If you spend a lot of time with me, you’d probably soon realize that I have a tendency to become restless. That is, I get anxious quite easily. Even though in a few occasions such restlessness is justifiable, I think I know myself enough to know that this restlessness does not come, at least for me, from commendable causes. I detect at least two reasons, and both seem to come from a faulty understanding of the sovereignty of God.
First is the issue of pride. I get restless most when I fail to be at some event that I think is of weighty importance. Especially in events in which I think I can bear some influence, I tend to think that if I’m not there then it’s just not going to turn out quite right. Perhaps the event is a meeting for future church goals, or for the curriculum of sunday school, or for the planning of some form of ministry. I get restless because I have this unhealthy desire for control – I’d lose sleep, thinking about what the outcomes of those events are, get distracted from my work due to worrying too much about it. This may, at first glance, seem pious (look at how much he cares about the church!) but really this is a form of pride – it is the indication that I believe my presence is in some way essential to the good outcome of that meeting, or curriculum, or situation. Of course, this is wrong. Often times I realize that events turn out quite fine without me – teaching and community continue to go just as soundly and as smoothly when I’m not around. Even more, sometimes events go awry when I am involved. Here is a humility call for me: God works just fine without me, and he works just fine, also, often in spite of me. My presence is not as weighty as I make it out to be, and my absence not as catastrophic as I think it would be. That’s pride.
Second, connected to the first, is an unhealthy fear of missing out. This generation of folks is an interesting kind. We have social media to remind us that someone, somewhere, out there is having much more fun than we are. Here we are at home, beer in hand and netflix reeling, when a facebook notification informs us that our friends (or not-so-close friends) are getting that job they’ve always wanted, or hiking somewhere in Europe, or road-tripping around Bali, or enjoying a margarita in the Bahamas. We have this fear that we are missing out – that our lives are plain, boring, and uninteresting while the lives of others all around us are significant, colorful, and full of excitement. This translates quite easily in a ministerial (or academic!) context: we fear, or at least I do, that we are not in the locus of God’s momentum and movement. We fear that we will not be where the Spirit is, or that our ministry is perhaps just on the marginal sidelines. No doubt this is informed by our pre-occupation with the celebrity of the day: the big conference speakers with the big names and lights – when will we be a part of that? When will our ministry be talked about in Time magazine? When will our name be highlighted on a billboard or on a flyer? Hence we have this faulty view that God’s activity rests only on some Christians and not on all – that some churches are more important to him than others. This is wrong on many levels. God is, I think we all know, working in every individual Christian: he is working in the humble service of the Christian janitor who cleans the church day in and day out – the janitor whose name we probably fail to know. He works in the small acts of service that go unnoticed every sunday morning, in every private kind word said to the grieving, every invisible embrace given to the weak, and in every minute of a pastor’s 20 hour sermon preparation behind the weekly 40 minutes of delivery. He works in the faithful churches of ten in underground china, just as he works in the struggling middle-class church that is barely keeping up their attendance. This is, I think, what the ordinary church life looks like, far and alien to the glitziness of the conference we often seek to emulate. Yet we tend to think that when things become ordinary, dare I say mundane, we have left God’s locus of activity, when really perhaps we see him most in those ordinary yet faithful acts of service.
Any church that argues that God is working there, and only there, certainly has a wrong and narrow understanding of God’s sovereignty, and we would do well to remind myself that wherever we are, when we are in service of the kingdom of God, we are in God’s will. There is no need to be restless here.