Yesterday Pat and I started a three-month Sabbatical. This has been anticipated for a long time now. The plan – but not the timing – was agreed by Bishop David 18 months ago. The timing was settled after Leonard was appointed as vicar, and he graciously also agreed to my taking this time out.
I was talking the other day with someone about how we make plans and have expectations for how things will work out in life. We may have hopes and aspirations about the way the Lord might use us in ministry. In God’s good purposes though things can turn out very differently from what we expect. That’s happened here at St John’s over the last six years.
That’s also been true in my personal experience. I can point to several seasons in my life when things worked out very differently from my game plan and expectation. Sometimes seriously so. Every time though, I have seen God working His purpose out.
There’s a famous verse, much used in encouraging others and in prayer ministry:
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future…” Jeremiah 29:11
This message from God was to people whose plans and expectation had not worked out. Israel hoped that their pattern of life and worship would continue as it always had, but God intervened. Jerusalem the holy city was invaded and desecrated, the temple destroyed and the precious holy things taken away. The people themselves were carried off into exile in a foreign country.
God had intervened in this case because despite his warnings, the people had gone astray. For the exiles in a foreign land life completely had changed, and they wondered about how the future would work out. Then God told them to … stay where you are and make the most of it because I’ve got good plans for you. Despite all that had gone on God was with them, and this message was a timely word to encourage hope in the future, and trust in Him.
As I reflect on the last six years here at St Johns, it’s true that there have been a few twists and turns and things have not proceeded as we may have expected. However, God has been with us and has readied us for a new season and era of mission and ministry under Leonard’s leadership. We can look forward to the future with hope and trust in God.
As I reflect on my coming here nine years ago things have worked out differently from what I expected. For a start I came here for four years initially, and yet I am now in my tenth year. In all that’s gone on though, God has been in it.
I thank and praise Him that He has brought Leonard here and that together as a community we are embarking on a new journey into God’s purposes and goodness. Behind the scenes God has been at work in Leonard and Alison’s story just as He has been at work in the story of St John’s.
Behind the scenes in Pat and my life God has been working and on sabbatical I want to spend some time reflecting on God’s goodness and thanking him for His provision.
- The last four years has been a demanding period, but God has given me extra grace, enabling me to step up from my natural position and deal with extra pressure, challenges and responsibility. There’s been stress, but not too much strain. God’s equipping comes with His call.
- I want to reflect and thank God for the way my experience of life in business, family and ministry prepared me for the challenges of the last four years. I’ve come to see that nothing is wasted in our experience, God works for the good in all things.
- Pat and I have also had an extraordinary experience of God’s goodness and encouragement. God knew ahead of time what was to come, and He has encouraged us with special personal words for us at just the right time. These words have kept us on track even when things were uncertain and difficult.
We reflect on Gods’ goodness and provision in the past to give us a Godly perspective and to prepare us for the future. Today is just one day in the unfolding story of God’s Kingdom. We look for the story’s fulfilment when the Kingdom of God comes in its fullness. As the writer of Hebrews says, ‘For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.’ Hebrews 13:14. Until then there’s more to be done – more people to be drawn to know God’s love and to surrender to Jesus’ lordship.
So Pat and I go on Sabbatical –a time for restoration, reflection and recreation as well as preparation for what is yet to come. We’re travelling so we hope to take great pleasure in the beauty of Gods’ creation. I pray that especially for Pat, who is owed a debt for her caring support and wise counsel.
So as we go away for a time I thank the community of St John’s who have been incredibly supportive. I thank the staff team for their support – each of them have a story to tell as they have stepped up to face new challenges.
So today we rejoice and are sure that even when things don’t work out quite as we might expect them to, God has His hands on us. He has His hands on St John’s and on of each one of us, as we look to Him. He has His hands on us even when it might not feel like it.
God says, I know the plans I have for you. That’s His encouraging word.
So Pat and I go away for a time but we’ll be back. I see that in January I’m due to preach on ‘How to grow trust out of disappointment’. This thought that God has his hands on us is a sort of trailer for that sermon! Perhaps my reflection during our time away will feed into what I might say.
So as we go please know that we’ll be continuing to pray for you, and Pat and I would so value your prayers for us.
This blog is the talk given by Antony at our ‘Open’ service on Sunday 2nd October.