Patience in transition (from the May/June 2014 issue of live magazine)

By Paul Carline
Paul is a Strategic Associate, seconded by Canadian Baptist Ministries to the Convention of Atlantic Baptist Churches in Canada to serve as the Director of Intercultural Ministries. 

If you’re not in transition, if you’re happy with where you’re at, you don’t need patience. But if you’re waiting on someone (God, you, somebody else) to change something in your life, read on.

In CE 50, Paul (Christ’s apostle) found himself in Athens waiting for help and reassignment. In CE 2012, Paul (Canadian Baptist Ministries’ global field staffer – me) found himself in Canada waiting for health and reassignment.  The original Paul had been run out of Thessalonica and Berea and was waiting for Silas and Timothy.  I had been “burned out” of Kenya and was desperately waiting for a new head to think with and a new heart to love with.

Both Pauls hated where they were. The Apostle was deeply distressed over the idolatry he found in Athens. I was deeply distressed over the idolatry I was finding in my own life.

Being a “missionary” in Africa gets you believing you can’t be doing too badly as a Christian. (I mean missionaries even trump pastors in the church’s “Who’s Who” list – probably because they’re far away and no one gets to really know them.) But sideline that missionary in an out-of-the-way New Brunswick village, put him in a borrowed house, give him barely enough stamina to keep wood in the furnace and speak a bit in churches, and he starts to doubt his grandeur.

Where’s God when you leave one place only to find yourself in a more godless one?  Where’s God when your physical and emotional health is compromised and you doubt whether you’ll ever be fit again for any place?

“Lord, where are you?” Good question. God asked it first. It’s His call to humankind and He likes it when we call back.

We call when we feel alone. Though some like Job are entrusted with prolonged loneliness, eventually the desperateness of our deserts drives us to discover deeper doctrines.  We find we’re not in no-mans land – never were. We’re not in transition after all. Right here, right now we have all we need. There’s nowhere else we need to be. There’s nothing else we need to have. God is with us. Paul ended up perceiving and preaching that in Athens.

The Athenians’ false sense of grandeur rested in their impressive temples and lecture halls.  However, doubts about God’s presence and their own wisdom persisted – to the point of erecting a roadside idol with this inscription: “To the Unknown God.” That honest confession reminded Paul of who God is and where he is.  Surely Paul was encouraging himself as well as his audience when he said:

“The God of creation doesn’t live in temples of our making – in our abilities and accomplishments.  We live in his.  No matter where we are or how we are, no matter how wracked and weak, confused and cast aside, or angry and anxious, we are in him.  And deep down we know this.  We need no other idol or idea.  God is our home.  In him we live and move and have our being. Like one of your poets said: We’re his kids. And he has put us when and where we are – in these exact circumstances – perhaps unable to do anything but peer into the shadows and grope in the darkness. But he did this so that we might find him – find undeserved and unearned life, light and love.” (Acts 17:22 – 28, my paraphrase)

Really?  How? Why?

We can for sure find God in our specific context because . . .
•    the Father determined a specific time and place for his Son to live and do something for all times and places
•    the Son found himself where he didn’t want to be – in a true godless transition – hoisted halfway between heaven and earth
•    when he called “Where are you?” there was no answer.  When he needed a brother he was betrayed – when he needed a disciple he was denied – when he needed a friend and Father he was forsaken.

Christ’s unanswered call on the cross gets us calling. His rejection guarantees our acceptance. Because of His thirst, we experience springs in our wilderness. His immovability gets us moving.

I still have my issues – times when I’m debilitated and discouraged.  There’s obviously a lot about my salvation that’s still in the future – stuff I must patiently wait for.  But we don’t have to wait for everything.  On my bad days I’m angry. On my good days I ask for help. On my best days I thank God that He is with me and that His grace is sufficient for me and that, miracles of miracles, He’s stronger in the world because I’m weaker in it.

Paul didn’t wait for Silas and Timothy before he started reaching out in Athens.  (They didn’t actually join him until he was living and working in Corinth.) My wife Kelly and I didn’t wait for complete recovery before we heard God calling us to Atlantic Canada and before we resigned as Kenya field staff and applied for inter-cultural ministry positions here (in that order – the scariest thing we’d ever done).

Biblical patience is not idle, serene or oblivious escapism in which you pretend to like your present state. It is remaining, journeying and working under a harsh reality because of a greater reality. God is with you and you will be with Him some day soon. That was the joy – all of us on the victory line together – that kept Jesus being patient (Hebrews 12:2-3).

My struggles had me feeling like a failure. But Hebrews 12 goes on to say that we’re actually being treated like family, like legitimate and loved children. Our transitions, the lonely months and years we consider wasted, are just the opposite. Our perfect parent is present, extremely engaged, producing a harvest of righteousness and peace.

Are you feeling God’s heavy hand on you? You can’t be thankful it’s heavy. You can be thankful it’s His.