I long for things to return to normal. I want to shop at a grocery store without wearing a mask. I want to sit down at a restaurant and not worry about the number of people sitting inside or be concerned about social-distancing guidelines while I eat. I want to take my kids to a park without caution tape being wrapped around the playground, and I want to gather for worship with my church beyond a computer screen. I just want things to go back to normal!
I know I’m not alone in this. Churches and children’s ministries are feeling the weight of the current crisis in our history. The frustration of ever-changing plans and calendars is overwhelming. It can make us wonder if our churches and ministries will ever be the same again. The truth is, they won’t be, and while that may sound disheartening, it can actually be a blessing.
You didn’t read that last sentence incorrectly. While I long to return to normal, I also recognize that my “normal” may not be what’s best. It’s very easy for me to put my faith and hope in routines, methods, schedules and places, because they give me a sense of control. I can look at the fruit of my ministry and quickly assume that the systems I use (and not the Spirit within me) is what brings success. I can quickly prize the methods I use over the Messiah behind the methods. Sad to say, but I have come to trust what is “normal” over who God is. Don’t get me wrong, relevant methods and well-planned schedules are beneficial to any ministry, but when those things are elevated to the place of God, they become idols. When I believe God can only work through certain systems and in certain places, then I am telling God that He is only as powerful as the method to which I have confined Him. This is a humbling realization, and while I hate to admit the various ways in which I have misplaced my trust during this time, it is a confession that leads to a new perspective- one that sees the advantage of adversity.
When I believe God can only work through certain systems and in certain places, then I am telling God that He is only as powerful as the method to which I have confined Him.
Throughout the New Testament, this perspective is played out time and time again. What initially looks like an obstacle or setback to the work of God is the very thing He uses to setup His glorious work in the world. This is seen in passages like Luke 24. Two men traveling along a road are disappointed with Jesus, because He wasn’t the Messiah they expected Him to be. They were expecting a triumphant ruler who would overcome Rome. Instead, they got a falsely accused man who was crucified as a criminal. These men saw the death of Jesus as a great defeat and loss of hope. This story in Luke 24 shows us that it is good for God to operate outside of our expectations. After all, His death was anything but normal, and His resurrection that brought new life defied all expectations. The cross serves as a reminder that in the hands of God, adversity truly is an advantage. In His power, pain brings healing. Death brings life, and setbacks can serve as a setup for new possibilities.
The cross serves as a reminder that in the hands of God, adversity truly is an advantage. In His power, pain brings healing. Death brings life, and setbacks can serve as a setup for new possibilities.
While we mourn the loss of what was, may we not lose sight of what could be. We might miss life as it was, but our goal is not to return to normal. Our goal is to seek the best that God has for us, and if He has allowed adversity to effect our normal means of ministry, then maybe His best is found beyond what was normal. This is the advantage of adversity. It pushes us beyond the safety and comfort of normal living to a life lived by faith in the One who controls all things.
Again, I desperately want to go back to normal. When things are normal, I know what to expect. However, God knows what is best, and His best might disrupt my expectations to the brink of disappointment. That’s ok. God would rather disappoint me and give me what is best, than meet my expectations and give me what falls short. This means that if adversity is what God has for me and my ministry during this time, then it is to my advantage. The setbacks in my life serve as setups for greater opportunities for the gospel to advance.