One Sunday morning recently, I listened to Dr. David Brooks preach to Calvary Baptist in Alexandria, Louisiana. “I’ve been wanting to preach this sermon for several weeks,” he said, “and the Lord finally led me to preach it today.” Based on Jeremiah 29:11, “I know the plans I have for you, saith the Lord,” David told of two great disappointments in life where he did not get what he wanted, but God knew best.
As a college student, David Brooks was one of several interviewed by Green Acres Baptist in Tyler, Texas for youth minister. David’s roommate was chosen. Big disappointment. But then he was called as summer youth minister at Spring Hill, Louisiana, a lovely smaller church where he ended up serving throughout college. One day he met John Alley, pastor of Alexandria’s Calvary Baptist and a native of Spring Hill. Later, in seminary in New Orleans, David was invited by John to become student minister at Calvary. Years later when John retired, the church made David the pastor. He’s been there since the year 2000. God’s plans were far better than anything David Brooks could have imagined, any plans he might have made for himself.
I identify with that and I’m confident readers will also. Now, David Brooks’ burden in that message was people dealing with the coronavirus, having their plans changed, and not getting what they had wanted or expected. God’s way is always better, he emphasized. He can be trusted.
Jeremiah 29:11 and Proverbs 3:5-6 are favorite texts that make this point.
I began to wonder, “Have there been times I’ve wanted something really bad and the Lord did not allow it to happen?” And for the most part, the answer seems to be negative. I’ve pretty much been given the desires of my heart and more. Which is Psalm 37:4.
But let me see now…
One. There was one church I wanted to go to, and the Lord said “No.”
But then, He ended up sending me there one year later. The reason for the earlier “no” seems to have been to get the counterfeit preacher, the one who actually went there for a few months, out of the ministry.
I went and stayed nearly 13 years as pastor and still consider it the most satisfying years of a long lifetime of ministry.
Two. There was a church revitalization program I wanted to install but the deacons said “no.” Does that count as the Lord saying “no”?
The church had stalled spiritually, I felt, and the numbers confirmed that. So, after praying and researching and brain-storming, I came up with a six-months plan that promised to do a lot of things, all of them good. Problem was it had one feature the deacons just could not get past: It would cost some money. So, they voted no. Period.
And I was left to deal with it. Did the Lord do some better things in the church because of that disappointment? Not that I could see. He did grow me a tad as a result, however. Learning to serve the Lord’s people even when you do not have their full trust is a worthwhile experience, one every pastor should master.
Three. Perhaps a better question for me would be: Were there times I did not want to do something and the Lord said, “Yes”? That’s the opposite of David Brooks’ two instances. And yes, I can think of a couple of instances…
–-I did not want to pastor in Mississippi. I was from Alabama and attending seminary in New Orleans. “Lord,” I said, “there is a Baptist church on every street corner in Mississippi. I want to go where there is a need. Please don’t sent me to Mississippi.”
The Lord sent me straight from seminary to Greenville, Mississippi, the heart of the Delta at a time when racial strife was everywhere. After a time, He moved me to FBC Jackson MS as a staff member and sometimes substitute preacher for the pastor, and then to FBC Columbus MS. I pastored in this state for nineteen years and enjoyed almost every day of it. My children grew up here and my wife and oldest son graduated from college in Mississippi.
I’m now a permanent resident of Mississippi. It’s my adopted home state and I love it, its history (mostly), and its people.
–-I did not want to pastor in New Orleans. The year was 1990. I had taken a paid leave from the church in Charlotte NC. (The complicated story has been told elsewhere.) During that 12-month interim I preached in many places, held revivals, and talked to several pastor search teams. I knew the Lord had a pastorate for me somewhere and was excited about the next step. Where He sent me was not where I wanted to be.
Charlotte NC is a great, new, clean city. New Orleans is old and not very clean. Since I’d lived and pastored there during seminary, I knew the city and dreaded dealing with the culture. Furthermore, the church where He sent us was wounded. A year earlier, there had been a massive fight resulting in the pastor leaving and two groups emerging to start their own congregations. The group remaining was hurting and had been left with the massive debt on the sanctuary. I came into that setting. The pay in the previous church had been $80,000 plus expenses. The pay in the New Orleans church was $48,000, period. But God was in it.
Among the many blessings of my nearly 14 years pastoring there (26 years total in the church) were these: 1) I went from that pastorate to become director of missions for the SBC churches of metro New Orleans and was there when Katrina devastated the area in 2005; 2) the church paid off the huge debt and became healthy once more; 3) And God gave us a daughter-in-law (and later three grandchildren!) who was worth it all.
His way is always best. I’m now a very young but battle-scarred 80-year-old. Sometimes I’ll sit on my back deck and play a little game. I inform the young me–the one just beginning in the Lord’s work–about all that is ahead. “You will pastor this church and here’s what will happen there….” That sort of thing.
I’m thankful for many things, chief among them that we do not know what the future holds. We will walk by faith from one day to the next, taking it as it comes. Good and bad, we will get through it. And when we do and turn to look back, we will find that the Lord has always been faithful, more than generous, and infinitely patient.
“The Lord is upright, He is my Rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him” (Psalm 92:15).