At the start of a new year, rather than thinking about resolutions and future thinking, I prefer to first mentally review the past year: What flourished, what struggled, what brought personal joy, and what were some soul challenges?
For me, that makes “predictive modeling” a bit easier.
When I stepped down from leading the church I had been a part of for nearly 30 years, it was a good time to do a similar reflective exercise, but at a much bigger scale. Because of the crazy growth we had experienced in certain seasons and doing multiple services each week (at one point we were holding seven identical services every weekend…plus a midweek!), I discovered that I had led in over four-thousand services over those years. I don’t recommend that, but one can certainly experience a lot of “ministry life” in that time from which to draw counsel.
For example, in a recent mentoring session, a young pastor wanted guidance on a challenging funeral he would be officiating. I had certainly done my share of funeral services. The question he knew would come up in his evangelical context would be about a family member who had died and had never expressed an interest in spiritual matters. They had even been antagonistic toward Christianity. Their life had not been particularly exemplary and the expected question would invariably reference heaven and hell. The fact that they had never cognizantly responded to Jesus and his offer of salvation was deeply concerning to the surviving family member.
The question would inevitably be expressed as: “Where is (insert name here) now?”
In similar situations, my honest response to a distraught person was:
“I can’t really answer that. The hidden work the Father does in someone’s soul is far deeper than I could ever guess. But I will say this: if I had to have my life judged for eternity, I would want to be judged by the One who is Perfect Love, perfectly righteous, perfectly merciful, and knows me perfectly. I would want to be judged by a God who would even give the life of His own Son to save a broken world. I would want that Judge…because I know ‘all his decisions are correct and fair’ (Psalm 19:9b CEV). We can rest in His justice and mercy.”
And I meant it. I wasn’t trying to wrangle out of some thorny theological issue.
I had long ago settled my thinking on mercy.
After all, I had deeply experienced it and was very, very grateful. But justice from an eternal perspective?—that’s a whole other issue and difficult to wrap your head around. But I came to see justice as a necessary counterpoint to mercy; I couldn’t have one without the other.
…“gain some wisdom from those who have lived a long time.” (Job 12:12 CEV)