Friday, 2 September 2016

When Plans Change

Most people have heard of Mother Teresa, the Roman Catholic nun who, with her order of the Missionaries of Charity, brought comfort to the poorest of the poor living and dying on the streets of Calcutta, India.This weekend the Catholic church will canonize her as a saint.
Fewer people know of Jacqueline de Decker, a Christian lay worker who, after spending years ministering to the poor in Madras, joined Mother Teresa as she embarked on her missionary project. Jacqueline was filled with enthusiasm to be part of Mother Teresa’s vision and was to be her first co-worker.
However, this was not to be. As preparations were being made to begin ministry in Calcutta, Jacqueline was struck down by a debilitating spinal condition which required her to return to Belgium. Throughout the rest of her life she would undergo over thirty operations and lived in chronic pain.
What was a great personal disappointment became the genesis of another ministry. Mother Teresa wrote to Jacqueline, proposing that whilst she was physically unable to continue her work in India, she could be there in spirit, offering her suffering and prayers as a sacrifice to God to further the work of the gospel. Jacqueline became the coordinator of what was to become a worldwide ministry, the Link for the Sick and Suffering Co-workers of Mother Teresa. This ministry linked participants who were ill or disabled to able-bodied missionaries, supporting them in prayer and other means of encouragement.
“The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men, Gang aft agley,” Robert Burns wrote. A former work colleague of mine used to say “Man proposes but God disposes.” Sometimes we can make elaborate plans, only to have them collapse in heaps around us.
The person that you dreamt of spending your life with turns you down. The publisher rejects your manuscript. Interview after interview leads nowhere. A missionary couple is preparing for service in South America when the husband is stricken with leukaemia. Ministries dissolve under criticism and negativity.
It’s always trite to mutter the platitude “It’s God’s will”. It’s not God’s will to inflict suffering. Suffering and pain are part of living in a fallen world, with flawed, fallen human beings. God cares and comforts when we suffer. He promises a coming kingdom when “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever." (Revelation 21:4) Happy time!
As is demonstrated by the story of Jacqueline de Decker, however, God can and does use the circumstances of our suffering. When plans change, He offers new plans and opportunities. Many people who are involved in pastoral care are only able to minister effectively because they have been through difficult experiences themselves. At present my church is beginning an outreach ministry to people who are experiencing the difficulties and pain associated with divorce. Who will be involved in coordinating this ministry? Several people who have experienced divorce themselves, as well as professional counsellors.
It cannot be overestimated what a desperate need there is for prayer support for practical ministries and prayer warriors to be involved in every aspect of Christian life. There is no need for anyone to think that they are too old, too frail or too disabled to be involved in prayer. We all should be able to pray for our immediate families, our church family, extended families, workplaces and perhaps a particular overseas mission, country, people group or project which God lays on your heart.
 If we can let go of what we wanted without bitterness and be open to what the future holds, God will supply direction and strength for what lies ahead.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”  (NIV Jeremiah 29:11-13)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
  in all your ways submit to him,

    and he will make your paths straight.”  (Proverbs 3:5-6)

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