By Max S. Wilkins –
“And now I have a word for you who brashly announce, ‘Today – at the latest, tomorrow – we’re off to such and such a city for the year. We’re going to start a business and make a lot of money.’ You don’t know the first thing about tomorrow. You’re nothing but a wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing. Instead, make it a habit to say, ‘If the Master wills it and we’re still alive, we’ll do this or that’” (James 4:13-15, The Message).
As I read these words of James, I am struck by how timely they are for our lives. If 2020 proved anything, it clearly demonstrated that all our plans are subject to change. Not one of us knows what tomorrow holds. Yet, as the adage attests, “we may not know what the future holds, but we know Who holds the future!”
As surprising as so many of the events of this past year have been, we can rest assured that God was not surprised. As Proverbs asserts, “wise men and women plan their ways, but the Lord orders their steps.” Those of us who walk by faith, also walk in the sure knowledge that God is still on the Throne; that the Glory of God still fills the whole earth; that the Kingdom of God is still unfolding all around us; that the Lord who saved us by his grace also created us for good works which he prepared beforehand for us to walk in; and that he who began a good work in us is able to bring it to completion.
It has been a blessing to see the resilience of God’s people, watching as so many have drawn deeply from our faith and the strength of the Lord. Multitudes have also reached out in love, care, and mutual support within our communities and among our neighbors. Together we have grieved our many losses, mourned with one another, battened down the hatches, done damage control, found reserves of patience and perseverance, and managed an acute crisis with grace and excellence.
Some have been forced to make serious life changes, others have suffered significant loss, and many had to put a hold on major life events, hopes, and dreams – if not cancel them altogether. These things are all real, and we have the need to be gracious and understanding with ourselves and with each other as we experience them together. Yet, by God’s grace, those reading this are all still here, still alive, and far from simply surviving adrift in a sea of confusion, we all are still called, chosen, filled with the Spirit, and able to be the incarnational witnesses we know we are called to be.
I read recently about how, during an ongoing crisis, both individuals and organizations must begin by doing acute crisis management. The fires must be doused, we need to figure out how to survive, and we often pull inward and prepare to ride out the storm. But when a crisis lingers, and particularly when it appears to be open-ended and ongoing, a shift in approach is called for.
Some people will effectively move from acute crisis management to adaptive management. Those who are able to make that shift understand that things are not “going back to normal.” They will grasp that the world has changed, is changing, and that while there is a future and a hope, it will not look like what was left behind. Out of this understanding will emerge new ways and new opportunities. They need not be looked upon as bad things. We do, after all, worship a Lord who said at the end of our Bible, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Everyone who is called to join Jesus in his mission will spend an eternity joining the Lord in new things. Making the shift to adaptive management will often lead us to see that the opportunities are greater than the losses. We will find ways to thrive.
Many in the Church have fixed their eyes on Jesus, looked for what he is doing right where they are, and joined Jesus in those things. The result is amazing ministry, life change, and loving community breaking forth all around us. In many places the Church is not just surviving but thriving in these uncertain times. This is not to minimize the very real grief, suffering, loss, and challenge that so many experience. We will need to remain gracious and understanding with ourselves and one another in these trying times. Yet, God continues to fill us with passion, with purpose, and with opportunities for Kingdom witness. As John Wesley said with his last breath, just moments before he died, “Best of all, God is with us!”
Max A. Wilkins serves as the president at TMS Global. To learn more visit www.tms-global.org.