1st March 2020 saw the formal start of my work with the School of Preachers. Here I am one year on.
Looking back over the past year, it is clear that hardly anything has gone according to plan.
Life is complicated at the best of times. Life is doubly complicated in times of major transitions in life. The complications seem to have been multiplied as we have been dragged along the unpredictable path of a global pandemic.
Two of the casualties of the pandemic are plans and spontaneity.
The lack of spontaneity is a real blow to those who by nature leave everything to the last minute. There is a certain joy in turning the day on a sixpence by deciding to drop in on a friend unexpectedly or take a trip to a favourite restaurant or beauty spot.
The pandemic kills. Hundreds of thousands of people and a billion wishes.
The pandemic also kills plans.
Some people like to have all their ducks in order, all the dates lined up in the diary, and all of their plans in place. Instead these diary entries are replaced with a litany of shattered dreams and scuppered plans.
As I review the past year, I recognise that I had put too much store in having a full diary. I had confused significance with a full schedule, a carefully laid plan with trusting that God will work things out in his own way.
One of my tasks during Lockdown has been writing a book on preaching. A sample sermon in this book is based on a famous passage in Mark 2:1–12.
A man who is unable to walk is brought to Jesus by his four friends. They carry their friend on a mattress to the house where Jesus is. One can only imagine how much planning and effort this required, but when they get to the house, it is full and there is a crowd around the entrance.
This urgent errand that is motivated by faith and compassion hits a dead end.
The four friends, undeterred by the closing of the door of opportunity, use their initiative to find another way of reaching Jesus. They take the man up the stairs (to imagine the scene, think about four men carrying a wheelchair or a coffin up a flight of stairs).
Up on the roof they dig or unroof the roof and then lower the man down to where Jesus is standing teaching the crowd.
During Lockdown many have had to be creative and innovative in the way that they have attempted to bring people to Jesus.
I have been grateful for the opportunity to make four physical trips to Latvia in the past year to teach for School of Preachers events and to preach at Communitas International Church in Riga. Nearly all of my other arrangements for the year disappeared like a puff of smoke.
Yet I have realised two things.
First, God is not limited to our route 1 when it comes to getting his work done. We might not be able to get through the door, but God can get us through a window or through the roof.
God’s love will always find a way!
Second, I do not need to be in control of events for things to happen. For God my “unforeseen” and “unanticipated” year was not a mystery. He has taught me to live by faith and not by sight.
One of my unanticipated preaching appointments was on Psalm 77, a psalm I have never preached on before. I was struck by the words:
“Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen” (Psalm 77:19).
“… footprints made in deep waters leave no trace. We live with the consequences of salvation, but that which made it happen is invisible. There is no tangible, visible proof that it happened — except for my very existence right now and the existence of everything great and holy and wonderful” (Eugene Peterson).