“Meant to be” – Building a Bridge to a Gospel Witness

I talk to two of my neighbors on a regular basis and feel fairly close to them. We talk about a lot of things, but they tend to shut down the conversation when I start talking about God or salvation. I’m constantly looking for ways to insert meaningful comments in a way they will receive.

You probably have similar friends in your lives. Sometimes we have to build friendships with people before they will listen to the Gospel. My husband, Art, played badminton every Tuesday night with a man for more than ten years before he became a Christian.

So we want to be bold witnesses for Christ but we also want to be sensitive to the leading of the Spirit. We want to build a relationship that will break down some of the barriers our friends have that make them not want to listen to the Gospel. It’s not easy is it?

One of these ladies often uses the term “meant to be.” Like: “My friend is dying of cancer, but it’s meant to be, don’t you think?” This woman doesn’t claim to be a Christian or show interest in the Bible or spiritual things, but she still uses this phrase, “meant to be,” a lot. As a Christian, I believe in the sovereignty of God and the good purposes he has for situations we encounter in our lives. So when an unbeliever uses this phrase, I always wonder what they mean by it. When my neighbor asks if I think something is meant to be, I want to tell about the way God works in our lives. But this is not a yes or no answer. You really need to be able to say more to answer a question like this, because if God causes all the bad things that happen in our lives, why would they want to believe in him?

My way of dealing with this with my neighbor was to write out a careful response explaining my version of the phrase. Then I popped into her house for a chat. I was able to insert a quick summary of what I wanted to say and then handed her an explanation she could read in her own time. This gave me a chance to insert more than I could actually say to her at the time. I plan to do a similar thing with another neighbor at our once-a-month game time together.

Since this phrase, meant to be, is a common part of both New Zealand and American culture, this can be an opening to talk about the God we love. I’m including the remarks I gave my neighbor in hopes others can use it with unbelievers they know. Feel free to copy this article, even change it, to use with your friends. I don’t feel my friends are ready for Scripture verses so I’m not including them. I have, however listed verses at the end that you could insert throughout this article. The verses go with *’s in the order they are given.

May God give you opportunities to share his love to those around you today.

Meant to Be – What does it mean?

 I often hear people say something “was meant to be.” They may ask me if I agree. I could say that I certainly do if I can define what that means to me. On the other hand, I certainly don’t agree with how some people define that phrase.

Some people believe in chance, that all of life is a gamble and it doesn’t matter what you do. Contrary to that idea, people who say an event or condition was meant to be usually mean that it was caused by fate, destiny, or God. In each of these cases they believe that many things in life are beyond our control and are predetermined by a supernatural power. Some call these powers “kismet,” “fortune,” or “karma.”

Fate says you may have some choices that influence your life, but by and large you can’t escape your fate. Fatalism says if you can’t change what’s going to happen to you, why even try?

Destiny also maintains that our lives have been planned out before hand, but that we can shape our destiny by what we do.

I believe that God is in control of the world and everything happens according to his plan.

The Bible says that God plans out our lives before we are born. He knows what will happen to us and he works in our lives, but he also allows us free will. What we do does make a difference in the outcome.

 Adversity is part of life on earth.

The Bible tells us that God created a wonderful, perfect world. Satan, a created being who rebelled against God, brought sin into the world.* Adam and Eve used their free will to follow Satan into rebellion. From that time on, the earth has been cursed by sin. Many bad things happen because of that curse. Sickness and death have become a part of life. Things decay and wear out. On earth today, these things are a part of life. God can stop bad things from happening, but he allows some bad things to happen because these experiences are a part of life.

Some bad things that happen are a result of wrong choices. Unwise choices often bring undesirable outcomes. We were also created with the ability to make moral choices and we’re responsible for the choices we make. When we make wrong moral choices we hurt, not just ourselves, but other people as well. Wrong actions can bring harsh consequences. Many people choose to do morally wrong actions and then blame God for the consequences of those actions, but they have brought these problems on themselves.

Evil is part of life on earth because of sin, but evil doesn’t tie God’s hands or defeat his plans. God can even use bad things for good purposes. The Bible character Joseph is a good example of this.* Joseph’s brothers were jealous of him and hated him so much they sold him to be a slave in Egypt. As a slave Joseph worked hard for the good of his master, earning a position of great trust. Then someone lied about him and he was thrown in prison. Even in prison Joseph earned the trust of the prison warden. Joseph suffered much injustice for thirteen years, but he continued to trust God and keep a good attitude. In time, Joseph interpreted a dream for the Pharaoh and was promoted to be in charge of all of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh. For thirteen years of his life, it looked like God had forgotten Joseph, but actually God used the tragedies in Joseph’s life to bring him to a high position in the government. In that position he was able to save the lives of all seventy members his family and Egyptians and people in neighboring countries by helping them prepare for an upcoming famine.

We often don’t understand what’s happening in our lives but God can even use adversity for good.*

Adversity can:

  • Make us strong
  • Teach us compassion
  • Equip us to help others*
  • Motivate us to find answers to life’s problems
  • Draw us to God
  • Be used by God in ways we can’t understand*

Good and bad things come to all people:

While people often ask why God allows bad things to happen, they forget that every good gift comes from God.* Every day God gives good gifts to good and bad people alike. Every breath we take is a gift from God. So is food, clothing, health, strength, family, friends, ideas, beauty, skill, nature. The list is endless. We may work hard to earn money to buy some of these things. We may study and work to develop skill. We share in things invented or developed by other people. But ultimately, all things come from what God has created or allowed us to have.

God doesn’t just give good things to good people and bad things to bad people. God even gives good gifts daily to the person who hates God, shakes his fist at God, and blames him for every problem. God gives good things to every person on earth. He also allows tragedy to strike every kind of person. None of us is truly good and perfect like God. He doesn’t give us good things because we deserve it but because he loves us and is gracious.

 God is in control of our lives.

God is in control but he allows our actions to affect the outcomes in our lives. Our choices make a difference in what happens in our lives.

Salvation makes me God’s child and gives me a strong, personal relationship with God. It doesn’t make me perfect, but it does get me going in the right direction.

Following God’s plan brings blessing into our lives. That doesn’t mean we won’t have any problems in our lives, but that God will use even adversity for our good. Obedience to him makes a difference because we are working with his plan, not against it.

Though God plans our lives, he has also left room for prayer to make a difference.*

When life seems to spiral out of control, God is still working in our lives. He may not stop these things from happening, but he will help us through hard times if we trust in him. Trusting him gives us confidence that we have purpose in life and God will use all things, even adversity, for our good. Even evil and tragedy must bow to the good purposes of our God.

 

So when I hear someone say certain things in life are “meant to be,” do I agree with them? I agree if I can define what I mean by that. I believe God works in our lives for good and brings everything into our lives for a reason. I believe God controls our lives and, as I cooperate with him and follow his lead, God is bringing my life to a place that accomplishes his purposes and gives meaning to my life.

Example:

Let’s say someone tells me their friend is dying of cancer, but that it was meant to be. What am I thinking?

  • God has allowed this to happen. He could use medicine to cure them or he could do a miracle to cure them, but he may not.
  • God controls how that person will come through medical treatment, how the disease progresses, how the person will eventually die.
  • Prayer makes a difference in what will happen, but we leave the results with God.
  • Death is a part of life and each of us will die in some way.
  • God wants that friend with cancer to come to him in salvation so he or she will be prepared to die and spend eternity with him.*
  • God cares about the family and friends of that person and the journey they go through as well.

 How does God’s control change my life?

  • As I look back on my life, I see how God has been faithful to bring me through each difficulty. I know that he will be faithful to bring me through my future.
  • I can face uncertain times with confidence because I know that God loves me and will work out things for my good.
  • When life gets crazy and I don’t know what to do, I know God is still in control. He will lead me to the right course of action in time for me to take it.
  • I can do certain things to plan and move forward but if I feel stuck I don’t need to despair. God is still working in ways I can’t see. I can trust him.
  • My life has purpose because what I do matters. God can use me in ways I don’t understand.

Life on earth will pass and each of us will face our eternal destiny. God gives us many blessings on earth, but he also gives us this time to prepare for death.* People come up with many conflicting ideas about what we must do to prepare to meet God. Many people think if their good outweighs their bad, God will accept them, but God says differently. God reveals himself in the Bible and the Bible gives only one way to prepare for an eternity in heaven.

I can try all my life to be the best person I can be, but I still do wrong things that offend God. He is holy and he can’t accept the wrong moral choices people make. He can, however, forgive them. God’s Son Jesus had no sin of his own, but he allowed soldiers to crucify him to pay the penalty for the wrong things we do. We have a choice about our eternal destiny. He offers us salvation but we must accept it.

How can I get this salvation?

  • Be sorry for the wrong things I’ve done that have offended God*
  • Believe that Jesus died in my place, paying the penalty for sin *
  • Choose to accept God’s gift of salvation*

[Sentences with an * by them match Bible verses that explain these ideas. The Bible verses are: Genesis 3, Genesis 37 and 39-50, Romans 8:28, 1 Corinthians 4:3-4, Isaiah 55:8-9, James 1:17, James 5:16b-18, 2 Peter 3:9, Hebrews 9:27, Romans 3:23, Romans 5:8 and Acts 16:30-31, Romans 6:23.]

 

Days Off Vs. Off Days

Maynard Belt, Guest BloggerToday our guest blogger, Pastor Maynard Belt, shares a very helpful blog that helps balance my articles on balancing life and ministry. Thanks for sharing, Pastor Belt.

“An off day isn’t quite the same as a day off!” says Warren Wiersbe. We all have had “off days” in ministry, kind of like, “off days” in golf! The driver is just a little off, the pitching wedge just not working right, the sand wedge just not getting under, the putter, well, it just “ain’t puttin’!” At the end of the game we fling our clubs in the trunk of the car and quip, “Sure a good thing I got a two-for-one discount today I sure wouldn’t have wanted to pay full price for that game!”

I would surmise that in ministry, sometimes “off days” are due to not having “days off.” It is amazing what just a day away from the office can do to refresh the soul and help you to think “ministry” in a more effective way. Have you ever heard someone say, “I would rather burnout for God than rust out!” Or maybe this, “The devil doesn’t take a vacation, neither shall I!” Can you believe that I actually remember saying such statements in my early days in ministry? But then again, that was kind of the “ministry mindset” a couple of generations ago! I have not always practiced what I am preaching to you today, but I do see the merit of it. It is not good for us, or our ministries, or our families, to want to be like the devil or desire to burnout. Somewhere along the way we must find the balance.

The ministry is considered a helping profession, of which someone has said, “It is difficult to help people. Add to that low pay, impossible workloads, miles of red tape, inadequate training, low prestige and ungrateful clients!” Well, these may not always be the case, but if we are having an “on day,” we must admit that being involved in a “helping profession” is often demanding, as well as draining! In Deuteronomy 28:67 we read, “In the morning you shall say, ‘Oh, that it were evening!’ And at evening you shall say, ‘Oh, that it were morning!’ because of the fear which terrifies your heart, and because of the sight which your eyes see.” Dear friends in ministry, if we do not regularly incorporate “days off” into our busy schedules, there will come “off days” simply because we are not fresh enough, strong enough, mentally sharp enough, to meet the demands of ministry. We will not be the spiritual guides we must be to those in need. When we “wear down” in ministry we are not at our best in helping and guiding. Too much time with “our nose to the grindstone (one of my dad’s favorite expressions),” will fatigue us for the battles. We must be refreshed from time to time or our “call to serve” and all its demands will exhaust our energy and consume our spirit.

“If you have run with footmen, and they have wearied you, then how can you contend with horses? And if in the land of peace, in which you trusted, they wearied you, then how will you do in the floodplain of the Jordan?” Jeremiah 12:5

Let me remind you of that which you already know you should do! Take your vacations! T. Harwood Pattison once said, “An annual vacation of at least four weeks should be given every minister. No minister can do twelve months work in twelve months, though he can in eleven!” Pattison, a noted professor of pastoral theology made that statement in 1907 because of the increasing pressures of that day for those in ministry! If living today he probably would say that we should take eleven months off and work one! I know that many of you do not get anywhere near a month’s vacation, but do take what you get! Take your days off! Get out of town, take your wife shopping, browse through a bookstore, take your children on a special outing, play a game of golf or go fishing. Take time to attend a Bible conference, association meeting, another pastor’s ordination, a minister’s breakfast fellowship/prayer meeting, or just a relaxing day of fellowship with a fellow pastor without “talking ministry!” Regarding an adequate time away, Spurgeon once said, “It would sweep the cobwebs out of the brains of scores of our toiling ministers who are now but half alive.” A day away from the office and phone, can assist in “sweeping away some of the cobwebs out of the brain.”

Recently a newly appointed president of a large mission agency gave his first Family Letter to all of the missionaries serving around the world. He closed this epistle with these words: “Please take care of yourselves. We, God’s servants, can be so careful about taking care of those to whom we minister and then forget to care for ourselves. Take a day off. Take care of yourselves!”

If we take more “days off,” we just may have fewer “off days.” Wiersbe is right, “An off day is not quite the same as a day off!”

“And He (Christ) said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart unto a desert place, and
rest awhile; for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much
as to eat.” Mark 6:31 32

See more articles by Pastor Belt at: The Barnabas File.

Balancing Life and Ministry, Part 3: Ministry and Other Interests

“I don’t know how you find time to write.” On the rare occasions I hear this statement I sometimes cringe. The person who says it may just mean, “Isn’t it great that you’re able to do this?” But in my mind I hear them saying, “You must be neglecting your ministry if you have time to publish books.”

As I said in part 1, “People who work at salaried jobs can start at a certain time and quit at a certain time. The rest of their time is their own.” But ministry is never-ending. You can always think of more that could be done, maybe should be done. Does that mean you should never be able to pursue other interests?

Side ministries, hobbies, sports, and other interests can be a healthy part of ministry for a number of reasons.

  • Participating in groups in the community may help you develop relationships that can be helpful in ministry. My husband worked for many years in the local community patrol for this reason.
  • Pursuing side interests give you a needed break from constantly obsessing about ministry.
  • People in ministry often give out continually, focusing on the needs and interests of others. In time this may drain them of needed emotional energy. Pursuing side interests often help you care for your own needs and can keep you more contented in ministry.
  • God may want you to take part in a side ministry.

In my case, I felt God calling me to write for Christian publication before I felt his call to missions. For more than 40 years I have done both. Both in Taiwan and New Zealand, my missions ministry has always taken precedence over my writing ministry. During the years I was in language school and had two small children at home, I didn’t do much writing. Other years also left little time for this. But during most of that time I’ve been able to carve out time to write as well as work in our church-planting ministry. If I had waited for leftover time to write, I would never have done much. If I had put my writing first, my church ministry could have suffered. So each year I had to go before the Lord and figure out how to balance the two.

On the one hand I felt God had gifted and called me to writing. I felt I would be disobedient if I didn’t serve the Lord in this way. On the other hand, it’s easy to feel guilty about the time spent writing because it could look like I’m neglecting my missions ministry. How do I balance that?

As I said in part two, our life situations often determine how much time we can spend in ministry as well as side pursuits. A missionary wife who home schools five kids at once will have to tackle ministry in a different way that a single missionary. In my case, my current ministry situation allows me opportunity to write for several reasons.

  •  Much of my ministry work is done out of my home and I have great flexibility in my schedule.
  • My nest has been empty for 22 years. While I would like to spend more time with family, on the field I don’t need much time for family events and expectations.
  • Most of our national holidays on the field fall on Sundays, and since my husband is the pastor, we always work on these holidays. For 24 years we haven’t had American co-workers and most of the American holidays don’t seem worth celebrating on our own.
  • While we are technically allowed 2-4 weeks for vacations, much of the time we’ve been on this field we haven’t had anyone to fill in for us on Sundays. As a result we do well to take 3 or 4 days vacation once or twice a year, often not including Sundays.
  • We live on an island and have seen most of the things close to us. We don’t really have access to a “cheap” vacation, like visiting families or friends, so we haven’t always been able to afford to take our full vacation time, even if we could schedule it.
  • During January, many of our ministries break for the summer, so my ministry demands are lightened considerably. The same thing happens on school term breaks.
  • I don’t do much gardening and keep other hobbies to a minimum.
  • Though I consider myself a fulltime missionary, I feel I can take time throughout the year that would be used by many people for days off, family time, holidays, and vacations for pursuing my writing ministry. Instead of using this time in chunks, I work time for writing into my schedule throughout the year.

I know I am responsible before God to give myself fully to my missions ministry as well as pursuing my writing ministry as he leads. I’m responsible to our church, our mission board, and supporting churches for the time I spend in missions ministry. My New Zealand tax status makes me a full-time worker which means I need to do at least 30 hours of church ministry a week. Of course, the hours spent can fluctuate greatly from month to month or week to week. But I have to satisfy my conscience that I am not neglecting my main ministry. At the same time, I need freedom to pursue my writing without feeling guilty. Generally speaking, no one questions me about this, but I want to do right before the Lord.

If you are working to balance ministry with other pursuits, here are some questions you might find helpful to ask about that extra thing you want to pursue.

Is this something God wants me to take time to do?

  • Is this the right time in my life to pursue this interest or ministry?
  • How much time can I afford to use in this pursuit?
  • Does this pursuit hinder my ministry?
  • Does this pursuit make me resent my main ministry, or does it help me appreciate it?

Generally speaking, a side interest outside of ministry can be healthy and prolong your years of ministry—as long as you keep it in balance. May the Lord help you to find balance in your ministry this year.

Next month:  Maynard Belt shares his perspective on taking time off in his article, “Days Off Vs. Off Days.”

Balancing Life and Ministry, Part 2: Busyness in Ministry

Are you feeling overwhelmed in ministry? Does it sometimes feel like no matter how much you do, it’s never enough? As I wrote in part one, getting a good balance to ministry isn’t always easy.

How can you know if you are you working hard and long enough? That you are doing the right activities? Some people never get past the guilt of feeling they haven’t done enough. Others might go to the opposite extreme and neglect genuine ministry needs as they care for their family.

Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28, 29, NKJV)

I don’t believe Jesus meant by these verses that we don’t need to exert strong effort to do his work, but there is a kind of work that feels like you are carrying a heavy burden. Serving out of constant guilt and feeling you can never do enough to please God doesn’t make for a joyful ministry or one that honors God.

When our busyness gets out of balance, and we feel stuck in dead end activities, it often affects our attitudes and quality of work. As you face a new year it’s a good idea to take time to evaluate your ministry. Balance in your ministry can give you freedom to please God in a new way.

These questions can help you evaluated the balance in your ministry:

  • Am I pleasing God with the amount of hours I spend in ministry?
  • Is my spouse and church comfortable with the time I spend in ministry?
  • Am I flexible enough to make time for people, even when they come to me at an inconvenient time?
  • Am I doing my ministry with vigor and enthusiasm?
  • Do I resent the hours I spend in ministry?

Maybe you can see what needs to be done in your ministry, but feel too much of the work falls on your shoulders. What can you do when you feel overwhelmed by needs? These questions may lead you to better distribution of labor:

What needs to be done that only I can do? If no one else can do it, maybe God wants me do to it.

  • What needs to be done that someone else could do? Maybe I need to find someone else to do some things, even if I have to train them to do jobs and allow them time to grow into them.
  • What doesn’t need to be done at all? Often we keep activities on the church calendar just because we’re hesitant to remove something that’s already going. If I don’t have time to do these things and no one else wants to do them, maybe that’s a sign that that job should be discontinued.

God has a plan for your ministry. We need balance in our ministries as we do God’s work in his way for his glory. May the new year bring blessings in your ministry as you seek to honor him.

Next month: Should I be able to pursue other interests besides ministry? What if I feel God has given me a side ministry beside my main ministry? How can I balance that?

[Of course, the amount of time and labor is not the only part of your ministry which needs to be evaluated. Warren Wiersbe says, “Ministry takes place when divine resources meet human needs through loving channels to the glory of God.” This definition takes into account reliance on God, situation of ministry, attitude, and motivation. Those are also important concepts, but they are beyond the scope of this article. Wiersbe writes five excellent chapters on those concepts, and I won’t try to duplicate that. For more information read: On Being a Servant of God, by Warren W. Wiersbe.]

 

Balancing Life and Ministry, Part 1: Family and Ministry

Whether you are married or single, if you’ve been in Christian ministry for long, you’ve probably wrestled with this question: “How do I know when I’ve done enough?”

People who work at salaried jobs can start at a certain time and quit at a certain time. The rest of their time is their own. Ministries demand so much more because they are working with people, loving people, and sharing their lives.  You’ve heard this old saying: “Man may work from sun to sun, but a women’s work is never done.” Here’s my new ministry saying: “Jobs may go from nine to five, but ministries aren’t done if you’re still alive.”

Satan can use guilt feelings to make women in ministry think it’s impossible to do enough. That idea leaves us bitter, exhausted, and without hope. He can also use our fear of neglecting family to neglect our ministry. Either extreme is out of balance.

Balancing life and ministry isn’t always easy, but I believe we can find a balance that pleases God and leaves us contented and happy in ministry.

Each ministry situation is unique. Family and marriage situations, health, abilities and gifts, living situations, and personality types all determine how much time and energy we can give to ministry. Each of us must ask God to show us good balance for our ministries.

In my next three articles I’ll talk about:

  1. Balancing family and ministry,
  2. Balancing busyness in ministry, and
  3. Balancing other interests and ministry.

 Balancing Family and Ministry

Some people say God should come first, then family, then ministry. By that they usually mean that their personal relationship with God should come first, then their relationship with and needs of their family, then the needs of their ministry.

It sounds good, but raises some questions. Does that mean you should spend the most hours in your personal devotions and prayer, then less hours spending time with your family and meeting their needs, and the least hours in your ministry? Probably not, but if you don’t measure this in hours spent, how do you measure it?

Some pastors who put family before ministry say that family activities are more important than church activities. Subscribing to this idea, some pastors would skip a somewhat major event at their church to attend a practice soccer game for their third-grade child. Is that balance?

Others say ministry takes priority over the home. But how do you know when you’ve spent enough hours in ministry to enjoy time at home? I know of one full time minister with kids at home who travelled most of the time and only took one week of vacation a year. Is that balance?

Each woman needs to find the correct balance in her life and ministry. She has to consider what expectations her husband and ministry have, but ultimately she is responsible before God. Should home come first and the Lord’s work take second place? Or should the ministry have priority over the home?

I like Warren Wiersbe’s approach. He wrote this: “I disagree with both approaches for two reasons. I don’t think they’re biblical, and they automatically create conflict.  If indeed “two become one,” home and ministry are united; they are one. What God has joined together, we must not put asunder. . . . The best thing my wife and I could do for the churches we served was to build a good home and raise children who were a credit to the Lord and to the church. And the best thing we could do for our home was to build good churches for our children to attend. The two became one. . . . When our children understand that everybody in the family is a part of the ministry, and that together we are all building the church and building our home, we have a common outlook to help us in making decisions. It isn’t an either/or situation; it’s both/and.”

My husband and I first served as missionaries in Taiwan. (1980-1996) In that Chinese ministry our daughters had limited opportunities to help with our ministry. But when we came to New Zealand in 1998, our teenage daughters were a great help to our ministry. When we spent time with the youth group, we spent time with them. They had a great time singing in choir, teaching classes, leading the puppet team, and interacting with our people. They became a vital part of our ministry and the ministry was good for them.

Wiersbe also pointed out an advantage pastors and missionaries often have the people in other vocations don’t have. He says, “The pastor makes his own schedule and has calendar privileges that other people in the church don’t have.”

As a missionary pastor and wife we could often work our schedule to accommodate what our daughters wanted to do within our ministry schedule. The exception came when school activities conflicted with church. In our family, church took priority.

Instead of thinking of priorities in terms of hours spent or which choice wins, I think of it like this. My relationship with God is most important and, above all, I need to take the time and effort to build this relationship and grow in Christlikeness. With God’s help I also need to make choices that ensure that the needs of my family are met and that I am doing all God wants me to do in ministry. I need to be flexible enough to work my schedule around the most important activities. I may not be able to do all I want to do, but I will be able to do all God wants me to do.

In this new year may the Lord help you to find balance in your ministry and family that will give you confidence and contentment in both roles.

Next month: How busy is too busy in ministry? How can I slow down when I get in over my head?

[The quotes were taken from chapter 20 of this excellent book: On Being a Servant of God, by Warren W. Wiersbe. Dr. Wiersbe is with the Lord now. I heartily recommend this book to anyone in ministry.]