Your next chapter: written
That God is the author of our story is a given. His sovereignty over all things is a strong article of faith. To know that the chapters of our story, including the next one, are already written is a corollary that enriches the journey and makes turning the pages even more thrilling. Connecting the spiritual markers we see in the rear-view mirror to what he is doing in our lives right now, and even into the future, guarantees not a life of waiting, but of anticipating. Oh the joys...
Something in our personal autonomy resists the idea that he has scripted our lives. Free will and our own disobedient nature desires some control over the paths we take during a lifetime. And, it is true, we can go our own way, ignore the direction he has provided, and live independent of him. It is another mystery that he has chosen not to open to us, the mysteries of his ways. But, how can we erase what he said to the prophet Jeremiah from our understanding. It's recorded, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet over nations" (Jeremiah 1:5). Again, as we think about our story we must include King David's Psalm, "Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none" (Psalm 139:16). Can we contemplate life apart from his sovereign guidance?
Confessing that he has authored the chapters of our lives isn't such a grand discovery. We cannot discern it in our unregenerate state because spiritual realities are foolishness to the natural man (see 1 Cor. 2:14). Our journey and his hand in crafting it are visible as the Spirit gives discernment and guides us in connecting the dots in our lives. Even a brief survey of Scripture reveals how he shaped the lives of history's great spiritual leaders and guided them through their various seasons and phases. I'm thinking of Joshua right now, the leader tasked with following Moses, the man whose next chapter was to actually lead Israel where Moses could not. To know that our unchanging God, the one who irrevocably called and gifted us administers his claim on us just as he did Joshua is an amazing sub-title to our calling.
OK, so why is this such an important element of kingdom service at this time? Why do his called people need to be so attentive to his guidance right now? There are reasons, you know. Primary for me is that 1,700 God-called pastors leave ministry positions every month. Underneath each circumstance is a unique story, often a tragic tale of broken dreams, unmet expectations, family dysfunction, church disaster, financial crisis, or simple meanness. Of course, some of these stories involve moral error, misjudgment, sinful behaviors, leadership miscalculations, or an A-Z listing for mistakes that can shake the current episodes of so many spiritual stories. That there can be a new chapter for people with soft, repentent hearts, those who remain workable clay in his hands, is a joyous reflection of the more grace that James promised (James 4:6). That God can restore those who have fallen, or have been tripped by others, gives hope to those who have answered his call and experienced heart-breaking reality along the way. Knowing that there are next chapters is to see beyond the moment of our epoch into the rich fulfillment of what he called us to do.
Another layer involves pastor's and ministers like me, those who are nearing retirement age. Honestly, I've never imagined anything beyond being a local church pastor. That's been the largest chapter in my ministry calling, pastoring four congregations. There was an interlude of approximately three years where he showed me glimpses of a next chapter. That was the time as Director of Pastoral Ministries of the South Carolina Baptist Convention. Those were years working with local pastors and church staff members as they handled the realities of church life, somtimes the tragedies of church life. Today, after retiring from active pastoral ministry that three year period makes more sense and has moved from the footnotes of my story to the main text. My next chapter is working with pastors and churches and offering thirty five years of experience to the rigors of the process now. So far it has been blessed beyond my wildest dreams.
His next chapter for me was already written. So is yours. Along the way I had to re-learn how to hear him speak to me about it, how to discern his voice in the loud noise of life. So, I re-read "Experiencing God" by Henry Blackaby and did a refresher course on how God speaks (through his Holy Spirt, through the Word, in prayer, through the church, and in life circumstances). And there was this still small voice---the same one that had called me in 1969, the same one that I had answered in 1979, the one that spoke and affirmed every church decision---showing me the next chapter he had written, and giving me the grace to answer it.
I cannot know where you are in your ministry service right now! But, I can say this. There is a next chapter because his gifts and calling are irrevocable. He will only be through with you when you're in a box or urn if you stay soft in his hands.
These are the generations of...