With the season of Advent beginning this weekend, we mark the beginning of the Christian year, and we start to count down the days until Christmas. For the follower of Christ, this takes on a decidedly different tone than for those who see Christmas as a holiday dedicated to the amassing of stuff.
One thing I like to do at this time of year, instead of making a list of things I’d like to receive for Christmas, is to look back on the year that has passed and give God thanks for the many gifts I received throughout the year. Some of these gifts are material, yes, but many of them are not. Let me tell you about one.
A number of years ago, for reasons I won’t get into here, I was spiritually wounded in a profound way. I didn’t even really know it as such at the time, but for more than four years, I walked with a spiritual limp. The wounds on my soul, as I have come to see them now, needed time, and God’s grace, to heal.
This past January, I realized one day (again, by God’s grace) that those wounds had healed. Are there scars there? You bet. Scars are what remind us of our experiences; but they don’t produce pain anymore. For instance, I have a scar on the lower knuckle of my right index finger; it reminds me that, one day when putting extra weight in a freight car for my model railroad, some hot glue dropped on my knuckle, and my immediate reaction was to wipe it away – which I did. But because the glue dries fairly quickly, that wiping also wiped away some skin, which took some time to heal up. And now, probably 10 years later, I have a scar to remind me of that wound.
Do I remember what wounded my soul? Oh yes. But is there pain anymore? No! The Lord has taken away the pain. I am healed. That was the greatest gift God gave me in 2008.
When the Lord acts to heal us, we do well to respond. I have responded with greater love and thankfulness, and a new appreciation for those who have been wounded. And I have done more than that.
One of the things that my spiritual wounds did to me was to render me unable to pastor a local church. Oh, I tried – but in the end, it was unfair to that church to have a wounded pastor, I determined, and I resigned. That is when I came to the Canadian Bible Society. CBS has been, for me, a safe place to serve God while he dealt with my wounds. I have loved serving the Lord through CBS, making a Kingdom impact while encouraging people to engage with God’s Word. It has been a real joy.
But one thing I had to do when I realized that the Lord had healed me, spiritually, was to reconsider my pastoral calling. In response to that, God has called me to return to the local church, and I am going to do so, effective in January, 2009.
When I was still dealing with my wounds, I thought it would be a very, very long time before I ever considered going back to congregational ministry. But our God is a God of surprises!
To make a long story short, I will begin in January to serve as Pastor of St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church in Nobleton, Ontario – a small community northwest of Toronto. I am excited at the future that God is laying out before me, and I am grateful beyond words for the healing I have received. That’s what’s enabled me to go back to what God first called me to do and to be.
The writer of Ecclesiastes said, “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven” (3.1, NLT). The Lord has shown me that the time for my ministry at the Canadian Bible Society must come to an end, but that my ministry in the church is really only just beginning.
May I encourage you to look back on this year, and thank the Lord for the gifts he has given you this year? And then, will you respond in some tangible way to what God has done in your life? None of it may look like what has happened in my life, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that we gratefully acknowledge God’s gifts to us, and respond with a greater expression of love and devotion to him.