Last Sunday I crowd-sourced part of my sermon with some great wisdom as a result. Here’s what happened:
I was preaching on the third chapter of Ruth. In that chapter, I noticed that Ruth had to do something that we all must do from time to time: wade into circumstances of unknown outcome. Every one of us has had to enter into situations that have an unknown outcome. These times can be difficult or scary. They could be personal growth issues, conversations we need to have with others, meetings, almost anything. I saw in Ruth three things to have in place to be ready to “wade into” those times: 1) Trusted advisers. 2) Godly processes. 3) Faith.
Here’s where the sermon took an unusual turn with the outcome that I want to share with you.
There is a huge amount of collective wisdom and experience in the room when our church gathers together. I decided that instead of me preaching to them about a bunch of godly processes for wading in, I would ask the congregation for godly processes or thoughts that help them wade in when needed.
The people of Journey of Life offered great wisdom for wading into unknown, difficult or scary circumstances. Here are the principles/processes they shared during the service:
“What’s the best for the other person?”
This is a very loving way to approach life. It reminds me of several of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Two in particular are “Seek first to understand, then to be understood,” and, “Think Win-Win.” It also calls to mind Paul’s instructions to the Philippians:
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. — Philippians 2:4 (ESV)
“If I bring my best, that’s the best I can do. If more is asked of me, I can’t do that.”
In this statement, we see a recognition that we cannot be all things to all people. Each of us have gifts to be used. If you are in a situation in which you can’t meet whatever is asked of you, then your gifts are not the ones required for that situation. The Apostle Peter teaches us this:
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace. — 1 Peter 4:10 (ESV)
“Even if it goes badly, it’s not the end of the world. My whole life isn’t tied into the results of this one thing.”
There is great grace and wisdom this this principle shared by a young woman in high school. Underlying this thought is the idea of giving up judging. Not only did Jesus say, ““Judge not, that you be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1 (ESV)) but Paul takes it further and refuses to judge even himself:
But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. — 1 Corinthians 4:3 (ESV)
“Pray and do your homework.”
An elderly woman talked about hiring tree trimmers. There are plenty of less-than-reputable tree trimmers around. So, her process was to pray and do her homework. I can’t help but think of the great leader Nehemiah when the Israelites were rebuilding the city of Jerusalem after the exile. There was danger from neighboring kingdoms who felt threatened by the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s defensive walls. Nehemiah commended the results to God and took responsibility for what he could:
We prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night. — Nehemiah 4:9 (ESV)
“Release the results to God.”
An older man talked about remembering who is in charge. When you wade into circumstances of unknown outcome, you need to remind yourself that ultimately the Lord is guiding your life. A passage from James comes to mind in which James reminds people that ultimately God is the determiner of our lives.
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” — James 4:13–15 (ESV)
“Even if I don’t get the result I sought, that doesn’t mean that’s not the best outcome.”
Another man reminded us that we don’t know everything. The results that you want might not be the best results. The result that you weren’t seeking might be the best thing that could happen. I think this can be true. When we have to wade into a circumstance of unknown outcome, we often cannot envision the possible best outcome. That is why trusted advisers, godly processes and faith are all essential. Proverbs reminds us who is guiding us:
The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps. — Proverbs 16:9 (ESV)
And Paul encourages the Christians in Rome to remember that even in things that are scary, difficult or painful, God is at work toward the ultimate end of redeeming us:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. — Romans 8:28 (ESV)
Yes, my congregation preached a great sermon to me! I know I can’t get away with that every week. But last Sunday was so excellent I felt I must share the wisdom with you.
For the record, one of my basic “godly processes” for wading in comes from Ephesians 4:15. “Speaking the truth in love, we will grow up in every way into Christ, who is our head.” I have failed that process, but that process has never failed me.