by Mike Ratliff
The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” f(Luke 10:17-20 ESV)
There was a period back in the late 1990’s in which I found myself in a spiritual desert. In late 1991 I was elected as chairman of the Deacons at our church in the Oklahoma City area. However, just a few weeks later we lost our pastor and associate pastor. For most of 1992 we had no pastor. We had men come in to fill the pulpit during that time, but that is not the same thing as having a pastor. I and the other Deacon officers did much of the administration work and decision making and ministry to the body. Just a few weeks after this started I was informed by the company I worked for that they were laying off nearly everyone and I was not one of those they were going to keep.
I was unemployed for about 60 days, but during the day when I wasn’t interviewing somewhere, I was at the church office handling something. I actually had time to help the secretaries with the network and the software packages we ran. At almost the same time that I found a new job, we learned that the pastor search committee and our new pastor had agreed that he would come. During all of this I never quit teaching. I was even able to take some Precept training classes. My walk with God during this period was one of me keeping my eyes on my Lord and simply doing what was placed before me to do. It was a strange mixture of peace and joy combined with expectant anticipation of what was going to come up next.
That was early in the 1990’s. However, after our new Pastor started, he changed everything. He restructured the Church along the lines of Saddleback Valley Baptist Church and Willow Creek. He waited until I finished teaching my Precept class on Revelation then quietly killed the program. Out of the 15 or so members and teachers in Precept, my wife and I were the only ones who remained in the church after the first six months of him coming on board.
He also restructured all of the Sunday morning classes, giving all of the resources to the classes containing the target age group, which was about 15 years younger than ours. I believe I went through a period of clinical depression that was made even worse on April 19, 1995 when the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was bombed. I was in the blast zone. I became so angry that I could not contain it at times. When I tried to talk with my pastor about this he simply nodded his head and said he understood. He offered no help or advice. It was right after this that I was called by him and our associate pastor to meet them for dinner after work.
We met at an On the Border restaurant and during the meal they shared with me and another Deacon that they were in a lot of trouble and needed our help. I just stared at them. Our pastor told me that all of the older more mature believers in our church had left and they had been replaced with a lot of 20 and 30 year old baby Christians. He felt that they needed some mature leadership in that class and he asked me to teach it. I was certain that this was a suggestion from the associate Pastor who was one of our former Deacons. He and I had served shoulder to shoulder during that time I was Chairman. I agreed to do it. The first year went pretty well. I love teaching and I made a lot of new friends in that class.
Right after we started the second year I was called to meet with the Pastor and the staff. They informed me that my friend, the associate Pastor was going to take my place teaching the class. They offered me the class that was for my own age group. By this time my wife was getting pretty tired of working in the Children’s ministry and she offered to be my secretary. So the following Sunday I went from teaching 150 20 and 30 year old couples to less than a half a dozen 40 year old couples. After that first class I was met in the hallway by one of my former students from the younger class. He demanded to know why I had left and wanted me to come back. I just smiled and told him that it was not my decision.
My depression did not improve. The only high points I had during all of this was when I was preparing to teach and when I was dividing the Word of truth with my students. I really didn’t care how many I had in the class. In fact, the smaller class was a great deal more rewarding because of the interaction. Also, these were much more mature believers and so our discussions ran pretty deep. Then class would end and I would find myself back in the pit of despair on Monday when I went back to work.
I find it not a coincidence that I had stopped spending time in prayer and Bible reading each morning about the same time that our new Pastor came on board. I really can’t remember why I stopped, but I did and the result was a mostly prayerless Christian who was full of resentment and boiling anger.
We relocated to Tulsa in 2000 and the Kansas City area in 2001. In 2004 God drew me out of the desert. It took several months. By August I was in the Word or prayer or worship nearly all the time. Since then I have made it a vital part of each day to spend time in prayer and Bible reading and other devotions. It would be very easy to point to these things, compare them to how I was for all those dark, dry years and rejoice in how I am now. I write these posts for Possessing the Treasure and contribute to the Christian Research Network. I am amazed at times when God uses these ministries. However, I believe that the best times were those when I have been the closest with my Lord like when I was Chairman and we had no pastor and I was unemployed on top of that. It was a time of devotion and utter dependence on God for everything. Then there were those times since 2004 that God has used me in the battle for the truth.
However, we are not to rejoice in these things, but should focus on the miracle of our salvation and rejoice in that. (Luke 10:20) The best times I have had serving my Lord have been those helpless times when I could not teach or serve because I was in the pit of despair, but He would graciously use me anyway. I do not look back on that stuff that happened with the Purpose Driven Church model being implemented as an evil time. Instead, I see God working in it and through me and others because we were there and people needed the truth and ministry. Since 2004 I have been in a position where I could easily take credit for the things God is doing through me, but I know better. Things are different now and I hope I am more mature, but I must rejoice in the fact that my name is in the Book of Life instead of rejoicing in successful service or that God has used me. Why?
Beware of anything that competes with loyalty to Jesus Christ. The greatest competitor of devotion to Jesus is service for Him…The one aim of the call of God is the satisfaction of God, not a call to do something for Him. We are not sent to battle for God, but to be used by God in His battlings. – Oswald Chambers from My Utmost For His Highest – January 18.
Jesus Christ says, in effect, Don’t rejoice in successful serivce, but rejoice because you are rightly related to Me. The snare in Christian work is to rejoice in successful servce, to rejoice in the fact that God has used you. You never can measure what God will do through you if you are rightly related to Jesus Christ. Keep your relationship right with Him, then whatever circumstances you are in, whoever you meet day by day, He is pouring rivers of living water through you, and it is of His mercy that He does not let you know it. When once you are rightly related to God by salvation and sanctification, remember that wherever you are, you are put there by God; and by the reaction of your life on the circumstances around you, you will fulfil God’s purpose, as long as you keep in the light as God isn in the light. Oswald Chambers from My Utmost For His Highest – August 30.
My brethren, God is good! I am so grateful that He has taken me through the circumstances in my life. I have no idea how much He has actually used me and helped others through the living waters He pours through His servants, however, He does. My joy should be placed on the fact that I am His. My name is in the Book of Life! What a miracle that is! Let us walk in this joy my brethren and understand the He is sovereign.
Soli Deo Gloria!