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Students at commencement

Ministry in Context

Dealing with God's plan

I was in a conversation with one of the ELCA synod bishops recently, and he began to reflect on various ministry situations in the synod he serves. He acknowledged that these past few years have been difficult for many individuals and congregations, both politically/relationally and financially. We talked about how it was sometimes hard to see very far into the future with clarity and how often the paths we design or imagine turn out different from what we hoped to design or wanted to imagine.

He articulated what we both knew was true: there is angst and frustration–even pain–when things don’t go as we plan. In our personal lives or in ministry, most of us are tempted to want to map out and control our paths.

We weren’t talking about seminarians, but it seems clear to me that the same temptations abound at a seminary as in the synod he serves. We may speak in rarefied theological tones about God’s mission and the leading of the Holy Spirit. But when it comes to my life, my ideas, my plans, my preferences–well, most of us would like God to quit messing with our dreams and just bless what we plan.

But this bishop went on to talk of hope, about new patterns of life and ministry, about fresh perspectives, and about a host of new life situations. Then he said, “I find myself preaching on Isaiah 43 most everywhere I go.”

How are your plans going? Did the internship placement go as you thought it would? Is your candidacy committee blessing your every move? Has each class taught you what you expected? Are your friends saying “amen” whenever you have an idea? Maybe so. Maybe not.

But if you are struggling with discernment or direction or disappointment, I think that bishop has a good idea. God’s promises and reminders in Isaiah 43 are pretty good. Listen:

“But now thus says the Lord…do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you…you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you…do not fear, for I am with you…I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43 passim)

I don’t know what your personal "waters” or “fires” or “deserts” might be, but you–and I–will have them. And in the midst of them are the promises of God. A God who will be with you. A God who will do new things–in you and through you. And that’s the truth.

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