I hate change. Give me the security of familiarity. I rejoice in the warmth of familiar faces and familiar places. Change takes so much out of me. But I have also come to terms with the fact that change is the perfect backdrop for divine encounters. In times of change we discover what does not change. Therefore, often, in times of change, we discover/rediscover God.
I met two friends (separately) yesterday. Both were going through major changes in their lives. I listened to their stories. I noted afresh the turmoil that comes with change. And the questions that change brings. Many of these questions had no answers. At least not yet. Still I felt the rightness of the decisions they had made. (They seem to take change much better than me.) But all change comes with a cost. I trust that in their transitions, God will once again come into clearer focus.
This Sunday I am planning to preach on the first chapter of Joshua. Now here was a key transition in the life of Israel. Moses had died. He was God’s appointed servant to bring them out of Egypt and lead them to the Promised Land. They had known no other leader except Moses. When Israel thought of God they thought of Moses. And now Moses was gone. But God was there. In Moses’ absence Israel had the opportunity to rediscover God. They also had a chance to rediscover their mission.
If God was Israel’s primary focus, then the task they had received from God would also remain the same irrespective of who was up front. They were to conquer the land “flowing with milk and honey” that God had promised to give them. The massive change that came with Moses’ death gave the Israelites the chance to rediscover God and also the chance to rediscover their mission. In times of change we rediscover our foundation and our vocation.
I have come to believe that God throws major changes our way precisely because we need to learn and learn again, who is our foundation and what is our vocation. God knows that familiarity dulls our spiritual sensitivities and so He has to shake our lives up every so often. I must be spiritually duller than most because I have had a lot of turbulent shake ups in my life.
I was trained as a dentist and practised for awhile. But God called me from “filling the tooth to preaching the truth.” He called me to church related work. My first pastorate was in Penang. I thought I’d live and die there,ministering in my home town. Instead I found myself moving on to Kuala Lumpur after four years. I then spent seventeen years in KL. Seventeen years is a long time. This should have been a stable period of my life. But it was not to be. In KL I lost my first wife to cancer and that was but the first of many personal tsunamis.
For a guys who hates change, I have had to face a lot, and often I faced them kicking and screaming. I can only conclude that God knew I needed a constant supply of chaos to help me remember that He was the only true constant and that His purposes were my only true vocation.
One of my friends I talked to yesterday was still wondering as to what her vocation was. I believe that we all have been given a personal life mission. Some of us discover that mission early in life. For many if us the search for our personal life vocation will take up a large part of our adult life. Changes also help in our search for our personal life mission. With each major change, we should be that bit more clearer as to what are our strengths and what are our passions and what are the defining circumstances of our lives.
Whatever our personal life mission, there is a “generic” call for all of us who are followers of Christ — we are called to love God and we are called to love people (Mark 12:30-31). All of us should seek to discover our personal life mission but whatever our degree of clarity as to what that is, we should always be asking “how do I love God and love people in the concrete circumstances I find myself?” Every major life change is an opportunity to re embrace and reactivate these two primary loves.
Some of us thrive on change. Some, like myself, hate change. But change cannot be avoided. Heraclitus (c.535-475 BC) was wonderfully prescient when he observed that “Everything flows, nothing stands still.” We may be more familiar with the more contemporary rendering of that aphorism — “change is the only constant in life.” In confronting change however we discover an even more important truth, that it is God that is the only true constant in life.
Another wise man, the writer of the book of Ecclesiastes, saw his fair share of change in his long life. He came to the following conclusion:
Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the [duty] of every human being.
(Ecclesiastes 12:13 TNIV)
As we navigate the many changes that life brings, may this be our True North. Whatever happens, I live my life before God as His child and as His servant. Whatever happens, I am to love my God with the totality of my life, and I am to love people.