As the end of school approaches, I’m taking advantage of the quiet in the house, and the not-yet-too-hot screened porch sitting, and finally finishing and hitting publish on this post I started writing weeks ago. Thoughts that have consumed my mind and feelings that have gripped by heart, but felt too personal to share for a while. And, honestly, some might be…but being authentic (and at times, vulnerable) is what I’m about.
So here it is.
Warning: real, raw post here.
When we answered God’s call to plant a church, there were some things that I knew to be true…
I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I knew we were leaving a convenient lifestyle for a more uncomfortable one. I knew saying goodbye to friends and the place we’ve called home the longest, and moving to a new place was going to be difficult. I knew our finances were going to be challenging, Joe taking a large pay-cut when he left the traditional church path behind. I knew the physical nature of a church plant (including setting up and taking down every week) was going to be a lot of work. I knew finding people to help us start this church and then continually finding people to volunteer – to come at all – was going to be an undertaking.
But I didn’t know how much so.
I didn’t know it would be this hard.
I didn’t know it would be this frustrating.
I didn’t know there would be this many challenges.
I didn’t know just how much we would be let down, or how isolated we would feel.
I didn’t know just how much the enemy would attack us.
I didn’t know these attacks would include the health of my children.
I didn’t know just how much of a strain it could put on our relationships.
And I didn’t know just how much we would have to rely on God for strength day after day. How much energy all of this would require and how physically, mentally, and most of all emotionally exhausting – at times overwhelming – this would all be.
I didn’t know just how much my faith – our faith – would be tested. How many times I would cry, how often I would be brought to my knees, or how many hours we would talk about our future and all the uncertainties as we wait for God to reveal His plans.
I have spent as much time as these busy days of spring allow to be with Jesus, oftentimes leaving productivity to fall by the wayside. I write in my Bible and in my journal. I take screenshots of good words.
I recently read the Book of Nehemiah in the Bible and the accompanying daily devotions on the First 5 app, a ministry of the bigger Proverbs 31 Ministries, an organization I have loved and followed for more than a decade started by Lysa TerKeurst (of whom I am a big fan).
Nehemiah is a man of prayer and humility, of such strong faith in God, and who is desperate to help God’s people, even to the point of leaving his high position as cupbearer to the King of Persia in order to fulfill what God is calling him to do. For reference and context, God’s people are returning home from exile and getting right with God, so to speak. Their top priority: to rebuild the wall that protects their holy city, Jerusalem. It is a time of restoration, and it is a time that involves a lot of hard work and complete dedication.
The message of Nehemiah is profound but, despite it’s Old Testament setting long ago, so applicable to our lives right now. All of our lives. And it especially hits home for us.
No, there has been no exile…unless you count our Methodist Church conference withdrawing their support and discontinuing our funding, after less than a year of worshipping as a church plant.
No, we are not trying to rebuild a wall, or any structure, right now – at least physically.
But, like Nehemiah, we left a comfortable place – definitely a place of security with Joe’s job and our family – to be obedient to God’s calling. Like Nehemiah, our hearts were moved to fulfill what we believed was His plan for us, to do His work.
And it has not been easy.
We still believe that God called us to something different, and definitely felt His lead to plant a church. But there is so much we don’t know and don’t understand…
Like the timing. Like, the location. Why here in South Georgia when there are so many churches and varieties of worship already in this city. Why under the Methodist Church only to have a few individuals in positions of power determine we were a failure and not worthy of continuing support? Why the funding, the personnel, the ever-present attendance challenges???
As Nehemiah believed that his work was God’s work, we believe the same.
As he faced opposition, we have faced the same.
During that study of Nehemiah, I read a devotion that was so timely. Like, wow. I needed to read those words right then.
Each day, we have to make the decision to trust God. We have to decide to put our hope in Him. Because we definitely can’t put our hope in anything else. Not for long anyway.
The author of the devotion I read, Joel Muddamalle, likens the paradox of the people rejoicing among grief, bringing them strength and joy, to the Kingdom of God. This “upside-down” way of thinking is exactly how we as followers of Jesus have to operate in the success-driven, self-focused culture we live in.
“Our position and joy in the Lord are what produces our strength. We experience the strength of the Lord when we find our joy in the Lord.” – Joel Muddamalle
Just yesterday, I posted this on Instagram:
That’s the answer. Maybe not the answers to all our questions and concerns right now, but the only answer I need to focus on. Finding joy by finding strength in Him. Trusting Him, that His plans are good and that He knows best.
Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength. – Nehemiah 8:10b