Posted On May 13, 2004
Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy–meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. – Philippians 4:4-13.
The church faces an uphill battle in order to grow in numbers. I know that many say not to worry about numbers, just be concerned about spiritual growth. However, to some extent the numbers of people in the local body of Christ, represent evangelism that is the result of spiritual growth. Why is it an uphill battle? Because there are continually a stream of people for one reason or another, leaving the local body of believers. Most of those leaving we have no control over, and are unable to influence whether they leave or not. For example in the five years I have been in this pastorate, we have lost in terms of numbers approximately 50% of those currently attending Sunday School. If that many were to suddenly leave today, we would be half the size we were last Sunday.
Why have people left our church? Sadly, but with rejoicing, people do move on from this world, and into the presence of their Lord. This is sometimes shocking, when it is an active and still faithful believer. Part of your family is gone who has contributed to the vibrancy and well-being of the family. It can be devastating, and does take some time to recover. Others leave the church because they move from the area. Again, this hurts but we know that God will use them in their new church. Some leave simply because they grow up, go to college, get married, or move for employment reasons. Sometimes people leave because of reasons that are not clear. Are they upset about something that has happened, have they fallen away, or were they never born again? It can be disturbing, but even with your best efforts, and the efforts and prayers of the entire church; they remain separated, and apparently have no desire to return.
I had been somewhat troubled by the lack of numerical growth in our church. Over the past few days, God has been speaking to me about looking at the entire picture; the entire context, or perspective. Putting it in the perspective of those who are no longer here, I can see that our church has been very aggressive in outreach and evangelism. Even though numerically we are at about the same, or slightly lower level than we were at five years ago; we are not stagnate, but alive and well.
Not only is putting things in perspective helpful in looking at the church, but it is also helpful in our personal lives, and the situations we encounter. Many of us have a tendency to overreact and become discouraged easily when some things happen. Whatever the situation, whether it is marital, employment, education, interpersonal relations, illness, injury, or personal spiritual growth; we need to keep it in perspective. Before we beat ourselves up about what we have or have not done, we ought to look at the big picture. What does God see when He looks at our lives? What does He want us to do at this point?
Most likely, there is always room for improvement, and surely we have made some mistakes, but everyone needs improvement and makes mistakes. Even though we are in a terrible situation, it does not necessarily mean that all is lost, and that we have failed; or that God is angry with us. It could be that we are right where God wants us to be, and that we need to continue walking with Him as He leads us through this time. The apostle Paul understood this as he writes “…for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need (Philippians 4:11b-12).”
Remember to keep things in perspective, and ask God what His perspective is about whatever situation you are facing. Is the glass half-full or half empty? Through the power of God, the glass is always, half full. Problems are always opportunities for God to demonstrate His power in your life, and for you to demonstrate to those watching that your faith is real.
(Problems are always opportunities for God to demonstrate His power in your life.)