As we continue in the sermon series about where to find God and how to actually act out being the church, I’ll bring you today’s message about the mission of Christ being so important that God is literally pushing back the end of time. I don’t know about you, but any time I had heard Ken or Sam speak about God pushing back the end of time, I thought of it as a big picture, end of the world idea. But as we have worked through this sermon series, we have learned that the part we play in the larger mission of being the church begins with our own heart condition. For myself and my family, the message of 2 Peter 3:9, became a personal concept, which allowed for us to see the mission of Christ being completed through the life of our family member. The way this verse played out in our lives this past year isn’t a fairy tale story – it is real life with hardship and heartache, but God in His goodness has been able to turn take our mess and turn it into a message which is why I’m up here today. As I have been preparing to speak here at church, Ken & Sam said, “whatever topic you’re about to speak about – that is what you will be challenged with the week leading up to it.” Well, this past week I was hit hard with the reality that a lot of us are walking through some really difficult things right now. I had this lie hit me, saying, “who are you to stand up there and give a message of hope during times of struggle? Your words are not good enough.” Then, when I had some time to sit quietly and gather my thoughts for this talk I thought, “this is exactly what Ken & Sam were talking about – here I am questioning God’s timing in my giving this talk, when the talk is meant to encourage others to trust in His timing.” So, I am choosing to trust that this is a timely message for some of you and not one where my words fall short. My goal for this talk is to provide hope to those of us who are struggling – either personally or with a strained relationship with a loved one who is. I’d like to point you to the hope which is found in trusting the Lord and His plan for each of our lives, even during periods of pain and waiting. And finally, encourage you by explaining that even though God’s timing is often not the same as ours, His patience with us in the periods of waiting is a gift, giving us each the time and space we need to change in order to have an eternal relationship with Him.
2 Peter 3:9 (MSG) says this: “God isn’t late with his promise as some measure lateness. He is restraining himself on account of you, holding back the end because he doesn’t want anyone lost. He’s giving everyone space and time to change.”
This passage is Peter’s response to people who were mocking the church because Christ hasn’t returned yet. What I found is that this passage isn’t just a response or justification for Peter’s belief in Christ’s promises, but it is a message of hope. So let’s start with the big picture: God has a plan for our lives. As we have been talking about in this series, there comes a time where the rubber meets the road and we have a decision to make – we can either seek God’s plan and walk with Him to accomplish the purposes He has set out for us, or we can attempt to control our own lives. At the core of our desire to control our lives is our natural human tendency to place ourselves at the center of our lives – focusing more on doing what we want, when we want, and how we want. But 1 Peter 5:6 says to “humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God.” Peter tells us that there is a king of our lives – and it is not us. But let’s be honest – we live in a broken world – bad things happen to good people, we all have things we struggle with, and there are very real threats that we need to be aware of. Because of this, we go through life afraid of a lot of different things, so we end up thinking that if we have complete control, we will be safe. Not only that, but we also live in a world where there is a notion that if we don’t have control, then we are failing. Have you felt that tension? I know I have. You feel out of control of your daily schedule, your relationships, your children, your job, your income, your future and you look around to see that everyone else appears to have everything all together? Even when we begin to follow Jesus and understand that He is in control, we may relinquish some of it, but with time we tend to steal it back because we feel that we will be safer if we are the one behind the steering wheel. After all, we are the ones on the ground, living the day in and day out stresses and results of our decisions, so we assume we know best. So we seek control, but then suddenly we are responsible for everyone and everything, which turns into an extremely stressful way to live. We have become so scarily self-sufficient – we believe in God, but we don’t rely on Him. We end up managing our lives rather than living them.
Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
We must remember that God created us perfectly in His image – people were His greatest creation and He cares for us deeply. He says He has plans for our lives to prosper; meaning we don’t have to direct, control, manage, worry about, or manipulate every detail of our lives. What God is inviting us into is realizing that He is God and to trust in His promises to care for us. It also means that we don’t have to place the care, rescue, or life transformation of others on our shoulders, because our Savior is in control of their lives, too. We are simply not capable of changing someone else’s heart, but what we can be is a tool in the hands of an almighty God who can. Sam spoke about Matthew 11:30 a few weeks ago where Jesus says
“Are you tired? (yes) Worn out? (yes) Burned out on religion?” (if you mean trying to live up to rules and regulations I’m unable to keep & feel guilt and shame for never measuring up? Yes) Jesus says, “Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
This promise isn’t that there will not be challenges in life when we follow Christ. What Jesus is offering is that when we are seeking His will in our lives, He will be the source of the strength we need to accomplish what He has called us to, and that should feel like a relief to surrender control to God. He is asking us to put down all of the burdens we have placed on ourselves – burdens we were never meant to carry.
Let me ask you this – do you see yourself as weak, or do you feel like you are successfully managing your life? If you feel like you are in control, do you feel the peace and rest Jesus promises or are you utterly exhausted from muscling your way through each and every day? Do you tend to find that every decision is a burden; every changing circumstance sends you reeling because it is unexpected? Or, if you have a struggling loved one, every phone call received turns your stomach prior to your answering, in every conversation you feel the weight of trying to change their mind or heart, after each time you talk you wonder if what you said was enough, the worry that you feel when you don’t hear from them, the constant struggle you face wondering if you are helping them or enabling them? The amount of pressure we place on ourselves to manage our own lives or the lives of others have physical, mental, and spiritual consequences. In the middle of the attempt to support a struggling family member, I found myself placing the weight of their world on my shoulders, so much that I couldn’t even be present in my own world. I’d sit on the floor playing with my kids and my mind would be worried about the next decision they would make. My body was under such emotional stress that my heart would race and my insides would shake uncontrollably. I journaled a lot during this difficult season and the words I used to describe how I felt were anxious, worried, confused, angry, and frustrated in an unsuccessful attempt to desperately control an out-of-control situation. I wasn’t feeling peaceful or rested at all – it was the complete opposite, actually, because I was relying on my own strength and understanding to control a situation that I never intended to take ownership of or try and manage. And in the midst of this time, I read a Psalm which I had heard a million times before
Psalm 46:10 – “Be still and know that I am God.”
I read that the Hebrew root of the words “be still” means “to release, go slack, to let go.” LET GO, and know that I am God. So I am encouraging you today, to let go of what you are trying to fix. Let go of trying to be in control. Let go of trying to transform your own or someone else’s circumstances. Let go of the idea that you can change your own or someone else’s heart. Let go, let go, let go; and know that that He is God. This doesn’t mean end relationships or passively going through life with the attitude that you’re just along for the ride of God’s plan for your life. But what we need to remember that the world doesn’t need us to rescue it; sometimes what it needs is for us to do is step back, and wait while God does the work that only He is fully capable of doing.
Earlier I asked if you would describe yourself as weak. I didn’t see anyone raise their hand, so I’ll assume that few of us want to think of ourselves as weak or admit to having weaknesses. Part of surrendering control to God is to understand and accept our weaknesses as human beings. In
2 Corinthians 12:9, the Lord says “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
In the midst of a managing a relationship with a struggling family member, I kept thinking that God’s strength would be made perfect in my family member’s weakness, and that we would see that come through in their rescue. But what I and other family members had to see and confess were our own inabilities to control and fix the situation, because God’s strength alone would bring them through that struggle, and therefore His strength was being realized in our admitting and accepting our weakness. Romans 5:6 says, “Christ arrives right on time…He didn’t, and doesn’t, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for a sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn’t been so weak, we wouldn’t have known what to do anyway.” This verse tells us that we are utterly incapable of transforming our own hearts or the heart of someone we love – only the rescuing power of Christ and His grace can do that for us. So, I encourage you to ask God to show you where your weakness in your situation lies, and ask Him to fill in the gaps for you. Continue focusing your own eyes on God and pointing your loved one to the Savior who can rescue us from ourselves.
You might be thinking about your own struggles to surrender control of your life or part of your life to God, struggle to trust God to provide for you, struggle to see hope when times are tough. Or maybe you are clearly picturing the struggling loved one you have and can identify with the weight that strained relationship has on your life. We have talked about the fact that God has plans for our lives, but if we are being honest, we would all agree that it is hard to trust in God’s timing when it doesn’t make any sense to us, can’t we? We need to remember that the Lord is not bound by human time – He is the one who made the schedule. There are often wilderness times in our lives, times where God is leading us through the desert where His plans and timing for things are unclear. Sometimes God takes us to the desert not to desert us, but to be alone with us. In her book “Unexpected,” Christine Caine writes, “We all have wilderness seasons of our lives when everything that is familiar, stable, & comforting falls away. The wilderness is a place for transformation. With nothing to distract us from ourselves, and with no one but God to rely on, the conditions are ripe for growth and change. Transformation is always God’s first priority for us – a change from the inside out. God wants to transform us before he will transform our circumstances. God knows our destiny & future. He knows the transformation we need to go through in order to be who we need to be in the place he is preparing for us.” A lot of times when we are in the middle of the transformation process we don’t see it as that. We look horizontally at the circumstances and the struggles surrounding us. But what we see as an obstacle in the way of God’s plan may actually part of his plan. The things that cause our faith to weaken might actually what God is using to build our faith. In our most difficult times, I had never felt so unprepared for managing a stressful relationship – no clear direction in how to be supportive while not enabling destructive behavior. No idea that I should, or even how to draw loving boundaries to protect myself and my family. And I had never heard such silence from God, truly feeling as if I was navigating this wilderness of relationship with no road map. But at the same time, I had no other options but to desperately call on His name for strength and lean into His promises that He had everything under control for my good, my family member’s good, and ultimately His glory. We have to focus vertically for the hope and direction we need during the times of struggle. With this hope we are not denying our pain, but we are recognizing that Jesus can lead us to life beyond our pain. It is easy to feel discouraged when we can’t see or hear God, but discouragement is us focusing more on the brokenness of creation that it does on the restoring glories of God’s character, presence, and promises.
Joshua 1:5 & 9 says, “I will be with you. I won’t give up on you; I won’t leave you…,” “God, your God, is with you every step you take.”
The Bible is full of the promises that we must cling to during times of pain and waiting.
Another author I love is Paul David Tripp, and he talks a lot about living in between the “already” and the “not yet.” The “already” of our complete forgiveness by God, which was accomplished by Christ’s death on the Cross. This means we don’t have to worry we will be so bad that God will reject us, or do things to try and win God’s favor, or worry about hiding our sin. We never have to rationalize, excuse, defend, or shift the blame. We never have to pretend that we are better than we are. We never have to present arguments for our righteousness. We never have to fear being known or exposed. We have been completely forgiven. It’s done. And we look forward to the “not yet” of being completely rebuilt into all that grace will make us. The gift of eternal life guarantees that when the Lord calls us home, every broken thing inside of us will be completely repaired. But the struggle remains that we are live in the here and now, where sin remains in this broken world and a war for our hearts rages each day. Maybe you or your loved one grew up in church and believe in eternal life with God after death. But, in the here and now, maybe you have experienced years of struggle, setback after setback, unsuccessful attempts to change course. For us, true changes were not see in the life of our family member until there was surrender to the only One who can transform hearts, provide grace for failures, provide hope for futures. After our loved one returned to church 8 months or so ago, there was re-commitment to self and family; there were proactive steps toward life change, tangible successes, and appropriate priorities in place. These positive changes were the outflowing of the love and grace of God’s presence in their life – not things they could have mustered on her own, or things that myself or any other family member could have produced for them. It is the product of the love of an almighty Savior.
And then in April our loved one is suddenly called home. WHAT? Talk about timing that made no sense. I think everyone’s initial reaction was to ask “why now?” Well, I did say this was a talk about hope, didn’t I? So let me complete the loop here. In the heartache of loss our family experienced this past spring, I felt God whisper to me that the message of
2 Peter 3:9 is an individual, personal concept – “He is restraining himself on account of you, holding back the end because he doesn’t want anyone lost. He’s giving everyone space and time to change.”
Have you ever considered that in this verse God is literally referring to YOU or your loved one? In His patience, God cares enough to give ample time for his grace to do its transforming work in your heart or in the heart of your loved one. So God may have specific plans for our lives set long before we were even created, but He gave us the free will to make our own choices, which can sometimes lead us off track. God, in his Sovereignty, is able to turn everything for good in our lives and eventually re-route us back to the purposes He has for us. But perhaps the number of days we have is also adjustable for God. Perhaps, He pushes back our last day to provide time for us to come back to Him. To give Him our hearts, so that WHEN He calls us home, that is exactly where we end up. God’s plan is to allow more people to come to repentance and enter into an eternal relationship with Him. This is exactly what we saw in the life of our family member. It wasn’t the plan that anyone else imagined for their life, but we can find hope in knowing that there is purpose behind it.
Romans 8: 35-39 says, “Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
This is the hope we have – that our family member, despite so many struggles, was welcomed home into the loving and forgiving and restoring arms of Jesus. That they have eternal life with Him because they gave Him their heart with the time that God had given them. And we can rest knowing that they are finally healed and whole. I pray that the outcome of your struggle or the struggle for your loved one is not death after heart change – my point is to encourage you that despite the outcome, we can trust in God’s greater plan, even when we don’t understand it.
This past year, we saw heart transformation – in our own lives by learning to rely on God even during pain & a period of walking through the wilderness – and also experienced the hope of eternal life spent with Christ when we surrender our hearts and lives to Him. Not only was our loved one saved, but they were sharing this gospel message to others who were deeply struggling, inviting them to church so they, too, could experience the redemptive power of God’s love.
Acts 20:24 says, “But 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, this is the mission we are called to. This is the mission that is so important that God is giving us all time & space to come to Him for our own heart transformation and then go and tell others about this good news. This is what MRC is all about. Pointing people to God, so they may go out and point other people to God. There is no greater calling or purpose in life – to be God’s hands and feet right here and now. We are God’s representatives, placed exactly where we are, at exactly the right time, to do the work He has called us to do.
I hope that I was able to encourage you today – to seek God’s will for your life or point your loved one toward seeking His will, surrender control of your struggle into His capable hands, trust in His timing, continue to cry out to God and trust in His promises during times of pain or waiting, and realize that whatever is going on in your life or the life of someone you love is part of a plan greater than we can imagine or understand. If you would like prayer for yourself, a relationship you are struggling with, or for someone you love, Ken and I will be up front to pray with you after the service, or there are prayer cards on the Information Table in the lobby to fill out if you would like the Prayer and Care Team to cover you in prayer. I’m going to pray for all of us now and the band will be playing one last song to close.
Let’s pray. Please stand.