I wake up several times throughout the night. Default is to pray when I can’t force myself to sleep, but sometimes that’s easier said than done with the prolonged pandemic. What’s funny is that whenever I talk about the challenges, people think I’m joking or exaggerating. They say, “But you’re always happy” or “You can be happy no matter what.” What they imply is twofold. First is that I’m not in a position to complain, at least not now; and second, I must walk tall and keep smiling as I’ve always had, especially now. They want to see in me that constant person who assures and affirms with a smile, that one person who stands strong so that others can lean on for support. I’m grateful that they see such a person in me, but still can’t deny that I feel anxious and nervous too.
After tossing and turning, however, an overriding conclusion for every new morning is that I’m a happy man because I can be in God’s presence through prayers and receive his words through the Scriptures. Yesterday morning, I opened the Book of Revelation and read from 7:17. “For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” It’s God’s promise of salvation to those who keep their faith and persevere even through great hardships. Restore your first love and be faithful unto death, keep the faith, and stay on guard against Satan’s crowd that attempts to sabotage the church. Those who overcome will be given white robes; their names written in the Book of Life, and God will honor them as co-rulers of the new heavens and new earth, in the holy city of New Jerusalem. “This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus,” explains the author of Revelation in 14:12. It’s a call for patient endurance on our part, living through this time and age.
“Rather than life being hills and valleys, I believe that it’s kind of like two rails on a railroad track, and at all times you have something good and something bad in your life. No matter how good things are in your life, there is always something bad that needs to be worked on. And no matter how bad things are in your life, there is always something good you can be thankful for,” writes Rick Warren. You could safely call him one of the most influential pastors in the world. He preached in his iconic Aloha shirts in front of tens of thousands of people; he authored the mega-bestseller “The Purpose Driven Life,” which is listed as one of the “100 Christian Books That Changed the 20th Century.” But there was much grief and pain in his family. Their son suffered. Warren’s wife struggled with porn fascination. Warren had to endure a difficult time with faith. Through faith alone, by grace alone. We can’t survive otherwise.
The same goes for the church. All sorts of things happen in ministry. As I shared before, our church hired a lawyer because someone sued us for something that allegedly happened 50 years ago. Perhaps we too might have to file a lawsuit for offerings that were stolen two years back. But then when I think about it, most of our problems are sort of big-church problems. There would be fewer problems with legal liability if we were small in size. We would have fewer concerns with theft if we had nothing to lose. Our ministries are stretched wide with lots of people involved, so in a way, it’s only natural that more is expected of us. Keeping this perspective helps to float above the storm rather than be subdued by it. Tests will sharpen our faith to be stronger and purer like gold tested by fire.
A pastor who was going through some rough times phoned me once and told his story. Church matters were keeping him awake at night so he sat on the back porch pondering what to do. Out of the blue, his little girl put her little hands on his shoulders and said, “Dad, small church, small problem. Big church, big problem. Don’t worry. Be happy!” The pastor received those words as the voice of God. So I told him, the ministry will be fine with a daughter like that. Warren is right: no matter how bad things are in your life, there is always something good you can be thankful for. God designed our life like that.
My son who studies in D.C. finished his internship and came home after 8 months this weekend. I did some late night workouts while waiting for him in our church parking lot. While waiting alone in the dark I looked up and saw small but bright twinkles of happiness in the night sky.