God is always far on ahead of us
We have explored many aspects of congregational planning in these pages in the last twelve months; but we have omitted the most important. I have therefore asked Mr Philip if I may use, as this month’s pastoral letter, the one he wrote in the Sandyford Record for June 1979. May it guide all our thinking.
C Peter White
After a comment about that year’s general election Mr Philip wrote:
My dear friends,
As we submit to the thorough study of Scripture we are beginning to see both the necessity of learning the lessons of history and also how the purposes of God move forward resolutely through decades and centuries. Unless we learn to stand in faith and view life and history from the detachment of the throne and the presence of God we will always be too near our situations to understand them or see their significance.
One thing we must learn and learn well is that God is always far on ahead of us and that we never move into an unprepared situation. For example, when the Jews were carried captive into Babylon God saw to it that Daniel and a few young men were there, ready to take their stand for God in very difficult circumstances, so that down through the years, and especially nearly seventy years later, there was a godly, stable saint of a man doing the work of intercessor. Again, when the Jews returned to Jerusalem after their captivity, God had His prophets Zechariah and Haggai ready, just as He had His leaders ready and willing. Go back in history and recall how God sent Joseph ahead into Egypt (by a sore and costly but necessary process) to prepare for the years of famine which brought Jacob and his family to Egypt. This in turn is seen firstly in relation to the tides of evil (Gen. 15:12-16) and then in relation to the Exodus, the possession of Canaan and right on through the story to the coming of the Saviour.
We make a great mistake in leaving God out of our reckoning. He is far more competent and far more intriguing in His methods than we ever give Him credit for. It is because we underestimate God that we allow the clash and clamour of life’s immediate circumstances to be a distraction and to lead us into the confusion and sometimes the despair of unbelief. We see and know only in part. We must learn to have confidence in God whose will is good, perfect and thoroughly acceptable.
Do you know these words from the hymn by Arthur Hugh Clough -
"For while the tired waves, vainly breaking,
Seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back, through creeks and inlets making,
Comes silent, flooding in, the main.
"And not by eastern windows only,
When daylight comes, comes in the light;
In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly!
But westward, look! the land is bright."
There is something here that is very important. We challenge and discipline ourselves and rightly so, but is it not also time we were learning to enjoy God, who, even in the disciplining of His children, is far more gracious and understanding than we ever give Him credit for? It is said of Him that He will never deal with His own so that the bruised reed will be broken or the smoking flax quenched (Isaiah 42:5). We misunderstand His ways. It has been suggested for example that Jonah was sent to Nineveh so that by his magnificent ministry the situation there might be prepared for the arrival of the ten northern tribes of Israel when they were carried into captivity. Can we really grasp the fact of a God who in advance prepares and blesses a situation in which His children are going to find themselves as a result of His judgment?
Isn’t it a comfort and a glorious relief to be in the hand of God? That reduces the hazard of our making mistakes, not least in the realm of guidance, to the right proportion. Why should our first or dominant reaction be fear lest we go wrong? Should we not be comforted in the God who plans and works to keep us right, the God who bears and forbears and who neither wearies nor sleeps nor forgets? Do we no longer believe that God will keep His promise to keep our going out and our coming in from this time forth and even for evermore?
God goes before us, teaching us as we are able to bear it, confirming our steps as we go along, and all the while dealing with us in ways that encourage, help, strengthen and mature our faith. Again and again, just as fear begins to undermine us, our great and wonderful God says, “Trust Me.” That is what He said to Jairus when it seemed that the worst had happened. That is what He said to Mary and Martha after having deliberately delayed His journey so that their dear brother Lazarus died. This is in part at least the message of the opening verses of John 14 where Jesus said, “Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in Me ... I go to prepare a place for you.” He not only leads us in life’s journey, He goes on ahead of us preparing every staging post so that we might rest at the right time and so be prepared for the next bit of the journey.
How we need to believe that our good and gracious God is silently planning for us in His love. The immensity of His love is determined with strong gentleness to lead us into all He has planned for us. Let this be such a relief for us that we will begin to enjoy God and walk with Him in holy and happy fellowship, always wondering what is the next good thing which He is going to bless us with. The promise of the Saviour is rest, and when we learn to rest in Him we do in fact discover that His yoke is easy and His burden is light.
With warmest greetings and encouragement,
Your sincere minister,
GEORGE M. PHILIP.