I can relate when Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9
“We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death.”
I love that the Bible is so honest with the dark depths of human experience.
Life has been extremely busy and difficult recently. Hence the lack of posts. That difficulty and busyness is intermingled with great encouragement though. We currently have a young people’s team from Christ Community Church (CCC) in Huntersville NC over helping us with a week of evangelism and community building. They are a huge blessing and encouragement. Christ Central Preston and CCC people have been out in Preston city centre and parks chatting to people about Jesus. We’ve got a “Taste of the USA” Funday planned for tomorrow (Sat 27th) in Moor Park. We love being friends together on a mission. I can’t fully express how grateful to God I am for these guys.
It has been an amazing week. What a privilege to chat with 2 aging Jehovah’s Witnesses gently and respectfully and to expose the lies they’ve been taken in by. To speak with them about Jesus who is the eternal God and the consistency with which the Bible shows this. I don’t deserve to receive another breath from God, let alone be surrounded with friends who love Jesus and speak about Jesus to others. It’s been great.
But being on mission with Jesus and His people is hard. If the great church planter Paul spoke about being in a situation far beyond his ability to endure it’s no surprise if I and the CCP team find things hard! Almost everything we’ve put in place for the Funday on Saturday has fallen through at least once. We’ve had to pick up many pieces and rebuild. The bouncy castle hire company went out of business, permits for the event came through late and musicians couldn’t make it. Who knew that getting a gas safety check done on a BBQ might cost over £200? And that check would only be valid for 12 months…. For a young church plant with little money these things are no minor speed bumps! The above is a shortened list. I haven’t told everyone the other issues in the interests of not stressing them out! The only thing which has not fallen through are the water guns for the American shooting range. I bought them this morning. There is still time for them to break!
It has been really quite difficult to be honest. The team are amazing and have thrown themselves in to organising like champs. The list above seems so small now. But speed bumps like these happen against the backdrop of the 1001 other challenges that church leadership, a young family and work bring. I don’t think for a minute that the pressure we are under is exactly like Paul’s in type or severity. I haven’t been flogged or ship wrecked recently. Or ever. But I’m thankful that I belong to the same God these verses reveal.
I am glad that great pressure and subsequent despair are not wasted. They are not meaningless. There is actually purpose behind them. Because there is a God who raises the dead behind them. That is what Paul recognised.
“9 Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.“
Did you see it there? “…this happened that…”
If we were to ask, “Paul why have all these great pressures come upon you that have caused you to despair of life itself and feel the sentence of death?” he would answer “They have happened so that we might not rely on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” That’s the purpose. To cause us to lean not on ourselves but on God. To destroy our self reliance and cause us to cling to God himself.
This requires a huge, expansive view of God. No Ned Flanderseque cloud confined deity will do. No God who tries to work, only to have his plan thwarted, can do this. Only the God of the Bible who works everything according to the counsel of His will (Eph 1:11) can orchestrate ever single event for His glory and the good of His people in this way. God does not work despite hardship or around hardship. Hardship is his divinely ordained means of achieving his ends.
I don’t know whether it is going to rain tomorrow. That’s another question mark over the event at the moment! Whether it does or not, the secondary cause will be local weather patterns which in themselves act without purpose. The clouds aren’t thinking right now about what to do tomorrow. But the primary cause will be God himself who is working out his purpose. And that purpose is to cause His people to trust in him, the God who raises the dead. To shape our character, to wean us off our addiction to our own puny strength and to rely on Him.
Surely as Jesus who is fully God and fully man went to the cross this was his confidence. My Father is the one who raises the dead and who has a purpose in the suffering I am about to go through. In the great pressure, in the midst of despair, God is conforming us to the likeness of His Son (Rom 8:29) What a mighty fortress this God is! He is one on whom we can set our hope. Please pray for us and come along!
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Meeting every Sunday, 10:30am at The Atrium, Fylde Rd, Preston, PR1 2TQ (Access to the Atrium, where we meet, is on the Adelphi Street side, not on Fylde Road)