Monday, 28 April 2008

Encouragement from God - Review of Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome

Part three of Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome turns to consider where we might be able to find encouragement for a success ministry. They identify 5 areas from which encouragement comes – God, the call, the ‘ordinary’, fellow workers, and from reward. Let’s address each in turn.

Encouragement from God. Kent retells a painfully funny story of his first sermon (essentially an interview sermon) at College Church Wheaton, where he was interrupted over twenty times by the fire alarm. He was certain that he wouldn’t be offered the job, but was. His point is the trauma and stress of (new) ministry. From this point, they recall being shown Jeremiah 29:11 (I know the plans I have for you…) by a friend, and the rest of the chapter is essentially exegesis of this verse. Personally, I think this is one of the most overused and misapplied verses of the Bible, and so when I read it I cringed. But the Hughes’ exegesis is historically grounded, and stresses the character of God in the promise. God knows the plans he has, they are good plans, they are optimistic plans. And, according to the Hughes’, they are conditional plans:

Seeing that the Lord’s plans for us are comprehensive and good and optimistic, we will naturally ask if there are any qualifications we must meet. The answer is that while the truth of these promises apply to all of God’s people, there is a condition necessary to consciously experience its reality. Biblical scholars agree that the condition is given in the immediately following context of Jeremiah 29:12-13. It is to seek him with all our hearts. […] there must be a God-focused obsession in our lives if we are to fully experience the benefit of his promise. (italics original)

Ouch. To be fair, there is a sense in which he’s correct – we do want a God-focused obsession in our lives. I certainly do. But my difficulty comes with the conditionality. Not only is the exegesis a little questionable, but it leads people who truly want to see God’s plans worked out in their lives blaming themselves when things don’t go ‘according to plan’ . There are obviously strong links here with my earlier posts on Guard Us Guide Us (and I really need to get back to it).

The Hughes’ are spot on – our encouragement comes from God. And it comes from the nature of God’s sovereignty which is the underlying point of Jeremiah 29. The exiles were in exile (hence being called exiles). God’s purposes seemed null and void. But God was still sovereign. He had promised his people goodness – a place to worship him, a land to live in. And the LORD knew his promises, and wanted his people to know them too. But their confidence came not from their strength or the depth of their ‘God-focused obsession’ in their lives, but from the fact that it was Yahweh who had promised, and therefore he could be trusted. The same goes for us. Yes there are plans – all things on heaven and on earth are being brought under the Lordship of Jesus. God’s word is going out – it is doing its work – softening and hardening hearts. And so our encouragement comes from God’ promises about God’s work in our lives and the world. Things are going according to plan, even when they don't seem to be. Be encouraged

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