Proverbs 16:33 We may throw the dice, but the Lord determines how they fall.
…and that just about sums it up really. That’s what happens when you hold an outdoor event. You can do all the prep you want but you can’t control the weather. That’s God’s area.
But of course this raises questions doesn’t it? I think it’s important to allow those questions to be heard, asked and explored.
For those of you just tuning in, in case you didn’t know our church here at Waratah runs a Carols by Candlelight event each year. It’s kind of a big deal around here. We’re not an enormous church, but recently, we’ve been getting nearly 2000 folks to this event. So much time goes into the organisation and preparation of it. Literally thousands of hours of work, not simply by volunteers but also by paid staff who, let’s face it, are being paid essentially out of the offerings that people give. It is a logistical, administrative and musical monster. It costs us, financially, mentally, emotionally and physically to the point where in the life of the church, essentially one quarter of a year is devoted to this one event.
We even got to the stage this year where we surveyed our folks with the question: “should we continue to do Carols into 2017 and onwards?”
Of course, God knows this.
He also knows that we have been praying very specifically for this event. He would have heard our prayers regarding the weather and people’s safety.
God knows all of this too.
If all of the above is true, why didn’t God answer our prayers for good weather? Why did he allow us to expend so much energy, cash and time to put on something for his glory that he knew would not go ahead? Why didn’t someone get ‘a word’ in a church meeting and stand up and say, “God has told me, it’s going to pour on Sunday”. The short answer is, I don’t know, BUT I do believe we can learn some lessons from it.
1. God is in control not us.
Sometimes I feel that us Christians are a little to quick to say things like ‘everything happens for a reason.’ Please don’t. Not unless you’ve thought it through. That may be true but that ‘everything’ also includes the existence of chance. The Bible is pretty open about the idea that even within a world where God is in complete control, there is still such a thing as misfortune and luck.(Not just O.T. too, check out Luke 13:4.) This doesn’t degrade his sovereignty, but rather reminds us of how expansive God’s sovereignty is.
God’s sovereignty (control over all things) is so expansive, it can even allow room for chance. (Which if you think about it is a necessary product of a material creation containing a level of free will.) To figure out why this is the case, imagine for a moment the two extremes.
If everything happened completely by chance and God was not in control, what would be the point of prayer? We’d be truly and only victims of fate, whatever fate is, and thus locked into a cycle of despair.
But what if everything was so ‘nailed down’ by God that there was no way to affect anything (from our point of view) beyond what was utterly predetermined? Again, what would be the point of prayer? Or, what if we know that every single prayer of ours would automatically and immediately override the course of events. I don’t know about you, but I would begin to see God as my personal genie. My pride would swell up to the point where I confused myself for God, which is actually the beginning of a different sort of despair, because the by-product of playing God means everything is on you.
So we can see that in both cases, a major reason why we communicate with God is removed. Moreover, we end up in long run falling to despair. This leads me to conclude that God allows chance and misfortune in a world governed by his sovereignty at least partly to bring us to our knees, humbled before him. Not to, depress us but because he knows that here, and only in this space do we find peace only in the space of prayer does our relationship with him as children of the Father grow.
2. The goal is fruit not success.
Any time things don’t go our way it forces us to look at not only what we are doing but also why we are doing it. It just does. To deny that is foolish. It forces us to ask the question; why are we here? Why are we really doing this? Specifically.
It’s not just about knowing why we do it but allowing our ‘why’ to be tested by God. It’s amazing to me how quickly we arrive at prayers like “God please bless this (whatever it is that we are doing)” before praying things like: “Lord, please reveal to us, is this even the right thing to do? If it is, are we doing it the correct way, with the correct focus, or do we need to shift it in order to see maximum fruit?”
It also really, and I mean really challenges how we measure the ‘worth of our giving’. As mentioned above, part of the confusion is why would God allow such a ‘waste’ of financial resources? time is money after all. Well, as a fellow blogger and mate of mine once powerfully pointed out; offerings in the Bible were first given only to be burned up in front of the eyes of those giving it, principally for the point of revealing to God’s people that he didn’t actually need their stuff, and that the act of giving itself is the privilege. These days we of course have co-opted the ‘sowing’ motif in scripture (Although sowing far more often refers to God) as a way of talking about investment in Church stuff. (Read more about it here)
At every level, maybe God allows ‘failures’ and ‘no-shows’ in order to challenge the very categories by which we measure if something is worth doing? This in turn gives us a painful reminder that we trip ourselves up when we measure church stuff by secular categories. Not that the early Church didn’t have key measurable outcomes, they did. In fact they were in this order: 1 Commitments to Christ. 2: Baptisms. 3: People undergoing discipleship. 4: People serving actively in the Church. 5 .People launching out on missions.
Notice how Church attendance was not one one of them?
3. How are we doing it?
The final way I was challenged by the thunderstorm God allowed to happen was that it forced me to reflect on my approach to the entire event. How was I going about it? Was it with an attitude of ‘here we go again’ or ‘this is such an enormous privilege to be doing this’ no matter what happens?
You can be utterly doctrinaly correct on something, or have all the facts sorted but if you’re not going about it God’s way, forget about it. what is God’s way? unity, obedience, looking out for the other, seeking understanding etc; that stuff, that’s God’s way.
Were we doing this truly united? Were we respectful of the work people put in? Were we willing to put other people first? Did we winge or disagree when given an instruction? I’m not automatically implying that these things did or didn’t happen, but they’re important questions to ask. One thing I do know is that it has been really amazing to see the groundswell of unity and resolve since Sunday. In the midst of the disappointment, folks left right and centre have been jumping on board to do whatever it takes to get an alternative ‘pop-up’ carols happening this Sunday night at the church. This leads me to my last point.
4. The gift of difficulty.
Nothing awakes resolve in people like the gift of hardship. I believe that out of the disappointment of the 11th, God is in the process of giving our Church an enormous, priceless gift; united resolve. I have seen people this week so far who have not really felt like an integral part of Carols in past years, putting their hand up to get involved. Funnily enough, that was precisely one of my specific prayers this year; that Carols would create an avenue for a ‘new crew’ to step up and get involved in the production of it. Moreover some folks are stepping back into doing some things that they have since left behind.
People in the community who came along, and some who didn’t make it but heard about what happened and sympathised with us have indicated their desire to come along to the church. It’s funny how we often measure the effectiveness of our events by how many come along to church afterwards. It would be interesting if the one year we had to cancel Carols in the park was the same year that the church was packed to bursting!
In the midst of all this, I am seeing a re-gained excitement and it fills me with excitement because it reminds me that the Church is at it’s strongest when the dice ‘fall against it’. The church flourishes the most when it has something to overcome.
Always has, always will.
See you at 7pm this Sunday.