Summary: Three actions we can take when we’re tempted to think God has given up on us.
How many of you have seen the bumper sticker that says, "Be patient with me. God isn’t finished with me yet"? I’ve decided to create a new bumper sticker that responds to that one. My new bumper sticker will say, "I’m trying to be patient with you, but God is taking an awfully long time with you."
The reality is that we’re all in process when it comes to our spiritual lives. Our church mission statement says that our church exists to help unchurched people discover a relationship with Jesus Christ and to help Christians grow into fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. Both of these tasks are process oriented. Some of you are here today, and you’re in the process of discovering a relationship with Jesus. You’re here to investigate the Christian faith, to learn about what the Bible really teaches, to watch the Christian faith embodied as we gather together for worship and service. This is a process, and we’re glad you’ve chosen to let us be part of that process in your life.
Others of us have discovered that relationship, and we’re in the process of growing into full devotion to Jesus. None of us will attain it in this life, but we’re moving toward the goal of full devotion to Jesus. Some of you are moving toward the goal quickly. This is often true during our first years of following Jesus, as we see lots of things changing in our lives. As we learn more about Jesus, we find our thinking transformed, our positions on political issues changing, our habits and attitudes being conformed to be more like Jesus. During those first years, it seems like everything’s changing quickly. Some of you are moving toward the goal more slowly. Just as our physical development slows the older we get, our spiritual progress can slow down after we’ve been Christians for a while. It’s harder to identify habits and attitudes that are changing, more difficult to track our progress. Yet even when we’re moving slowly, we’re still moving toward the goal of full devotion to Jesus Christ.
However, sometimes it seems like we stop moving forward in the spiritual life at all. We seem to stall in the spiritual life, and when that happens we feel stuck.We’re no longer feeling closer to God, no longer seeing God transform our habits and attitudes, no longer hopeful and optimistic that things will change. When that happens, we’re tempted to think that God has given up on us.
This exact thing happened to me about 13 years ago. At the time I was in my first year of seminary carrying about 16 units, working the graveyard shift at a hospital about 30 hours a week, and volunteering in ministry at our church plant in Ontario about 20 hours a week. Although my life was full of work, school, and ministry, I was neglecting my marriage. The more I neglected my marriage and focused on work, school, and ministry, the less close I felt toward my wife Chris. Gradually I started developing feelings toward another woman, a co-worker at the hospital. Although I never acted on the feelings, I nurtured those feelings in my heart for several months. My wife knew something wasn’t right, until finally I told her how I felt. When the dust finally settled, I wasn’t sure if my marriage was going to make it, I felt terribly guilty before God, I was no longer qualified to serve in the ministry I had been serving in, and I was questioning my calling to become a pastor. I had to confess to my wife, step down from ministry and confess to the pastor I was working with. I vividly remember one day sitting in my living room, staring at my apartment room wall, trying to figure out what else I could do with my life. I was convinced that God had given up on me because of what I’d done.
If you’ve never wondered if God had given up on you, you will. When that happens, how can we be sure that God is not finished with us yet? Besides a bumper sticker slogan, what can we do to gain assurance of God’s continued care and guidance in our lives? That’s what I want to talk about today.
We’ve been in a series through the New Testament book of Romans called "Good News for Our Times." I’ve titled chapters 9 to 11 of Romans "The Good News About God’s Faithfulness," and in these chapters the apostle Paul has been wrestling with why the majority of Jewish people rejected Jesus as their Messiah. You see, Israel’s rejection of Jesus provides a test case for how God responds when God’s people blow it. In chapter 8 of Romans, Paul told us that God is able to work all things together for our good (8:28). Chapters 9 to 11 apply this principle to Israel’s failure to believe in Jesus as their Messiah; what good can God bring out of that? Israel’s rejection of Jesus would appear to mean that either God has given up on Israel or that God’s promises to Israel have failed. But Paul rejects both conclusions, and he claims that God is somehow using Israel’s failure for good. As Paul grapples with Israel’s unbelief, we’re going to find three actions we can take when we’re tempted to think God has given up on us. Paul applies these three actions to Israel, but they also apply to us.