I hesitated to write this post because it is much more personal than anything I’ve written here before. If, however, it can be an encouragement to someone who has had an experience similar to mine or has experienced the same feelings and emotions, perhaps it will have been worth it to pull it out of my personal journal and publish it here.
This past Sunday one of the pastors at my church announced that he had accepted a pastoral position at another church in another state. To be more precise, I should say that our church’s only ordained pastor will soon be gone. Not only that, but his departure marks the fifth time since August of 2015 that a pastor has left my church. The circumstances of those departures are not the subject of this post, nor would I put anything in a public blog post that might cause any pain to other members of my church.
I know that this man, whom I consider a friend, has not accepted this new position lightly or without prayer and godly counsel. When he told the church that moving on brought sadness for him, I believe him. His continued service to our church over the past couple of years has been a source of great encouragement to me and I rejoice for his new church family that they will now be blessed by his ministry.
Still, his announcement brought with it a wave of discouragement for me. It’s a feeling that’s become too familiar over the past couple of years. I want nothing but God’s best for my pastor and friend, but I would be deceiving myself if I were to deny that it hurts that he will no longer be at my church. It is difficult not to feel somewhat abandoned and alone. Five men who have been spiritual mentors and guides, teachers, and friends have left my church family and I know that those relationships will never be quite the same.
It was no coincidence that my Bible reading plan for 2018 had me reading in Nehemiah 4 on the day of this announcement:
But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs and the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem was going forward and that the breaches were beginning to be closed, they were very angry. And they all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it. And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night.
In Judah it was said, “The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing. There is too much rubble. By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall.” And our enemies said, “They will not know or see till we come among them and kill them and stop the work.” At that time the Jews who lived near them came from all directions and said to us ten times, “You must return to us.” So in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, in open places, I stationed the people by their clans, with their swords, their spears, and their bows. And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.”
Nehemiah 4:10-14 (ESV)
Perhaps the discouragement I felt this Sunday compares in some small way to what was felt in Judah in Nehemiah’s day. The people were hard at work, but they met opposition. Their strength was failing, there was too much work to be done, and it became clear that the task was too much for them. But Nehemiah gave them a reminder, words of encouragement: “Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome.” No matter who opposed the Israelites or what circumstances stood in their way, they could fix their hearts and minds on the God whom they served and take courage from his awesome power. They could then turn that courage into action by being prepared to fight for their families and their homes.
I worship and serve the same God who has not changed at all from Nehemiah’s day. I strive to be a committed member of my church (although I know I do not fill that role perfectly). Sometimes the effort involved in committing myself to my church seems overwhelming. Often, I see the strain of that effort more in others than in myself. Given what my church has been through, it is easy to think about giving up on one’s commitment, feeling that we’ve been left to fend for ourselves.
But I have no reason to wallow in that kind of discouragement or believe the lie that we are abandoned. I remember the Lord, who is great and awesome. When the task before me seems too much to bear, I know that He is my strength. He supplies that strength for a purpose: that I may glorify him. The reconstruction of Jerusalem brought glory to God as well as safety for its inhabitants. The work that God has called me to do in my local church brings glory to him, but I can also draw motivation from the fact that the members of my church are my family. When your family is in danger, you prepare to fight.
The call to myself and to anyone else feeling discouraged (especially anyone in my own church family who might read this) is simple: do not fear enemies or circumstances, but remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and resolve to fight on behalf of those you love.