World unknown? God knows!
"Where can we go from your Spirit? Or where can we flee from your presence? If we ascend to heaven, you are there; if we make our bed in Sheol, you are there. If we take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead us, and your right hand shall hold us fast.-Psalm 139:7-10
By BISHOP ROBERT E. HAYES JR.
The old conference year fades in the rearview mirror of memory, and we direct our vision to a new conference year. I remember a brief story read long ago but especially memorable for me in this moment.
The story centers on how maps were made and labeled in the early 1400s. Because of their limited knowledge of the world, those early cartographers often wrote dire warnings on the uncharted areas of a map.
Prior to the reports from Columbus and other explorers, many map representations of areas beyond the known world were imprinted with threatening predictions: Demons be here! Fiery scorpions be there! Monsters and devils located here! Pictures of ominous creatures were painted on many maps, warning anyone against going too far into the vast unknown.
Then, in the mid-1400s, many of those maps fell into the hands of John Franklin, a man of faith and a strong believer in the providence of God.
He took those early maps and, over the menacing warnings, he wrote these words: "God be here!" "God be there!" "God dwells here!"
John Franklin's unshakable confidence and trust in God allowed him to step outside the circle of fear that enveloped people of his era-and to usher in a new understanding. His work declared that no matter what path or direction humankind follows, people ultimately find God!
Exploring new paths
That's the way I feel about our entrance into this new conference year. Despite the uncertainties and anxieties before us, I reassure you today: God is in charge! God is everywhere we can possibly go!
Both John Franklin and the Psalmist knew this. The sooner we throw away our maps drawn with fears and doubts, the better equipped we will be to sail into the promising new worlds God has created for us.
We worry about the future. We fear possibilities and demands will exceed our capabilities or our material resources.
Will our church be able to weather the turbulent waters of change and transition that are present in this age? Will there be sickness or death beyond our strength to face?
Will calamity come upon us or our church family?
Is it possible to find that place of peace and happiness we've sought so long?
My friends, Jesus gave the one antidote to these anxieties when he said: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you."
Our needs-known and unknown-are in God's care. They are burdens that belong to God, and we need not carry them. The attempt to carry them only entangles us; it prevents the activity of God's Spirit.
Our panicked faithlessness is often, as we so painfully discover, not only a waste of energy but also an interference with God's sovereign care and love.
"As thy days, so shall thy strength be" was the promise that took away the fear of those people in the Old Testament who knew firsthand God's care and attention.
You see, God's guidance and God's providence go hand-in-hand. Our part is to see and do the work God appoints.
Let God carry it
An elderly lady boarded the train with her suitcase and discovered all the seats were taken.
She stood, tightly holding her bag. Passing by, the conductor said, "Madam, you can let go of your bag now. The train will carry it nicely for you."
How many of us are holding tightly to the past in fear of the future? How many of us find it difficult to "let go and let God" guide us? How many of us are resigned to believing our future is up to whimsical winds of fate and chance?
Learn a lesson from the great Psalmist who concluded God is in everything we do and is everywhere we go. God was "acquainted" with us long before any of us were created!
The Psalmist concludes: "How weighty to us are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! We try to count them-they are more than the sand; we come to the end-we are still with you!"
Pray with me:
O God, you who are from everlasting to everlasting, without beginning or end of days, replenish us with heavenly grace at the beginning of this conference year, that we may be enabled to accept its duties, perform its labors, welcome all its mercies, meet all its trials, and advance through all it holds in store for us, with cheerful courage and a constant mind.
O God, let us not be separated from you, either by joy or sorrow, or any sin or weakness of our own, but have compassion upon us, forgive us, and keep us in the strong confidence of your eternal love in Jesus Christ. As you have called us to immortality through him, may we pass the residue of our years in the power of an endless life, and to your name be all the praise.