Change can be exciting or unsettling, thrilling or alarming, depending on where you are coming from, your temperament and even your mood.
David Watson loved to tell the story of his conversation with an elderly gentleman in a church that he visited. It was a church that had been greatly transformed in recent years.
‘You must have seen many changes here,’ David suggested.
‘Yes, and I have opposed every one of them!’ came the reply.
How do you handle change? Some proposed changes need to be withstood when they are mere novelty and the old way is clearly better, but often change can be God-ordained.
Beware fear or nostalgia
Some withstand change through fear of the unknown or through nostalgic clinging to the past. Neither fear nor nostalgia has any place in God’s purpose; both need to be recognised and refused! Believers with a robust confidence in their unchanging God need not fear changing circumstances. God can be trusted. He wants our security to be founded on Him. It’s all too easy to sing songs expressing child-like confidence in God when in reality we are basing our security on predictable, unchallenging circumstances.
Sometimes God uses uncomfortable upheaval to shake you out of complacency and self-sufficiency. The loss of a job or a friendship can be painful and disorienting, but if it results in your being cast on God in a new way you are actually moving forward in God’s purpose. The shaking that seems so threatening can actually prove to be the doorway into a new discovery of God and His personal love and faithfulness.
Jeremiah complained, ‘Moab has been at ease from his youth and hast settled on his dregs. He has not been emptied from vessel to vessel’ (Jer. 48:11 ESV). Remaining static can lead to stagnation. God’s presence is often referred to in terms of a flowing river or a rushing wind. His very presence implies disturbance and movement.
As believers we should be suspicious of situations where status quo seems to rule unthreatened and defend itself against all transition. As any parent knows, growth implies constant change. New foods, new clothes, new questions and new schools are the stuff of growth. No change means no growth and that would be alarming! Churches are meant to grow and be seriously troubled by the sentiment occasionally expressed stating, ‘I preferred it when we were small and intimate.’ I must confess that I prefer kittens to cats, but growth implies inevitable transformation and the church is not ultimately to be governed by personal preference.
The Church’s manifesto is to go into all the world. The Church is by definition a people on the move! So, change is incumbent upon us if we are to be true to our identity and fulfil our calling.
When I first became a churchgoer it would have been strange to arrive at church on Sunday morning to find someone sitting in a different pew. Indeed, to be in someone else’s designated spot would be regarded as somewhat outrageous and impertinent! There was a sense of permanence about people’s preferred seating arrangements. You expect me to change my pew without complaint? At least a dentist uses anaesthetic when pulling a tooth! In stark contrast, in Newfrontiers we have whole congregations in our ranks that have changed location again and again.
Personal trust in God is the root of our Christian experience and that trust needs to be kept fresh and alive. Genuine trust and confidence in Him provides inward peace. If circumstances never change, we can be fooled into thinking that our sense of well-being is the outcome of our personal godliness. Actually, it is the unchallenging predictability of our daily routine making us comfortable.
Some of the greatest Bible heroes knew the challenge of change. Joseph’s nest was destroyed and he had to fly the family home. At the mercy of other people’s envy, jealousy and malicious intent, he was pushed and shoved from place to place until he ended up in prison far from home and apparently forgotten by God. In fact, he was not simply the plaything of circumstances. Every transition seemed ugly in itself but was step-by-step bringing him to God’s ordained destiny for his life.
His personal triumph was in his ability to trust God throughout his mystifying experiences. He grew in spiritual stature and not only experienced the fulfilment of his childhood dreams but also found grace thoroughly to forgive those who were apparently responsible for the injustice and upheaval that came his way, standing on the rock-like truth that ‘God meant it for good’.
I will shake all things
As a movement we in Newfrontiers are going through a time of great transition. Church planting with all the upheaval that that implies, building programmes, fresh locations. Maybe you personally are conscious of transition that has brought insecurity, anxiety and even fear. Be sure of this, God is well able to look after you. Sometimes you need everything in your life to be shaken in order to demonstrate the reality of your own faith. God has declared, ‘I will shake all things that that which cannot be shaken may remain’ (see Heb. 12:26-27). Let us, therefore, give thanks that we have received a kingdom that cannot be shaken. Let us also invite the river of God to take us ever deeper and His air current to take us higher into His purposes so that we can embrace all that He has for us.
One day, we shall have to die by faith. Last week I heard of the recent death of the great and beloved Campbell McAlpine. Ultimately God can be trusted in every transition. Our spiritual father, Abraham, was a tent-dweller. One day even the tent we live in will be taken down (2 Cor. 5:1) and we shall know the biggest transition of all. God wants to change us from one degree of glory to another, so don’t fear the discomforts that come with every step of transition.
This is a passing age. Every location is temporary. Transition is particularly painful for those who build their lives on the wrong foundation and derive their comforts from the wrong sources. So hang loose and keep your eyes on the Lord!