Life is a lot more fun after you realize you are not indispensable. There is always someone who can do your job as well or better than you can.
I learned that early on as a pastor. Between Union Springs and Eufaula there is a small community named Midway, Alabama. With our small son Matt still in diapers my wife and I made an emotional departure before moving to Pensacola, Florida. In our final worship service we sang “God be with you till we meet again” and the tears flowed. I figured the little church could not possibly survive without my brilliant leadership. To my amazement the church did quite well without me. Amazingly, every church I served has managed to survive without my profound wisdom.
God has many ways to deflate a puffed up ego. Once I journeyed to Fairfax, Virginia, to preach a revival in a church there. My hosts urged me to bring along my wife, Dean. She would enjoy seeing the sights around the nation’s capital. After preaching one sermon, I collapsed early the next morning and was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. Instead of pontificating from the pulpit, I spent the next week recovering from a bleeding ulcer.
Dean stepped up to the plate and preached in the remaining four worship services. She did such a good job that the pastor said, “You really did our church a favor by getting sick; the people have loved Dean’s messages.”
That was not the last time Dean has filled in for me. One year I was scheduled to preach at a conference retreat. At the time we were struggling with very difficult problems involving our four sons. As the zero hour approached we agreed that I needed to be at home with the boys. Dean drove alone to the retreat center, on a dark and stormy night, and gave a powerful testimony. Once again our friends shared their joy that I had been detained so that Dean could take my place.
Once in my lifetime the bishop moved me from one church to another against my better judgment. Having vowed to “go where I was sent,” I had no choice in the matter. I thought the pastor who took my place would not do well. I was wrong; he did an excellent job. Once again I had to admit the church prospered without my brilliant leadership. By the grace of God I learned to “get over” my estimate of my own importance.
One January I was scheduled to speak at the annual conference Men’s Retreat (they actually call it “Advance” instead of retreat). I was excited about the theme, “Fathers and Sons,” since my son Tim and his son Joseph usually attend this retreat with me. Actually Tim and I were scheduled to share the platform. Our plan was that Tim would offer a brief testimony and I would bring the sermon.
When it developed that I was too sick with the flu to go anywhere, I asked Tim if he could take on the assignment by himself. There was a long pause. Then Tim said, “I will talk to the Lord about it and let you know.” A few hours later Tim called back. “Dad,” he said, “I believe the Lord has given me a message for the men, and I am willing to offer it.” My heart leaped with joy.
At the retreat Tim told the men, “I am not a preacher; I am a forester. I had been planning to share a brief ‘sermonette,’ then let Dad deliver the power punch. When Dad told me he could not go, I realized I had to find some meat and potatoes for my little talk. With the Lord’s help, I have put together a message that I hope God will use to bless us all.” He proceeded to deliver a message that was more powerful than anything I might have offered. The report of my friends confirmed this and my heart was melted by their response.
Like Jeremiah, Tim is a weeping preacher, though not a prophet. He cannot share five minutes without reaching for his handkerchief. By that time the people in the audience are reaching for a Kleenex of their own. Tim’s emotional response to the work of God in his heart is usually quite contagious.
When someone takes your place, you can react with resentment, anger, grief, or joy. I am convinced the only wise response is joy, even when that does not come easy. As I look back over my life, I remember that my reaction to being replaced was not always a joyful one. More than once I was resentful and angry toward others, and disappointed in my inability to be Superman on every occasion.
That I now regret. I finally realized that I need to celebrate my opportunity to be anywhere, anytime, no matter the brevity or length of my time there. Such an attitude opens the heart to joy. While no one is indispensable we can nevertheless enjoy our work while we have it, and learn to rejoice when someone else takes our place.
Choosing joy is a good idea because no one can rob you of it and it tastes much better than anger, grief or resentment. Our reactions can leave a bitter taste in our mouths. But by managing our attitudes, we can choose whether that taste is bitter or sweet. + + +