From the sidelines… watching, or something more?

Several recent experiences have reminded us of God’s sovereignty in using His servants.

A few weeks ago I started a project to package our current presentation (power point) as a video. We’d started deputation with a video, which we loved. But when it became apparent we needed an update (Owen, not in the video, was 1 year old!), we decided to update how we presented our burden and vision as well. Hopefully, in 3 years of deputation, we’ve gotten better at it, we thought.

So I had an opportunity of have our presentation shown without me being present. The power point wasn’t very good for that – just pictures and some words. But when I was halfway through my project, I found out I might not need the video, and almost decided not to worry about finishing it. (It looked like I’d be able to talk through the power point over Skype.) Just in case, I finished the video anyway. It wasn’t glamorous – just an Audacity recording of me talking through the power point combined with some of the slides in Windows Media Player.

It worked. But it was now just a backup. Just in case Skype wasn’t working this past weekend. In the Lord’s providence I got sick Saturday afternoon. I was supposed to Skype the presentation very early Saturday morning. But since I’d already sent the video, I just let them know I couldn’t do it live, and they were all set. We were in Virginia for a meeting, but I was still sick Sunday morning. So Erin showed our presentation in Sunday School, and that was all set. Unusually, I wasn’t even scheduled to preach that day.

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Title Screen

In both of those cases, if I hadn’t done the work (which at the time I thought wasn’t very important, though very time-intensive), we’d have had nothing to contribute. I wouldn’t have chosen to be sick, but the Lord was arranging things for me to be sidelined, and things worked out anyway. In fact, the church I was supposed to Skype my presentation for took us on for support! All I could do, after I’d done the work I could, was pray.

We’d just talked with our children about a set of verses in Proverbs that emphasize God’s normal way of providing for His people: diligence to do the work He gives them when it needs done.

But we were seeing much more significant cases of sidelining in ministry. Two veteran missionary families who couldn’t return to the field because they couldn’t get enough more support. One veteran missionary family returned from the field for health reasons. One pastor, a former missionary, seeing the end of his ministry coming due to Parkinson’s; another, in early stages of dementia.

So why does God do that? Why set aside servants who may seem to be just at the point, humanly speaking, when they can serve the best?

Just three thoughts. First, the Bible has an answer, though I’m not exploring all of it here. Second, to start the way into the Bible’s answer, when God does this it highlights the fact that He is the one in control. He often highlights that by using the weakest people and the most unlikely ways. Third, I’m reminded of a line in one of Milton’s poems: ‘They also serve who only stand and wait.’ I’m not sure of all Milton meant by that, but whenever I think about it, I rejoice in God’s grace that places waiting and praying, along with serving, right at the level of worship.

Being sidelined doesn’t mean we only get to watch. We can still participate in bringing God glory. God is working out everything to the end He’s chosen ‘so that God may be all in all’ (1 Corinthians 15:28).

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