Influence

 the shape of leadership

Grace for What Is, Not What If

Trusting God for each day’s needs

Michael J Beals on June 10, 2019

More than a few times I have asked the Lord, “Why would You give me an imagination, and then ask me not to worry?”

The imagination is an amazing gift. This fountain of creativity is one of the clearest ways we reflect the image of our Creator. When I submit my imagination to the cleansing and redeeming work of God’s Word and Spirit, it fuels vision and hope that come to life as I walk in faithfulness.

The unredeemed imagination, however, has just the opposite effect. Bent by fallen human nature, the imagination not surrendered to the glory of God becomes an engine of self-will and fear that drives us away from the life and ministry God designed for us.

We’ll leave a discussion of the predatory power of pornography on the unredeemed imagination for another time. For now, let’s look at the power of human imagination yielded to the authority of Jesus Christ to find victory today and every day amid the expectations and anxieties we face in pastoral leadership.

The blessings and benefits of our calling are immeasurable, but the pressure is relentless. How we deal with that pressure determines, in large measure, both the effectiveness and longevity of our service in any particular ministry assignment.

Continually reminding myself of who I am and whom I serve is a critical discipline. In Psalm 94:19, David shows us how: “When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul” (NASB).

The consolations in this verse are not only the words of comfort the Holy Spirit speaks to my heart. They are also the creative self-reminders of my calling and God’s promises that energize me and enable me to stay joyfully in the game. It is the deployment of the redeemed imagination that extends the horizon of hope and possibility and creates space for God to work powerfully, supernaturally for His highest glory and my highest good.

There is a natural tendency for us to look at our current circumstances and project them on the future, especially when we feel frustrated or threatened. This erodes the inner sense of God’s assurance. He certainly wants us to plan for the future, but God wants us to live today — to trust Him today.

Continually reminding myself of who I am and whom I serve is a critical discipline.

This is clearly what Jesus is teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. On the heels of His reminder of our value in the created order and the promise of the Father’s provision and care for every need, Jesus says, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34).

The lesson here is plain: God gives grace for what is, not what if. His grace is abundant in real-time challenges, but if we ask Him for comfort and assurance for what might happen, we may be disappointed. We can choose to imagine possible futures that feed either fear and insecurity or a false sense of control, but we should not expect the consolations of God’s grace to comfort and assure us in the face of these what-ifs.

Many years ago, as a young husband and pastor, I sometimes wondered and worried about what the future held, and what losses might lie ahead. Looking back over 39 years of marriage and 38 years of pastoral ministry, I can say that nothing turns out like you think it will. Sometimes it’s better, and sometimes it’s worse, but at all times the grace of God is constant and sufficient.

Through painful ministry experiences and walking with my beloved through breast cancer, I found God’s grace in real time — powerful and present every day. I found grace for what is, not what if.

The redeemed imagination is not merely a gift. Like our character in Christ, we must cultivate it in partnership with the Holy Spirit, yielding to His transforming work in the heart and mind. It is a contact sport that involves actively rejecting the temptation to predict futures apart from the providential hand of God.

It is the posture of a servant, of living out the conviction that obedience is not a pathway but the point of our lives. The apostle Paul describes it this way in 2 Corinthians 10:5: “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

Do you feel your confidence wavering as you look ahead? You’re not alone. We’ve all been there, and Jesus understands our human frailties. Hebrews 4:15 assures us that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet he did not sin.”

The writer of Hebrews goes on to say, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (verse 16).

Enduring confidence across the seasonal contours of ministry is not possible without daily grace. God will give you grace for what is.

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2019 edition of Influence magazine.

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