Saturday, 3 September 2011

Making Transitions

Change is inevitable. A person can start a new job, get married, move house, be made redundant or find they facing a tsunami. We’re never quite sure what tomorrow will bring. Change tends to focus on the external factors. The objective reality of what is happening to us; what we are going through.

But there is a subjective side to change; the internal process that determines how we feel about the change and our ability to embrace it. This side of change is best described as a period of transition.

Transitions signify the passage from one chapter of life to another. They can be marked by times of celebration or grief depending on how we choose to interpret what is happening to us.

The nation of Israel went through some very specific transitions. Five stand out in particular. Egypt, the wilderness, Canaan, Captivity and the return of the remnant. The wilderness was a special time for Israel. It was only an 11-day journey from there to the Promised Land – God’s objective for the people. Yet the nation spent forty years in this barren place. Why?

Deut 8.2-3 gives us some insight:

And you shall remember that the LORD your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD.

The wilderness was a test; a place where Israel was humbled. There is nothing more humbling than to realise you are in a situation you have no power to control. God did that to the nation to teach them to depend on Him and look to Him. But this period is characterised in several places as being a time where they murmured and complained. They failed the test. They were not able to make the transition even though they had made the change!

And that is my point. Making a change is one thing. Making a transition well is quite another. This is why I believe that God ordained for Moses to be brought up in the house of Pharaoh. He did not grow up with a slave mentality. To be sure he needed to be delivered from self-sufficiency but he did not have a poverty mentality like the slaves in Egypt. God protected him from this crippling mind-set.

The Israelites were trapped in their thinking. Years of slavery had made the promise of a homeland too distant for them to embrace. But that is what faith does. It embraces the future now. Notice the emphasis of the Deut 8 text. They had to learn to live ‘by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’. Moses phrases this sentence in the present tense.

God had spoken a promise in the past but now He was active in fulfilling that promise. He had come down to deliver them through Moses, Ex 3.7-10. He had a new word for them to embrace. A now word. Transitions work best when we embrace what God is saying now. Seven times in revelation 2-3 we are told to hear what the Spirit is saying (present tense again) to the churches. God speaks and He wants us to listen.

Think of one of the most important transitions in the Bible. Jesus has risen from the dead but is going back to heaven. How would the disciples cope? Walking with Jesus for three years, knowing Him personally, having Him there to rescue you from all your mistakes. That is what they had known. But now He was leaving.

Jesus anticipated their sorrow of heart. Listen to Him as He speaks to them in the upper room just before His death, John 16.5-7:

But now I go away to Him who sent Me, and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.

They were sorrowful but Jesus knew it was to their advantage that He left. He wasn’t abandoning them. He was preparing them for ministry that would more than multiply everything He had done through the empowering presence of the Spirit. It was a good thing He was leaving!

In Acts Luke records key events that help us understand the birth and mission of the church. Jesus spent forty days teaching the disciples things concerning the Kingdom. This was a post resurrection intensive training program! It culminated with the command for them to wait for the promise of the Father, Acts 1.1-9.

I notice two things about this time. He gave them information with the promise of an impartation. We need both. Good information helps us order and frame reality. It is rooted in knowledge, knowledge that was birthed in revelation. This is what we have in the Bible.

But Jesus also reminded them of a promise, first spoken of by John the Baptist four years earlier and now finding fulfilment in Jesus through His ascension. The promise was no longer years, months or weeks away. It was days ahead! He built their sense of anticipation. And so over the next ten days their faith grew.

They had heard about the Holy Spirit but now they were about to experience Him. He had been with them. Now He would be in them. Jesus left them in no doubt that this would be a power encounter and equip them for effective ministry, as if He were still personally present. Wow. This gives us all hope because we are 21-century believers. We haven’t walked with Jesus but we can be filled with the Holy Spirit and do the works of Jesus.

What was there response to this information and the promise of impartation? “They all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication….” Acts 1.14. They prayed into the promise – together. Personal private prayer is important. But this was together. It was corporate prayer to see the fulfilment of a promise for the whole church. They made it a priority. They came to together. There were no ‘Lone Rangers’ on this team.

Transitions always work best when we have a promise to hold on to. Joshua and Caleb were different from the other spies who witnessed the same thing as them in Canaan. These two men were guided in their vision by the promise that God had already given them the land – long before any battles were fought. They nurtured the promise in their hearts and it was manifest in their confession.

Acts 2.1 tells us that when the day finally arrived, ‘they were all with one accord in one place”. The one accord continued over the ten days of waiting for the promise. And now Luke emphasises that they were all in one place. Transitions always work best when we do them together. Proverbs 18.1 says: A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; He rages against all wise judgment.

The church is a body. We function best together. Of course you can have a personal relationship with God on your own but you can’t have church alone. It’s where two or three are gathered together. We need to be in one place. Thomas was not with the disciples when Jesus showed up the first time so he refused to believe He had risen, John 20.24.

The early church loved to gather together because they knew that God would show up in unusual ways when they did. And that is the consistent testimony of Acts. Some of the most difficult transitions I've had to make were made easier when I met to together to worship with other believers. It lifted my spirit. I was encouraged to move ahead in faith - and I did!

Think about some of the transitions that you are facing. Do you understand the topic? Have you read around it? Do you have all the information you need? Do you know what scripture says on this issue? Is there a promise that you are holding onto? A 'now word' from God that you expect to be fulfilled, not many days from now? Are you in ‘one accord’ with other believers? Finally do you take the opportunities you have to come together with others in ‘one place’?

If you do you will be far better positioned to handle any changes that come. Your heart will be ready to make more than a change. You’ll make a transition and do it well.