God is all about kingdom-building, right? And we're supposed to find out what He's doing so that we can join Him in it, right? Why, then, are most of the people I know who are committed to doing exactly that disappointed, disillusioned, discouraged and entertaining the very attractive alternative of delivering pizza in North Portland? This isn't exactly what we pictured. Our graduation from Bible College ushered us into a promising future where we could see God's Word transform people's lives and get to be part of it. We learned to be organized, responsive to people's needs, and competent interpreters of Scripture. Not only that, we have first-hand experience. What a recipe for success!
Why, then, are good teachers drowning in too much administration, while talented administrators in other organizations have a hard time drumming up enough work to do? Others feel constant disappointment over teammates who do not share their vision. Still others struggle to make ends meet. Why are trained Bible Translators fighting cancer? Dynamic preachers carrying the weight of their own strained marriage? Church planters battling depression?
Are we aiming for the wrong target? Have we missed something?
Couldn't God have arranged things more satisfactorily? You would certainly think so!
I'm not sure where we got the idea that things were supposed to click along smoothly for those who obey God. (But it sure is rooted deep within us!) Consider Elijah's ministry experience ... years of lonely isolation followed by a major power encounter, after which he sunk into a deep & fearful depression before he retired. Hmm .... Or Paul? "we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life" (2 Cor 1:8; see also 11:23-29). These are spiritual heavy-hitters we're talking about. And we imagine our life to be any easier?
Larry Crabb has wrestled with these same questions. He says, "It's so natural to think the Presence of Jesus has no greater purpose than to improve the quality of our journey though life - with quality defined as a pleasurable, satisfying, self-affirming existence - a journey where certain things don't go wrong or, if they do, they correct themselves. Marriages should work, biopsies should come back benign, ministry efforts should succeed, and we should feel pretty good about the way most things go."
Crabb continues, "If dreams never shattered, we would continue to believe that lie and value only what God can do for us now; we would value neither His Presence nor all that He intends to do later. And we would not be willing to pay the devastating price required to experience His Presence now." (Shattered Dreams, 157)
In other words, God IS building His kingdom, in an astonishingly upside-down way. He builds by tearing down, humbling, dismantling, and surprising. The borders of our new homeland are not secure. Unemployment is about average. The economy has ups and downs. It's hard to say if things are gradually improving or slowly getting worse. But He lives here. With us. In the mess. His methods of kingdom-building are awfully hard to predict but His agenda is unchanging. He wants us to look more like He does.