Traveling a Rough Road

by Gary & Jared Johnson

All of us have driven on rough roads from time to time.  Whether the road was poorly constructed, hadn’t been maintained in a long time, or a detour took us onto some rough pavement, every mile was difficult.  We quickly wanted to get back on smooth pavement so that we could move along at a good clip.

As elders, we may feel that way about life in the present.  Soon into the new year, we discovered 2020 to be one of the roughest roads of life on which we have traveled.  A new and deadly virus began sweeping the globe, and before that crisis had passed we found ourselves surrounded by protests, sweeping across our country, against systemic racism.  Like it or not, we find ourselves on a rough road and we are going to be traveling on this route for a while.  Since a quick transition to smooth pavement is “miles” off into the future, elders need to provide practical help and genuine hope to the local church they serve.  How can we do just that?

Practical Help

First and foremost, pray.  When we hit a baseball, we always run to first base; and life is no different.  With the dawn of every day, always run to God.  Life in America is indescribably broken and as elders, we must pray.  Pray bold prayers.  In the full hearing of the people, Joshua prayed aloud, boldly, for the sun and moon to stand still – and the earth stopped turning (Josh. 10:12)!

Not only should we pray for God’s healing from COVID-19, but also from the deadly disease of racism.  Specifically, we must pray prayers of repentance on behalf of the church we lead.  As a God-follower, Nehemiah recognized the deplorable state of God’s people: “When I heard [about Jerusalem’s trouble], I sat down and wept.  In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven.”  (Neh. 1:4).  From exile, the prophet Daniel did the same: “O Lord, you are a great and awesome God!  You always fulfill your covenant and keep your promises of unfailing love to those who love you and obey your commands.  But we have sinned and done wrong…” (Dan. 9:4-5).  Individual repentance for corporate wrong is entirely warranted in the face of such pervasive, society-wide sin.  The text is clear: when society is broken and sinful, we all own it.

Second, we need to act on those prayers.  Paul preached that we “must repent of [our] sins and turn to God – and prove [we] have changed by the good things [we] do” (Acts 26:20); and as elders, we must lead by example (1 Cor. 11:1).  In a time of so much tension, when people have already experienced great loss due to COVID, elders must provide compassion-driven kindness and outrageous generosity.  Greek-speaking widows – an ethnic group – “were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food” (Acts 6:1-7).  When they were threatened by starvation and this problem was brought to the attention of the apostles, they took initiative, acted immediately, and solved the problem.

After centuries of racial inequality, elders must take the initiative and be intentional peacemakers in times of conflict.

  • Paul took the initiative to begin healing the broken relationship between Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2).
  • Barnabas encouraged, comforted, and mentored young John Mark when Paul had rejected him as a part of the ministry team (Acts 15:39).
  • Paul took the initiative to heal the relationship between Onesimus and Philemon (Phlm. vv 10-20).

Paul told the Corinthian Christians outright that when a small part of the body suffers, we are all suffering with it (1 Cor 12:26), and in those moments, “we weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15).  When were we last driven to literal tears by someone else’s pain – COVID, racism, or otherwise?  Look for opportunities to lead the local church, proactively, both individually and corporately, by example.  Later in Nehemiah’s story, public, corporate repentance played a major role (chapters 9-10).  The practical help you, as an elder, can offer will strengthen your brothers and sisters to stay the course when the road of life is difficult and rough.

Genuine Hope

As elders, we not only provide practical help, but we point people to God, who provides us with genuine hope.  First and foremost, “the LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed” (Ps. 34:18) in these difficult days.  God’s presence is real.  It’s His nature to be with His people – from the opening pages of Scripture when He walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:8) to the closing pages of Revelation when God makes His dwelling with us on the new earth (Rev. 21:3).

While on this rough road, it is essential that we grieve; something that we as Americans do not do well.  Our culture likes to “move on.”  COVID has caused many people much loss: jobs, retirements, graduations, weddings, and lives.  Centuries of racism has caused much loss: lives, human dignity and worth, equal opportunities, freedom from fear, livelihoods and more.  We must grieve our losses.  We must sit in lament because in those moments God’s presence is felt and known.  He is faithful and will never leave us or forsake us.  God promised to be with us in times of trouble; rescuing, protecting, and delivering us in those moments (Ps. 91:14-16).

We can also experience genuine hope in God’s power.  With Israel’s impending destruction by Babylon, Isaiah reminded the people of God of His hope-filled power.  The prophet reminds us that God does not grow tired or weary, that He gives strength to the weary.  When we anchor our hope in the Lord, He renews our strength to press on from day-to-day (Isaiah 40:28-31).

As elders, let’s keep “our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.  Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame.  Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.  Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up” (Heb. 12:2-3).

When the road we are on becomes a detour of rough pavement, we are tempted to use Google Maps to find an alternate route – one with smooth pavement.  Though the road of life on which we find ourselves now is more than difficult, stay on it.  God has a purpose for us.  By His grace, serve the church, leading her over this rough road in a God-honoring way.

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