My life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus – the work of telling others the good news about the wonderful grace of God.
So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock – his church, purchased with his own blood.
And now I entrust you to God and the message of his grace that is able to build you up and give you an inheritance with all those he has set apart for himself.
(Acts 20. 24,28,32)
Last weekend, we said farewell to our congregation here in the city, and there was so much to be thankful for and to rejoice in. Our church family are generous, open-hearted, willing to try new things, and over the years we have seen so many grow in their faith as the word preached bears fruit in their hearts. Financially, spiritually, and in the quality of the facilities available in the church building, they are in good heart, and will present an attractive package to any prospective new minister.
But before that new appointment can be made, they have to let us go, to make the break in their minds from a leader and pastor who has been there for 22 years, and to search and wait together for the person whom God has already planned and identified. They are indeed a little like sheep without a shepherd, afraid and uncertain, and there were many tearful hugs. I was reminded of the passage in Acts which records the final exhortation by Paul to his friends in the church in Ephesus, from which these verses come.
His words express our own situation so clearly, and I have found myself saying similar things time and again as our departure draws closer and I have more people to say goodbye to. It is very encouraging to see that my own thoughts have at least in some degree been the same as those of the great apostle himself – God is slowly but surely shaping my thoughts and words to do honour to him!
It is often only when saying goodbye that the depth of our affection for one another becomes evident, and all at once it becomes important that we say something significant and of long-lasting value. Often it is a person’s last words to us which remain in our minds with greatest force, colouring our thoughts and memories. So it is that I have found myself following Paul’s example, trying to make the most of that opportunity to encourage and build up.
As Paul affirms his allegiance to Christ and submission to God’s will, so I have time and again found myself explaining our call to our new church in terms of an order which it is both my duty and my delight to obey. To remain with those who love us would be easy, but disobedient, and would not result in blessing for any of us. To go, to bear the very real costs of upheaval and loss, is the only real option for a true disciple. To trust, that God who has called will provide both for our needs and those of the flock we leave behind, is our calling and God’s grace will be sufficient for us all.
As Paul exhorts his friends and fellow believers to fulfill their own calling, to obey in the place where God has put them for the present, so I have encouraged our church family to pursue God’s will for them in this place, not to drift away because we are no longer here. While they are still part of this church family, they can be good for one another, can love and work together to reach out with the good news of the gospel, even as we will be doing in our new place.
And finally, even as Paul did, I have commended my dear church family, the ones who helped me raise my children, who have loved me through the loss of both my parents, who have accepted and never judged me, to the keeping of the lover of their souls. They have helped me to prove God’s faithfulness in keeping his promises, because so often they have been the means by which he has done so. It is surely the most important thing that we can pray for one another; that we might rely utterly on God, in all things, to build us up and keep our faith in him secure against all trials.
I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.