Last week, when I arrived at the gym, I noticed certain machines had been moved to another location. In their place was a vacant space. Later, as I was readying to leave, I asked an older gentleman how he was doing and he replied, “Irritated.” I asked him why and he said he didn’t like the fact the machines were moved. He lamented that he and his friends congregated around those machines during the week and had a sense of community. Now that was taken away from them. I reported this to a former student who is the general manager at the facility and he said he expected that. “Older people don’t like change,” he said.
Does anyone, really? I have known many students over the years who do not like change. Every time our ministry has changed the approach of our large group meetings or our small groups, there are those who object. A few years ago, we changed up our small groups, and two leaders pretended to go along, but later it became clear they had not changed their approach. They were determined to lead it the same way as they had before. There have also been students desperate to stay in “college mode,” who have enrolled in graduate school merely as an excuse to stay in the college town they had grown to love.
I can’t say I love change, even though my vocation gives me the experience of change semester to semester, school year to school year. I like the predictable. I enjoy routine. Yet, I can attest to how much I have grown when major change comes my way. For my first ministry, I moved from Indiana to Kansas, not knowing one person. I hated it, and, within several months, I was determined to leave. The Lord closed every door I sought to open. I ended up staying there for more than two decades. Change became a vehicle for growth.
When my time ended in Kansas, I was more ready to embrace change. Instead of hanging on, I saw the change as an adventure on which the Lord was taking me. And for the past 16 years, here in North Carolina that is what it has been. And now change is on the horizon again, not so much in terms of location but focus. My final year on campus ministering to students is just over the hill. After 37 years, the Lord is readying me for another change, and, again, I am embracing it.
What I have learned over my long ministry is that change is one of the Lord’s ways to make us trust in him and not in ourselves or our surroundings. Think of the Israelites. How many times did the Lord move them in the desert? I estimate it averaged at least once per year. Consider the three years that the 12 disciples followed Jesus. Rarely were they in the same place for more than a few days, and only occasionally were they ever apart from him. Then, suddenly, he left them. They were understandably grieved, but they remembered the promise Jesus made to them that with the coming of the Holy Spirit, they would do even greater works than he did. (John 14:12) This change led to the transformation of the disciples into powerfully spiritual men, and to the establishment of the Church which spread of Good News throughout the world.
In terms of technology and cultural mores, we are living in the greatest time of change in history. For many of us, we feel caught in a whirlwind and are looking for stability and protection. Many seek it by longing for the past, or by isolating themselves among those, or the things, that make them feel safe. They reject the change by clinging to the familiar. This is seen in the political realm as well as on social media. Reassurance from like-minded people and nostalgic experiences provides a sense of security.
Indeed, much of the change we are experiencing needs to be examined, but not in the way we typically do. We do not need to compare it to the past or to what we are most familiar and comfortable with. Rather, we need to examine it in light of God’s Word, placing our trust in him and acting accordingly. An example of this is loving our enemies. Many consider the Democrats, the Republicans, the President, the liberals, or the conservatives as enemies. Yes, we may disagree vehemently with their policies, lifestyles, etc., but we are called to love them, nonetheless. Hate is not an option for any of us who follow Jesus. Treating them civilly and praying for them is what he calls us to do.
Our disparaging of those with whom we disagree, and refusing to interact with those who believe or behave differently than us is to express distrust in the Lord and his desire to change our inherent nature to a godly one. Disrupting our sense of comfort and security through change is how he does that.
Show me a comfortable person who is unwilling to let go of his comfort, and I will show you a person who is unlikely to have matured much. To resist change is to resist growth and maturity because our nature is to trust in most anything but God. And when we do, we become stuck where we are. So whether you are facing the prospect of retirement, a job change or move, a serious illness, or even just a change in your day-to-day schedule, embrace it as an opportunity to trust the Lord. He wants to grow you into the person he created you to be. For him to do that, you must embrace change when it comes. It is his way of helping you cling only to him and nothing else.
© Jim Musser 2020