Change is never easy. Life is a series of seasons that require change, adjustments, restarts, and even, as Henry Cloud says, "necessary endings.” And few, if any, of those things are ever pleasant.
Positive change often requires heroic effort, sacrifice, discomfort, and determination. There have been turning points in my life where I knew I could do better. And each time, I had to decide if I wanted to do better, if I was willing to make the changes or adjustments that would allow me to improve.
It would have been easier to stay right where I was. No one was breathing down my neck or criticizing me for not being good enough. You know as well as I do that we are our own worst enemies. But I knew things needed to change and I had to step up to do things differently. It happened to me as a husband and father. It has happened numerous times to me as a pastor in the past 36 years.
When I became the pastor of my little church in 1985, my primary task was to help our church fill every seat we had. We had 200 seats, which meant about 55 were empty on the average Sunday.
It wasn’t about numbers. We just wanted to have an impact in our community and we had 200 seats. We soon realized that very few people in the neighborhood around the church were coming to our church. That really got my attention.
I began to ask people who lived in the neighborhood why they had never come to a service. The answers were interesting and aggravating. Interesting because they revealed a lack of understanding of our community as well as not trying to even engage them. Some of them told me that after 26 years in the neighborhood, they really didn’t know anything about us. They knew we were friendly. They just assumed we were a small denominational church that was open only to those who would sign up to do things our way.
It was John Maxwell who spoke into us and challenged us to have the courage to change. He was one of the first people who told us that it was not about us but about our neighborhood. What did they need? What did they want? What would it take to show them the way to Jesus? Was it worth it? Were we willing to make the adjustments? Could we give up some of our preferences in hopes of eliminating the obstacles that were keeping our neighbors away?
It would have been so easy to just stay as we were. Everyone was happy. The budget was healthy. Our gatherings felt like family. In some ways, we were like a Fire Station in the middle of a forest fire. We were fine. We were “safe.” Heaven-bound, hymn-singing, hand-holding believers. Good people.
But right outside our door, the fire of heartbreak and confusion was raging. Families were in trouble. Older couples were lonely. Broken homes. Addiction. Don’t get me wrong--this was not a rough area of town. This was a nice upper middle class neighborhood. But there we sat, claiming to have the answer to all of life’s problems, believing that life after death mattered, convinced we were headed in the right direction and to the right place. And we were. We just weren’t thinking about those across the street who might appreciate knowing what we knew, or at least having a chance to discuss it and then make a decision.
That became the first of many turning points for our church where we had to navigate the rough waters of change. At every point, it would have been easier to just stay as we were. There have been times I thought I could not go another week. I was tired of being stretched. And so were our people. But we kept choosing to press on as more and more people responded to a loving Savior they had never heard about.
In this new year, I’m reminded how easy it is to stay comfortable. To coast. I’m reminded of these things because there’s often some weariness in pressing on.
We are starting our year in the book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah had the dream job: he was the king’s cupbearer, which meant he had a very close relationship with the king. This meant he would see the king on a daily basis; he had earned his respect and trust.
But God revealed to him that things in Jerusalem were not so good. In fact, they were terrible. The city was a mess, the walls around the city were destroyed, and the people were in great distress. Nehemiah spent four months mourning, praying, and fasting. It became clear to him that God wanted him to go to Jerusalem and rebuild the walls.
It would have been easy for Nehemiah to just pray about it. It would have been easy to delegate the task to someone else. It would have been easy to assume that some day someone would arrive in Jerusalem and get this fixed. After all, he was quite a distance from Jerusalem, and no one had specifically asked him to do anything. No one, that is, except for God.
Nehemiah asked his brother a question: “How are things in Jerusalem?” His brother answered, “Not good.” As his brother described the destruction of their homeland, Nehemiah was overcome with grief and concern. What he may not have seen coming was God calling him to be the answer to the problem.
You already know the rest of the story--Nehemiah chose to leave a prestigious career path with perks and power that were the envy of everyone around him. He chose to leave a comfortable home.
He chose to obey God.
There’s no way for me to know what choices or challenges you face. But I want to encourage you, urge you, beg you, for God’s sake, to step up and have faith that God will get you through whatever He’s calling you to do.
Stop playing it safe. Stop worrying about what others think. Invest your life in the meaningful and fulfilling task God has called you to.
“Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose of activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” Acts 5:38-39
What is God calling you to do in 2018 that makes you really uncomfortable?