
In the last few days God has repeated a lesson over and over again regarding change. I’m learning, and I think as congregations we are learning, how to handle the unexpected and instead become joyfully flexible. Let me give you four examples all of which happened in the last few days.
1. Wellington: The annual outdoor church service at Wellington country park was cancelled because of bad weather. You could hear the collective grown going up from the Thames Valley, Bristol and Watford churches as well as others who would normally have attended. We love that celebration, and looked forward to it so much because it symbolises something positive about coming out of lockdown. However, God had other plans.
2. Watford: My wife and I were going to be away from the Watford church service this weekend, but everything was in hand. Danny was going to lead the service and share the communion talk. However, one of his children contracted Covid, and the whole household are isolating. On top of that, a number of other families are away on holiday.
3. Family weekend:At the time of writing, Penny and I ought to be in the car on the road travelling north. It’s Penny’s father and stepmother’s 40th wedding anniversary celebrations as well as her stepmother’s 80th birthday celebrations this weekend. There is a gathering of the clans in the north of England and we are meant to be there. However, we learned last night that Penny came in contact with a patient who tested positive for Covid. We are awaiting the results of Penny’s Covid test to see whether we need to isolate or not. In the meantime we are kicking our heels at home.
4. Colossians 2 notes: As you probably know, I’m teaching a class on Colossians chapter 2 at a conference next month (details below). Whilst I was on my spiritual retreat I spent many hours studying Colossians 2 and recording my own thoughts as well as those from commentaries and other Bible resources. Returning home at the weekend I synchronised all my Bible notes across my devices and promptly lost all the work I did last week. Some glitch in the software meant that those notes were unrecoverable. I spent many hours on the phone to the software company. They did their best, but no joy.
Each of these events caused me some angst. Truthfully, I was more than just frustrated about losing my Colossians 2 notes. I was angry. I’m not entirely sure it was righteous anger, either.
I felt rather like the two people who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus. When describing what had been happening, they said “we had hoped…”. Such pathos in that phrase. They had hoped for something. As have I this week. God had a different and better plan for them, and I must trust that he has a different and a better plan for me and the people around me.
How have I found peace over these four sources of frustration?
I prayed over each one. Here’s what I came up with. It might seem a little intellectual, but it works for me!
1. Wellington: We conducted the service on zoom. Part of my sermon included breakout rooms. Who’s to say that some of the conversations that happened in those breakout rooms enabled spiritual breakthroughs for people which would otherwise not have happened if we’d met in the flesh.
2. Watford: It is entirely possible that what Osagie and Oge plan to share will have a greater impact on the people present then anything I or Danny would have managed. This is a tremendous opportunity for Osagie and Oge to serve, but also for the congregation to hear from different voices.
3. Family weekend: Perhaps we’ve been preserved from a serious accident on the motorway today. Certainly Penny and I will enjoy time together and possibly over the weekend if we need to continue to isolate.
4. Colossians 2: In going back over my commentaries and Bible resources for a second time perhaps I will see things that I missed the first time. I have the opportunity to deepen my thinking and understanding of a tremendous text. Whatever I might have forgotten in terms of personal insight, surely I can trust God to bring back to me if it truly matters.
God is, I believe, teaching me the joy of flexibility. It’s a bit like acknowledging that when we are weak we are strong because then it’s the strength of God which works through us and not our own. When my hopes are compromised it allows God to do something which I would not have anticipated. I get to stand back and observe his grace in action.
Have you had some disappointments this week? Can you see the way in which God might use the change of circumstances and plans for his glory and the benefit of his kingdom? Even if you can’t see it, by the eyes of faith we can trust him that his plan is a good one. He will bring good out of frustration, disappointment and inconvenience.
The near future
Working on plans (together with Andy Boakye and Douglas Jacoby) for a UK & Ireland teaching programme based on the Athens Institute of Ministry. We hope to launch in January 2022.
Continuing work on a lesson on Colossians 2 for the Tallinn conference in August – flights and hotel are now booked in faith!
Please come to the conference if you – at least virtually if not in person.
Hoping to receive confirmation that I can start a Masters in Theological Studies at the London School of Theology. I had a good time at the virtual post-grad open day as well as a helpful conversation with the course supervisor.
God bless, Malcolm