1/11/2010 12:06:00 am

Year

Posted by Tom French |

I'm coming along real good, but I still can't do most of the things I should. - Counting Crows


It's a year today since I left my old job as Youth Minister and headed out of the Christian bubble to see what life was like on the other side.

My year of "non-Christian" work has come to an end, and tomorrow I will begin my entirely unsecular job.

With that in mind, these are some of the things I've learnt and been thinking about in the past 12 months.

Plans

The plan was the leave my job as Youth Minister, get work in a full time secular job, save money then go to the US for a year in 2010. That was my plan. But I knew going in that is was just my plan. Ringing in my mind was James 4:13-15:

Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that."

I have certainly found it to be true.

I never got my full time work in a secular organisation. For most of the year I was technically unemployed. I got a small amount of work ushering at a concert venue, and for the majority of the year, that was it. It was secular, most of my colleagues (perhaps all) aren't Christian, nor do they seem that keen on Christianity. But it's a small job, one or two shifts a month on average.

I ended the year working 1-3 days a week with my friend John the Painter. John is a Baptist pastor who paints houses, one of the guys I spent much of the time working with was around my age and a very strong Christian, the other guy who paints with John is not a Christian, as far as I can tell, though he doesn't talk much. It wasn't really the great secular work I had planned.

I spent 7 months of the year collecting unemployment benefits. I had been wanting to avoid that fate, but it's a little difficult when no one will hire you. Perhaps Centrelink was my great secular experience.

As a result I won't make it to the US for a year, for a few months, maybe not at all in 2010. That plan has been a complete failure.

But I'm not upset. My plans are not God's plans. This year I have had to submit myself to God's plans, whether I have wanted to or not, and his plans are better.

Identity

Quitting my job as a Youth Minister, I knew I was going to have issues with identity. I talked about it at the end of 2008. I knew that I defined myself by my job. As much as I wanted to be defined by who I am in Jesus, it's easier to be defined by how you fill your days, especially when you're passionate about it.

So I knew that in 2009 I would have to learn what it meant to be something other than a Youth Minister.

And it was hard. It was hard to tell people, when asked, that I was unemployed. It was hard not to try and justify it. It was hard to not think they felt sorry for you, or thought you were a loser. It was hard not to think they were judging you.

Most of the time I tried to avoid having to say I was unemployed by listing everything I did. By the end of the year I'd say "I'm a student, an usher, a painter and I visit Centrelink twice a week."

So did I learn to find my identity in Jesus? A little. I learnt a little more that my value doesn't lie in what I do, but in who has saved me.

But I learnt more about who God has called me to be. I may have been a student, a Centrelink patron, an usher, and a brush hand. But all year I thought about ministry. I thought about preaching, and pastoring, and bringing the Bible to bear in people's lives. I'm passionate about serving Jesus in full-time ministry. That's what excites me. Stop me doing it for a year and all I want to do is get back into it. I haven't lost the passion, it's grown.

And that's good. Having spent a year being rejected for jobs because the only thing I know how to do is ministry, if ministry wasn't what I was wired for, I'd be a little stuffed. There is no turning back. My hand won't leave the plough, it's gaffa taped and nail gunned to the plough.

The Call

This year was the most significant year for me, in terms of life direction, since I was called into ministry in 2001. 2009 could end up being the most life shaping year of my life.

My year has effectively been a year of quietness, a year to reflect, a year to seek God's will for me. For the first six months I felt a call from God that had been in the back of my mind for a few years. As 2009 went on it became more and more clear, till I decided to make a decision while I was away in Guatemala and the United States. When I got back I knew for sure that God was calling me to plant a church.

For many of those of you who know me in real life, you already know about this, but some of you won't. But sometime in the next few years I will plant a church. Not by myself, God isn't calling me to go it alone. But God is calling me to church planting. I'm a little disappointed that church planting is the "in" thing at the moment. But I guess that's what God is doing at the moment. Whatever the case, I'm excited.

There's a lot more to say on the subject. Like answering the big question I get asked every time I tell someone I'm planting, "Why do we need more churches?" But for now I'll just say that I know what I'm doing for the rest of my life. Unless I'm completely mistaken, everything from here on in is heading for church planting.

Working for Jesus

When I was trying to figure out whether to leave my old job or not, I was on the bus on the way to meet my minister to tell him my final decision about whether to stay or go. I was doing my daily reading and it was this verse that made up my mind for me:

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men - Col 3:23

It was then I felt God say I could make my own decision, but whatever I did I should do as one working for Jesus. I chose to leave because it made the most sense.

That decision being made it meant that every time I did something I needed to do it as one working for the Lord. Whoever my boss is or is not, my ultimate boss is Jesus, and everything I do I must do as if he was in charge.

So the question was, how do you be unemployed for Jesus? How do you apply for 10 jobs a fortnight for Jesus? How to you spend days and days with nothing you have to be doing for Jesus? How do you usher for Jesus? How do you check tickets for Jesus? How do you open doors for patrons for Jesus? How do you paint for Jesus? How get up at 5:30am for Jesus? How do you strip wallpaper for Jesus? How do you paint a fence for Jesus?

I can't say I always was as diligent as I should have been all year. I can't say I never wasted any time, or always applied for jobs to the best of my ability. But it was a good challenge to have.

2009 wasn't a year off. It was a year with the challenge to serve Jesus in everything I put my hand to. It was a year to learn that I can honour Jesus when I have no job or when I'm cleaning a wall or when I'm standing in an auditorium during a boring seminar, as much as I can honour Jesus when I'm preaching the gospel.

Wealth and Provision, Grace and Self-Sufficiency

I didn't earn much money this year. I've got a lot less money now than when I went in. I owe a lot more money that when I started the year. I spent probably a third of the year with $0 in my bank account.

I know that God provides. I know that God provides through money that comes via unexpected routes. He provides via Centrelink and unemployment benefits. He provides through friends and family who shout you meals and movie tickets and miscellaneous items. He provides through house mates who pay bills and don't break your legs when you can't pay them back straight away. He provides through eating Corn Thins for $1.96 rather than Thai food for $7.90. He provides through parents who give you money when you run out. He provides through friends who give you money when God tells them to. He provides through friends who lend you their car and who lend you money while cavorting overseas.

I know that God provides even when I'm probably about as dumb with money now as I was when I started the year.

And God's provision isn't always easy. It takes humility to accept help when you can't help yourself. It batters your pride to know that the only way you're paying your rent is because the Government is paying it for you.

It's hard to know that you can't do it on your own.

But that's what grace is about. You can't do it on your own. You can't provide for yourself. Grace and pride cannot live together.

Having a lack of funds, has taught me about spiritual poverty. Having friends and family provide for me when I can't provide for myself has taught me about my God who provides himself for me when I have only my sin to offer in return. Having to ask for help has taught me about what it really means to come to God and say to him, "I need you because I can't do this."

I have had a year what I have never gone without. I have been abundantly provided for. I'm so very thankful for my God who provides for all my needs. My daily bread and my eternal life. I have a good God.

* * *

Everything else, I probably can't or don't want to categorise. I've learnt so much more. It's been a big year. Any year where your sister gets married three times in one year is a big year. It's certainly been a big year for my family.

2009 was the year I left my church and job of 6 years. The year found a new church and a whole new bunch of friends. It was the year I had more free time, more jobs and more hours spent in the library than in the previous 7 years. It was the year I finally made it to the US properly. It was the year came close to crying almost once a week because I'm becoming a big sook.

And while it's been a pretty stress free year, in other ways I've been faced with things this year bigger and closer to home than any I had faced before. It's been a year when I've been angrier, more confused, more helpless than I ever have. I've learnt more about sin, my own and other peoples', than perhaps I ever have. And I've learnt more about forgiveness, both being forgiven and forgiving, than I have before.

It's been an excellent 12 months. I have seen God again this past year. Once more he has been faithful beyond all reason and expectation. I can't put into words the goodness I see in Jesus. I am so abundantly blessed. Whatever happens from here on in, whatever the next year holds for me, I know I go in to it with friends and family who are more wonderful than I could ever hope for and a God who loves me more than I could ever hope to understand.

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