For 5 years I was the pastor of Trinity International Church in Strasbourg, France. I created this blog with those people in mind. In mid-November 2018 I will become the Senior Pastor of Word of Life Church in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. The focus of this blog will therefore shift, but I pray that people from the blogosphere will continue to find it helpful wherever they might be found.
The churches' websites includes recorded sermons for those who are interested. Click the links below to access them.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Praying Through Transitions

Transition: (1) the process or period of changing from one state or condition to another; (2) a time of adventure and new horizons; (3) a time of terror and insecurity.

Whatever your definition of transition is, we are all familiar with its challenges. We transition through different life stages: Infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, parents, etc. As an international church, we are filled with people who are transitioning from one place to another. Some are coming to Strasbourg for a few months or a few years. Others are here as refugees. We have more people in transition than most churches! It is an exciting place to be. 
But at the moment we are in transition as a church. When a pastor leaves, it puts the church in a period of change that provides all of the challenges that other transitions in life bring with them. The elders of the church have wisely called us to a time of prayer and fasting as we enter this time of change. 
I want to share with you some key ideas to guide our praying during this time of change.

Characteristics of Transitions:

Times of transition have several significant characteristics:
They are times of change and uncertainty that bring stress.
By their nature, transitions are times that remove familiar surroundings and ways of doing things. This disorientation can be stressful. When a church transitions from one pastor to the next, there are questions about what is going to happen that can cause anxiety and fear. It can bring out the best and worst of churches.
They are opportunities for new things to happen.
Transitions bring us to a new place. Some are eager for new things and find transitions exciting. Others want to hold on to the old and cherished ways of doing things and find transitions threatening. Often in churches people think that the transition is a time to “fix everything that I don’t like” about the church.
They are a season when God can work deeply.
Transitions break up our routines. As a result, the Lord has an opportunity to work deeply and bring healing, repentance, growth, and lasting fruit. When a church goes through pastoral change, it often finds that its people are praying more, serving more, and drawing closer together. Transitions can be times that bring renewal to the church.

Keys to praying during times of transition:

The goal is glorifying God and bearing fruit.
Times of transition can be disorienting. As a result, it is important to have the correct fixed points to maintain the right perspective. As a followers of Christ, we need to keep our relationship with him as the firm foundation of our lives. We want to move through times of transition in a way glorifies God and bears fruit in our lives. So with our eyes fixed on Jesus, we seek to understand how to act in a way that achieves these goals, rather than simply trying to lessen the trials that times of transition normally bring. 
Psalm 23 tells us that our shepherd leads us in paths of righteousness and beside still waters. But at times we also walk through the valley of the shadow of death. In that dark valley we discover that we can have peace (a fruit of the Spirit) because we know that he is with us and has his rod and staff in his hand. Courage and tranquility are possible because we have focused our attention on the shepherd and his ability to lead us rather than on our circumstances.
We need to pray that we glorify God both as individuals and as a church. Here is a sample prayer that you can use. Pray it for both yourself and TICOS.
Lord, I ask that you would show me how to glorify you. My circumstances are upsetting my normal routines and it is difficult to see the future clearly. Sometimes what I see confuses and discourages me. At other times I am filled with exhilarating hope but I am afraid that it won’t last. 
I pray that you would develop the fruit of the Spirit in my life during this time of transition. 
Replace apathy toward others with love.
Replace despair with joy.
Replace anxiety with peace.
Replace frustration with patience.
Replace harshness with kindness.
Replace cruelty with goodness.
Replace unreliability with faithfulness.
Replace hardness with gentleness.
Replace self-indulgence with self-control.
May the fruit of the Spirit in my life bring you glory and lead others to knowing you. Amen.

Honesty and Authenticity.
Once we set our hearts on glorifying God and bearing fruit for him, there is another danger that lurks in the shadows of transition and threatens to capsize our boat: hypocrisy. The origin of the term is tied to the theatre and described an actor who played a role. Often they wore masks, but the important idea is that they were pretending to be someone who they really weren’t. 
Sometimes we do this in our relationship with God. We are afraid to tell God how we really feel and we pray prayers that don’t really express what we think. It is as if we think that God cannot handle it. That somehow we will be rejected by him if he discovers that we are upset, hurting, or mad at him because of our circumstances. 
It is okay to tell God how we feel and what we want. He won’t break. He knows it anyway. Remember: the Lord is interested in having a relationship with you. 
Authenticity is important in our relationship with God. Jesus modelled this for us when he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. As the cross was drawing closer, he prayed to his Father “Lord, is there any way that I don’t have to go through this?” His internal agony was great and he brought it before his Father in prayer. We can do the same. 
As we express our desires to the Lord, it is also important to listen to his response. He knows best. He knows the way through the transition. He knows where there is cool water and where there are only mirages. He leads us for our good and his glory! So we can trust him. Jesus modelled this, too, in the Garden of Gethsemane. He bowed to his Father’s will and for the joy set before him endured the cross. 
 Father, help me to be honest with you about how I am doing. Help me to tell you about my struggles with the openness that comes from deep trust that you are interested in my good. Give me the words to say what I think, but the ears to listen to your will. Like Jesus, may I endure difficult things for your glory. Help me to be open with trusted friends about how things are going in my life. May I realise that deception does not come from you but from the evil one. May truth bear fruit in my relationship with you and others. Amen. 

Deal with sin in our lives.
Transitions have a way of bringing sin to the forefront of our lives. 
The security of our normal routines are stripped away and our sinful tendencies some to “rescue” us. We lie, gossip, form divisive alliances, become jealous or greedy, escape into sexual sin or self-medicate with alcohol or drugs. These are real threats to our walk with the Lord.
In fact, they may be the very reason God has led us into a time of transition. These weeds were there in the garden, and the master gardener wants to pull them out of our lives. The transition did not cause the weeds to grow. They were hidden beneath the surface of what had been our “normal” life and were inhibiting our relationships with God and others. So the Lord brought us into a time of transition in order to deal with these noxious weeds that were poisoning our lives all along.
The apostle Paul was a talented man, but the Lord brought him through a time of difficulty because he had a tendency to rely on himself rather than God (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). In the same way, the Lord will bring us into times of transition in order to remove sin in our lives. So we need to continually ask the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin and to confess our sin to the Lord seeking his forgiveness. 
Lord, the stress of transition is shining a spotlight on my sinfulness. Use this time to purify me. I invite the Holy Spirit to convict me of sin and may I not become defensive. I am a sinner. Show me the weeds in the garden that they might be removed. I commit myself to the hard work of growing in holiness during this time of transition. May I not hide my sin from you, but bring it to you for removal, that I might be forgiven and cleansed of all unrighteousness.

How we and others deal with uncertainty.
We all have preferred ways of acting when we are under stress. One study groups people into three basic responses. Some set a goal and move into “take the mountain” mode. Others become hyper-organized and meticulously plan their way out of the stress. Still others become completely concerned with relationships. Each of these responses is normal, but can have negative impacts. 
Other studies group Christians into “logical” or “spiritual” categories. People in the first category tend to become extremely rational about the situation that they are in and try to reason their way through the transition. People in the second category insist that “waiting on the Lord” and “hearing a word from God” are the best ways forward. 
Both of these are good, but taken to an extreme can have harmful consequences.
It is important to know our tendencies and their strengths and weaknesses. But it is perhaps just as important to remember that the Lord has called us to be in a church connected to other people. He has placed these people in our lives for a reason. We are to minister them and they are to minister to us. When we are in transition, we need to be open to the Lord working though the body of Christ, often bringing strength where we are weak. 
Lord, as I go through this time of transition, help me to listen to others. You are working in their lives as well as mine and I want to be able to see that more clearly. Thank you that you have gifted people in ways that are different than you have gifted me. Help me to appreciate them. Give me ears to hear what you might say and do through them. I acknowledge that my way of doing things is not the only way and that others may even have better ways of approaching things than I do. So help me to watch for the way you are are working rather than simply assuming that my way is best. Keep me from demanding that others do things the way that I would do them.

A Final Thought:

Times of pastoral transition are particularly difficult for church leaders. These leaders typically carry a lot of responsibility even when the church is not in transition. The pastoral search process requires a significant increase in their time commitment. There are Sunday mornings to plan, interim pastors to schedule and host, the search for the next permanent pastor to conduct, as well as all of the duties they normally carry. 
We need to be in prayer for them so that they have the strength and grace to do what God is calling them to do. It is also a time when each member of the body needs to roll up their sleeves and say, “What can I do to help?” Ask the leaders, or simply volunteer to do something! Whatever you do to lessen their load will be a blessing to them and a benefit to you as well. 

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