FAITH MATTERS: Give me this mountain!
By mandate of what I felt was clear direction from the Lord, at the relatively young age of 63 I turned over the church I had pastored for 27 years to my successor.
The page had already turned in the spiritual realm. My choice was to either go with it by letting go of what I had become accustomed to or dying in place. It was time to go, but not time to die! I felt at that time and still feel today that God is not done with me. It might be the fourth quarter, but this game isn’t over! I have many more plays to run. There are more people to serve, counsel and walk with through the sagas of life. There are more weddings and funerals to officiate, more divorces and bad decisions to help people avoid, more mission trips to embark upon, many more prayers to be prayed and many more lessons to be both learned and taught. There is still a legacy that is being cultivated in me and it will need to be planted, imparted and otherwise bestowed to others; no pulpit required.
I think I know what Caleb was sensing when he said at the ripe age of 85, “Give me this mountain!” He had conquered other mountains, accomplished other goals, and undoubtedly defeated many opponents over the course of his life. And yet at this juncture he was not looking back at any of those things. There wasn’t a rocking chair in sight. In essence he was taking the experience and wisdom gleaned through all that life had taught him, facing squarely forward and daring, in essence to ask the question, “What’s next?”
At the time of life when maintaining the status quo and continuing the old familiar, comfortable course seems to be the easiest path to take, God will nudge the “nudgeable” to take on some new, previously unexperienced things as new mountains to climb. Some will declare like the draft dodgers of the 1960s, “Hell no, I won’t go!” and ultimately have to be carried out. That’s not what Abram said when God told him to “Come up from here to a place I will show you!” It was more like, “Heaven yes, I’m on my way!” As vague as the command was, it was enough for Abram to pack up and go. I want to be like old Abe, ready to go at the command of the Lord. People won’t understand. That’s OK. People will write you off because you have not fulfilled their expectations. That’s OK, too. People who love you will eagerly show you to the door. It’s OK, just leave graciously knowing that every exit is an entrance to something else.
All I know is that if I really expect to receive the “crown of glory that does not fade” (1 Peter 5:4), often called the “pastor’s crown,” I will need to finish strong. The operative word is “finish.” As long as I have my health and a sound mind, I know that I am not finished! When the term crown is used in the New Testament it’s not typically referring to a royal diadem or kingly crown that is laden with jewels and signifies power and authority. No, it’s referring to an athletic crown, a wreath of sorts that was placed on the head of those who had finished their event (usually a race) victoriously. If I truly want Christ to lay such a crown upon my brow someday, I’ve got to “refire” rather than retire at this juncture of my life’s journey.
“Give me this mountain!” cried Caleb! It sounds like the brash demand of a spoiled child. It wasn’t. It was the faith declaration of someone who had grown accustomed to God who over many years, tests, trails and circumstances had always proven himself faithful to His promises! Yes, Lord! My heart says yes!
What’s next? I’m ready to climb. How about you? In order to answer that question it is clear that faith matters.
The Rev. Todd Foster is pastor emeritus of the Church on the Rock-New Haven.