Publication: Pastoral Letter, January 2001
Dear Friend in Christ:
Happy New Year! This is typically a time when the prognosticators, soothsayers, and astrologers come out with their predictions for the year ahead. It would be very easy in this tumultuous time to get lost in speculations and the affairs of men, and lose sight of God’s specific purpose for our lives. This letter will not be about where the world is going, but about where God wants us to go in our personal lives. There are some things that we cannot control, but there are other things that we can control; and it is on these things that we must stay focused.
Jesus led His disciples through very uncertain times and gave to them promises that they could trust. John chapters 13 through 16 record such an example. The disciples were unsettled – even frightened – at the words of Jesus concerning His departure. Peter asked Jesus where He was going and if he could he go with Him. Jesus replied that not only was Peter unable to go with Him, but that very soon Peter would deny Jesus three times (see John 13:36-38).
But the conversation did not end on that troubling note. Jesus continued by saying, “Do not let your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house there are many dwelling places…I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto Myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3).
The traditional interpretation of these words is that Jesus was going to prepare mansions in heaven for His followers. I have no doubt that He is preparing an eternal place for each believer. But the immediate conversation requires a more full interpretation. I suggest that this passage should be seen as Jesus addressing their immediate fears. He is stating that He would prepare a place of abiding relationship in Father’s house; a relationship that would not be lost in uncertain times or even in their failure. He is assuring them that He is going to make a place where they can find His presence and purpose…and find fellowship with the Father through faith in Him.
A few verses later, when Jesus says, “I am the way to the Father,” He is speaking of the present life as well as the future (see John 14:6). When He says, “I go to prepare a place in Father’s house, He is speaking of a dwelling place in our Father’s family. That place is in this life and in eternity.
1 Corinthians 12:18 makes it clear that we are placed in Christ’s Body as it pleases God, and that we have a variety of gifts and functions that bring mutual benefit when we are in our place. Now, is our placement in Christ’s Body the same as the place that Jesus was going to prepare? Probably not, though that would make an interesting discussion. But both passages (John 14 and 1 Corinthians 12) make it clear that Jesus is concerned about our future, and our specific placement in His purpose. Many other passages such as Ephesians chapter 1 and chapter 4 sound a similar note.
Israel is always a useful metaphor for interpreting God’s purpose. If each Israelite had a place in the family, in a household, in a tribe, and under a banner, then I believe that each son and daughter of Abraham in Christ has a specific place as well. Jesus is preparing a relational place for each of us. His place for us is one where we are secure in Father’s family and where we function with our gifts to His glory.
The Westminster Confession states that “man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” We can achieve that end best when we are in the place that He designed for us doing what He called us to do.
Henry David Thoreau said that the masses of mankind lead lives of quiet desperation. I believe that this is correct, and it is so because people do not find their place in spiritual family, nor their function in the purpose of God. Maude Muller said that the saddest words of tongue or pen are the words, “What might have been.” Someone else put it this way: The two greatest days of a person’s life are the day they are born and the day they find out why. Many many people never have the second day.
As a believer in Christ_one who both believes in God, and one who believes what Jesus says in times of uncertainty – I have two basic presuppositions: First, I believe that I have a God-given destiny, a place in His plan. Second, my definition of success in life is getting to that place; fulfilling my destiny.
Psalm 139:13-16 tells us that we are formed in our mother’s womb with specific traits for specific purposes. There is much evidence that we are born with certain genetic predispositions that have a major effect on our abilities. While none of us should become fatalistic, we must reckon with preordained limitations and advantages. Wise people focus on their advantages and not their limitations, and see them as gifts from God.
We also have psychological predispositions due to our families, communities, and the totality of our experiences. Our genetic and psychological predispositions affect how we think and express ourselves.
Chapman wrote a book entitled, Five Love Languages, in which he described the differences in how people might say, “I love you.” The book describes how some people express themselves through affirmation, others through giving time, or gifts, or acts of kindness, or through touch. These are all physiological and psychological predispositions that affect how we communicate. We need to learn to understand and accept variety of personality.
There is another real predisposition, which may override all others – the will of God. When I was born, my parents gave me to God. It wasn’t until many years later that I realized the impact of that upon my life. Whether it “suited” my physiological or psychological dispositions, I had been dedicated by my parents to God’s service, and He determined to act upon their prayers.
Can previous prayers affect our calling and our placement in Father’s house and in our function in Christ’s Body? I would encourage anyone who doubts that to read the lives of people like Isaac, Jacob, Samuel, and numerous others in the Bible.
The place that Jesus has prepared for us is not one that we may randomly choose with our own free will at any given time. It is one that He has prepared long before we understood His Sovereignty. Real joy is getting to the place for which we are made. It is believing that all things are moving in that ultimate direction, and understanding that all of our experience will serve that ultimate end.
To be sure, we can choose; and we can choose a place that He did not prepare for us. We can choose a place of our own preference. In the short term, we may even see ourselves as captains of our own souls, but to miss the river of God’s eternal purpose and our place in it, is to finish up in a puddle of purposelessness.
A study of Israel’s saga will tell us that preparation for our place is continuous and circuitous. Even before Abraham or Moses, God had ordained a Land of Promise, but the journey for His people was not direct or immediate. It was through a long multigenerational journey, by way of Egypt. Why was God’s preparation so prolonged and indirect? I believe the answer is that God was not only preparing a place for them, but that He was also preparing them for the place. Preparing a people takes longer than preparing a place. God molds His people as a potter works clay. Sometimes with tough hands, other times with great tenderness. Sometimes He seems to start all over again. But finally, the preparation of people and place comes together.
Most often we have a short-term view. We get frustrated with delays. We are like little children on a long trip: “Are we there yet?”
There are many examples in history of great people who spent almost all of their lives for one historical moment in time. Winston Churchill is an outstanding example of someone whose entire life was preparation for Great Britain’s finest hour. Our best expressions only come after long preparation. A plant labors all year to bring forth its sweet fruit, for a but few days.
The journey matures us; it produces character; it teaches us to love our enemies, and to return good for evil. Many virtues get worked into our hearts as we follow Jesus to the place in Father’s house. If we forsake His path in favor of the more direct path of ambition, we will ultimately come into a place where we cannot function effectively or even into a place of great harm. (See Haman in the book of Esther.)
David was God’s anointed, but the path to the throne was circuitous and continuous. He was a faithful shepherd, a faithful messenger, a courageous warrior, a skilled and anointed musician, a loyal and respectful subject, and finally, a great king. While the Lord prepared that place for him, He also prepared David for the place.
Passion plays a vital role in finding our place. It is wise to ask ourselves, “What am I passionate about?” And how does a person know that they have a passion for a specific place or mission? Here are some ways to evaluate the measure of our passion:
Do I have a passion for the mission?
Will I sacrifice for the mission?
Do I sense God’s favor and blessing as I approach the mission?
Do I find rest and peace as I labor in the mission?
Will I fight the opposition to defend the mission?
Passion is power…passivity and luke-warmness are pitiful…biblical heroes show examples to us that passion for His purpose is a key element in finding and fulfilling God’s prepared place for us. Biblical heroes were passionate for God’s purpose. They were passionate about finding it, and passionate about doing it once they found it.
The time of preparation is when we are being told what to do; but time of placement is when we can do what we are passionate to do. If we do well what we are told to do, the time will come when we can do what we love to do.
Whatever 2001 brings to us, I pray that it brings us all closer to the place that He has prepared. This is a historical time. I pray that we will not try to “overly interpret” changing circumstance, but that we will look beyond the circumstances to see the unchanging upward call of God in Christ Jesus (see Philippians 3:14). I pray that we can run the race that is set before us, and one day hear Him say, “Well done.”
P.S. Please continue to keep CSM in your prayers and in your giving this month. We are facing some major opportunities…and also obstacles. We need God’s provision and your continued support in order to move forward.
Scripture Reference: John, 1 Cor.,