We Are Blind to God’s Plan for Our Lives

This past Monday, the pastors of our church spent the day in prayer at a nearby retreat center. Prior to the time in which we focused on praying for the leaders of the church, I read out loud the following portion from Encouragement for Today’s Pastors: Help from the Puritans. It is lengthy, I know, but I trust it will prove to be a help to you. Its encouragement is fitting for all believers, not only those who may be ‘ministers’ in the vocational sense.

After reminding their readers that we are called to share in Christ’s calling to be suffering servants, the authors write:

“God especially calls ministers to suffer for the good of others. When Christ took Paul captive to serve Him, He said, ‘He is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: for I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake’ (Acts 9:15-16). Paul and Timothy profess that if ‘we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation’ (2 Cor 1:6). A minister is never more effective for Christ than when he faithfully perseveres in the midst of great personal brokenness. For in this brokenness, as Sibbes said, you offer people a moving example, stir their minds to ask what keeps you faithful, provide public confirmation of the worthiness of Christ’s cause, and demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit in you. In short, you encourage all who have the same Spirit.

So do not let weakness and suffering bring you down. Your effectiveness has never depended on your own strength, so depend upon God to use you for His glory. The Lord loves His ministers. He decided from eternity past exactly how to work through us, even though we are often blind to how He is working in our circumstances. We can only be faithful to His Word.

Consider the experience of William Ames. Both of his parents died while he was young. Converted under the ministry of Perkins, Ames flourished as a teacher at Cambridge University. But after eight years of service, persecution against the Puritans forced Ames to leave Cambridge. Then the bishop of London forbad him to preach.

Ames went into exile in the Netherlands. For nine years he served as a military chaplain and preached to a small congregation. His wife died shortly after Ames married her in the Netherlands. He played a significant role in debates with the Arminians, particularly at the Synod of Dort. But his enemies in England managed to get him deposed from the chaplaincy. Then they blocked him from taking a promising position as a professor at Leiden University. Ames remarried and worked as a private lecturer and tutor to support his family.

God then opened a door for him to serve for eleven years as professor of theology at Franeker University. His work with students prospered, both in their theological training and spiritual growth. Once again, however, he found himself in the midst of controversy, this time with fellow professors. He also developed health problems. After accepting an invitation to help pastor a church in Rotterdam, Ames moved there, only to experience the flooding of his house. He caught pneumonia soon after that and died at the age of fifty-seven.

What a series of hardship and disappointments plagued Ames! Each time it looked like he might establish a foothold and make a difference in a church or school, he was forced to move. Yet he profoundly influenced the Reformed movement in the Netherlands, England, and especially New England, where his books became the standard texts of theological students and pastors for more than a century. Ames had no knowledge of how God would work through his efforts. Likewise, we are blind to God’s plan for our lives. But we can trust that He who works all things according to His will has predestined us to the praise of His glory.”

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