This November, I have been able to celebrate four years of loving and serving the community of Caroline Springs and Red Door Church.
The last four years have been some of the most grace-immersed, God-glorifying, spirit-filled experiences of our young lives. God has been stretching and conforming us to the image of Christ and blessing us abundantly in ways we would not have thought possible.
It’s only natural that I take the time to look over the last four years and reminisce about what God has done. And God has done monumental things.
When we moved to Caroline Springs to start a youth ministry, we had five youth in the church. We now have relationships with around forty young people and have baptised nine of them in the last year. The rattiest kid in the first year of our ministry has now been faithfully serving Jesus as a youth leader for the past three years.
I’ve been able to witness young people come to faith, grow in faith and encourage others in faith. On Friday, four of them are going to preach their very first sermons. I have the joy of encouraging, investing into and leading 18 mature leaders across our youth, childrens and young adults ministry. I somehow have four interns, two of whom are either already at or headed to bible college to pursue vocational ministry.
It’s easy to rest on these encouraging images. Yet, the journey of the last five and a half years has often broken me in pieces and at times, led to an overwhelming desire to quit, run away from everything we had felt like God had called us to and move to somewhere easier.
The Unseen Side of Ministry
Despite feeling a deep love, compassion and calling towards Caroline Springs and the church there, it took over a year and a half between the calling that I felt and the reality to line up. 18 months of trusting God when it seemed like I had been mistaken.
In our first year of ministry, there was a private disagreement between members of the church board that almost overnight removed more than half of the young people I’d been building relationships with and left a mark of spiritual sadness upon our church that took over six months to ease. It was also the first year of Sarah and my marriage, and in October, I was diagnosed with chronic gastritis, dropped out of bible college for a year and spent every waking moment that I was not working in bed recovering. Sarah once remarked to me that it felt like ‘I had lost the man I had married overnight‘.
In our second year of ministry, our lead pastor and one of my closest friends went through a debilitating season of depression that left an indelible mark on our church and our leadership together. All of the plans that we had made together had to be curtailed and left for another time as we supported one another. We had moved more an hour away from everyone we knew and loved to learn under and serve with someone who was not capable of leading us in the way that he had hoped in this season. He is still one of the most faithful pastors I know and it has been, is, and will be a great personal joy to serve with and under Him for as long as God will allow us.
In our third year of ministry, we were involved in a private year-long matter that exhausted us physically, emotionally and spiritually. There was probably enormous swathes of the year spent on the brink of burnout.
Then, in our fourth year, Sarah was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive cancer that required immediate treatment. Everything we had planned was immediately thrown out the window and the future had become numbed to us. We still await final results that the aggressive treatment has worked, despite good initial results. We still don’t know whether this will come back. We pray endlessly for healing and God’s hand over this but it has often seemed overwhelming.
Throughout the entire four years, I have never known such an intensified spiritual attack on leaders within a church. Satan has roared around like a lion, looking for someone to devour. There have been numerous things happen for unseen reasons that I can only put down to the influence of the enemy in opposition to a faithful church.
The Importance of God’s Faithfulness
God’s sovereignty is often seen as one of the more colder doctrines.
The idea that God organizes and orders everything in this world according to the counsel of his will (Ephesians 1:11) may give the false impression that God is a detached puppet-master, playing with his creation. Yet, for me, over the past four years, it has been a sure anchor to hold onto in the middle of the storm. Without knowing that God is sovereign, I fear that I would have drowned in my own fearfulness.
God’s providence is not just a lofty doctrine to be affirmed but a precious lifeline we can cling to in adversity. It is precisely because God organises and ordains everything according to his will that I can cling onto and trust the promises of God will come true because His sovereignty ensures that he will keep every single promise he makes.
- God promised Israel to be their God and make them His people (Leviticus 26:12–13). Old Testament history is teeming with examples of God fulfilling this promise.
- God promised that if we search for Him we will find Him (Deuteronomy 4:29). He is not playing hard-to-get. “Our God is near us whenever we pray to him” (Deuteronomy 4:7).
- God promised that His love will never fail (1 Chronicles 16:34). He is faithful in every way.
- God promised salvation to all who believe in His Son (Romans 1:16–17). There is no greater blessing than the free gift of God’s salvation.
- God promised that all things will work out for good for His children (Romans 8:28). This is the broader picture that keeps us from being dismayed by present circumstances.
- God promised comfort in our trials (2 Corinthians 1:3–4). He has a plan, and one day we will be able to share the comfort we receive.
- God promised to finish the work He started in us (Philippians 1:6). God does nothing in half measures. He started the work in us, and He will be sure to complete it.
I can cling to God in the middle of horrible trials because I know He is both a promise-making and a promise-keeping God. He has no restrains on his ability to finish what he started. It’s this that leads Charles Spurgeon to remark that:
“Cheer up, Christian! Things are not left to chance: no blind fate rules the world. God has purposes, and those purposes are fulfilled. God has plans, and those plans are wise, and never can be dislocated.”
The Importance of Being Faithful
When the church board splits, when your ministry is cut in half, when your leader is cut down by depression, when you’re diagnosed with cancer, you need to know and believe that God is faithful to finish what he started.
In those moments when I have considered leaving everything behind, it is God’s faithfulness towards me that has encouraged me to persevere in my own faithfulness towards Him. When I consider the weight of the challenge, the inadequacy of my skill-set and the seeming lack of apparent hope on the horizon, like Peter walking towards Jesus when his eye was on the storm around him, I sunk.
In these moments, if I had been persuaded by my own lack of faithfulness to forego trusting God, I would have missed out on the incredible blessings that God has bestowed upon our church and the growth in character and Christlikeness in myself. I would have missed out seeing young people believe in God. I would have missed out on the joy of serving alongside and beneath my pastor. I would have missed on the deep work that God was doing in me. I would have missed out on bringing God glory.
Therefore, here is my encouragement after four years of difficult but fruitful ministry:
It’s when we remember God’s abundant faithfulness to us through life, death, resurrection and eternity that our hearts can be stilled despite the roaring waves of adversity around us. God has promised to see us through this (Philippians 1:6). God has promised that this will turn out for our good and conform us to the image of Jesus (Romans 8:28-29). God has promised us that he will never leave us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6)
God has promised these things and therefore, let us run the race set out for us with great endurance, remembering to finish the race and eagerly awaiting the day when an ever-faithful God looks upon our face and says:
‘Well done, good and faithful servant’. (Matthew 25:23)
Jimmy founded Stirring our Affections in 2016 | Married to Sarah, Pastor in Melbourne and eternally loved and satisfied by Christ