We all have experienced waiting. We are placed on hold when we make phone calls. We wait for trains, planes, buses, doctors’ visits, the birth of a child, the arrival of guests, and many other things. Much of our waiting is done with the assurance that what we are waiting for is sure to happen, even if there are slight delays. We eagerly anticipate what we wait for.
As Adventists we live, preach, and teach the Advent hope of Jesus’ return. We encourage each other with Jesus’ exhortations to wait in readiness because we trust His Word (Matt. 24:36, 44). He entreats His followers to wait faithfully and peacefully (verses 45-51). He further challenges us to prepare ourselves to fuel up so we can shine while we wait (Matt. 25:1-13). Jesus urges us to multiply the resources that God places in our hands (verses 14-30) and invest ourselves in care for the needs of “the least of these” (verses 31-45), just as He did while on earth.
During this cosmic anticipation of Jesus’ second coming, we experience different kinds of waiting. Life is filled with uncertainty and worries about the future. A mindset in dealing with things that remain outside our control is key to coping with life’s uncertainties. Uncertainty is all around us, never more so than today. Whether it concerns a global pandemic, the economy, or our finances, health, and relationships, much of what lies ahead in our daily life remains uncertain. In our quest for security we want to feel safe and have a sense of control over our lives and well-being. Fear and uncertainty can leave us feeling stressed, anxious, and powerless over the direction of our lives. It can drain us emotionally and trap us in a downward spiral of endless “what ifs” and worst-case scenarios.
We’re all different in how much uncertainty we can tolerate in life. Some people seem to enjoy taking risks and living unpredictable lives, while others find the randomness of life deeply distressing. But all of us have a limit. If we feel overwhelmed by uncertainty and worry, it’s important to know that we are not alone. And no matter how helpless and hopeless we feel, there are concepts that we can incorporate into our thinking to deal with our circumstances, alleviate our anxiety, and face the unknown with more confidence.
God has provided us with precious promises in His Word. As we wait in times of uncertainty we are called to lift our eyes beyond ourselves to the One who longs to give us His strength and provide us with what we need to keep hope alive. “Ask, and it will be given to you,” Jesus invites us. “Seek, and you will find; knock, and [the door] will be opened to you” (Matt. 7:7, 8). This asking calls us to faith (cf. Mark 11:24). Believing that what God offers in His promises is real results in gratitude and calls for an expression of thanksgiving.
Waiting in the context of uncertainty can often lead to “paralysis of analysis.” We rehearse every little hint that might lead to a revelation of why things are happening and get trapped into focusing on the problem. This may lead us away from a healthier focus on envisioning new possibilities, new directions, which God wants to open for us.
Jesus’ encounter with the paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-14) offers us a good example. The man had been an invalid for 38 years, waiting for a long time to be the first to get into the water when it stirred. Jesus asked him, “Do you want to get well?” Instead of answering the question, the man tells Jesus that others always get into the water before him. The man should have simply answered, “Yes!” but he was suffering from a condition that many of us have while we wait amid uncertainty. He suffered from a spirit of victimization. It’s easy to view ourselves as victims of circumstance or consequence. When we see ourselves as victims, we lose sight of the victorious life that God longs to give us (2 Cor. 4:8-18).
While waiting in times of uncertainty, we can fall into the trap of spending our time and energy on finding something or someone to blame for our circumstances. We search for real or imagined data that will explain who, what, when, where, and how this has all happened. This may help to clarify some lessons to be learned from the past, but getting stuck playing the blame game impedes our ability to simply acknowledge where we are and creatively look beyond our circumstances to doors that God is opening to lead us beyond our current state.
In our moments of waiting, we can remember Ellen White’s counsel: “In reviewing our past history, having traveled over every step of advance to our present standing, I can say, Praise God! As I see what the Lord has wrought, I am filled with astonishment, and with confidence in Christ as leader. We have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history.”* As we remember God’s past leading, we suddenly can see beyond the tunnel of uncertainty and recognize God’s ever-present care for us.
Waiting can become more emotionally intense when we face anticipated loss. Its context can include the anticipated loss of a job, or the changing roles and identity that accompanies retirement, or the blow resulting from divorce proceedings, or the sudden diagnosis of a debilitating or fatal illness, or the imminent loss of a loved one. Regardless of the context, we are left in a whirlwind of unanswered questions, imagined outcomes, multiplicity of suggested solutions, disorientation, disbelief, anger, aloneness, and intensifying grief.
To cope with all this uncertainty, many of us worry. Worrying can make us feel like we have some control over uncertain circumstances. We may believe that it will help us find a solution to our problems or prepare us for the worst. Maybe if we just agonize over a problem long enough, just think through every possibility, or read every opinion online, we’ll find a solution and be able to control the outcome. Unfortunately, none of this works. Chronic worrying can’t give us more control over uncontrollable events; it just robs us of enjoyment in the present, saps our energy, and keeps us up at night. But there are healthier ways to cope with uncertainty—and that begins with adjusting our mindset.
Loss of control or comfort are a natural and unavoidable part of life. Very little about our lives is constant or totally certain, and while we have control over many things, we can’t control everything that happens to us. As Christians we worship a God who has promised to accompany us through uncertain paths (see Deut. 31:8 and Matt. 28:18-20). Whether confronted by anticipated or unanticipated loss while we wait, remember with the apostle Paul that the path forward is made bearable by the fact that regardless of the seemingly unbearable circumstances that we are in, “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17, NIV).
* Ellen G. White, Life Sketches of Ellen G. White (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1915), p. 196.
Cities are different and diverse. From Aachen to Zanzibar, cities encompass human habitations that differ substantially from one another and have a great deal of internal social variety. Cities vary in size, population structure, economic and industrial specialization, forms of governance, as well as habitation and transportation structure. Given these many varying factors, we can reasonably ask: What shared urban characteristics will help us understand them and minister effectively in the city?
First, a city is by definition a dense concentration of human inhabitants in a limited space. Human beings have material needs that must be satisfied daily: fresh water, food, shelter, clothing, and fuel. They must have developed logistical systems for supplying residents with food, clean water, sanitation, and other basic necessities.
A second feature is the need for manufacturing and income production. This implies a social organization that supports employment and occupations. This suggests that cities must possess some organized system of transportation.
Third, cities are likely to bear the signature of the social inequalities of wealth and power that are interwoven in their histories.
Fourth, cities require formal systems of governance and law. Cities are too large and complex to function as informal arrangements. Instead, there need to be ordinances for public health and safety, maintenance of public facilities, land use processes, and rules of public safety.
Finally, all cities are made up of a multiplicity of neighborhoods or subvillages that are distinctive from each other. Sociologists, anthropologists, and urban specialists have a field day observing how urban neighborhoods develop, change, grow, split, and restructure themselves over time. In any of the multiple subvillages/neighborhoods of any major city we may find people with a variety of ethnicities, worldviews, and religious identities who coexist in a limited space. Given the nature of urban neighborhoods, we Seventh-day Adventists are called to grow disciples for Christ in the climates and soils of these neighborhoods.
Jesus often used farming terminology when speaking of winning individuals for the kingdom. In His parable of the soils He referred to seed that falls on the trodden path, seed that falls on rocky places lacking depth of soil, seed that falls among thorns, and seed that falls on good soil (Matt. 13). I believe that Jesus’ intention was to make us aware of the fact that as good farmers we need to do everything possible to prepare soil for the planting of the seed so that the harvest, by God’s grace, will be plentiful.
If we follow Jesus’ farming metaphor, we come to the conclusion that gospel farming (or evangelism) is not an event but a process. Kim Johnson illustrates this well in the following parable: “Imagine a farmer who owns 500 acres of fertile land and employs 100 farmhands. His large, well-kept barn contains various pieces of seldom-used farming equipment. Corn is their preferred crop, but farm workers rarely plow, weed, or plant. They hardly ever water or fertilize. In fact, very little farming at all is done during the year—until fall. It is then that the gleaming reaper is cranked up and put into service.
"High up in the cab the farmer steers toward the intended field while the farmhands applaud vigorously. The farmer motors back and forth over the cropless ground. A few wind-borne seeds from other farms that landed on his acreage months ago have sprouted into an occasional stalk. The large reaper scoops these up and deposits them in the bin. Back at the barn the farmer pulls eight ears of corn out of the reaper and shows them to the workers. Together they rejoice over another excellent harvest. Tragically, this farmer sees farming as an annual event rather than a yearlong process.”1
If you read through a farming guide such as The Farmer’s Almanac, you discover that certain essential tasks must be done to prepare for the farming season. Three are particularly important: 1. Test the soil. Each kind of crop requires that the soil have ingredients that best nourish the intended crop. 2. Consider whether the climate is beneficial for the growth of the intended crop (palm trees don’t grow at the North Pole). 3. Understand the length of the growing season and the various stages of growth of that particular crop, so that you can schedule the stages of nurture that are necessary, such as pruning, creating support for vines or fragile young trees, or correctly anticipating the ripening process.
Our gospel farming work in city neighborhoods is like working in a botanical garden. Botanical gardens are known for collecting, cultivating, and displaying a wide range of plants from different environments around the world. This is often done by creating climate-controlled exhibits or pavilions favorable to the plant species that are being nurtured and studied.
Let’s imagine that these different plant species, along with the environments that best nurture each, are people groups in the neighborhood (botanical garden) of your church or ministry. Consider that each of these people groups presents a challenge to prepare a different ministry approach (farming plan) to nurture and grow disciples for Christ.
In the microcosm of your botanical garden neighborhood we have pavilions best suited for growing different crops in their particular climate conditions and growing seasons. Radishes have a 33-day growing season. Most varieties of lettuce have a growing season of 45 to 75 days. Dwarf apple trees will produce firstfruits in three to four years from seedling transplantation. Coconut palm trees, given proper care and growing conditions, produce their firstfruits in six to 10 years, taking 15 to 20 years to reach peak production. Black walnut trees produce their best nuts after 35 years.
Let’s face it: we all want a harvest. We all must invest ourselves in Christ’s plan to have this gospel of the kingdom preached in all the world in anticipation of the second coming of Christ (Matt. 24:14). This everlasting gospel must still go out into all the world (Rev. 14:6), including the nooks and crannies of our neighborhoods. We must plan to reach all the pavilions and fields of our proverbial botanical garden.
But too many of us face a huge temptation to satisfy our craving for harvest by limiting our farming to the fast-growing—fast-ripening—radish and lettuce fields. We often set our corporate farming practices to harvests with the shortest growing season. But perhaps we need to pay close attention to the fact that in the same neighborhood we have the privilege of nurturing apple trees, coconut palm trees, walnut trees, and other crops that require a different climate—different nurture plans and different growing seasons.
So here’s the thing: A good ministry plan (harvest plan) must start with an assessment of the proverbial soil, climate, and necessary best practices to reach each of the different people groups in your neighborhood. The Seventh-day Adventist Church, through its various departments, has a huge variety of resource materials for meeting people groups that you may find difficult to reach. Most important, develop a passion to reach those who seem out of your reach. Don’t rest satisfied that you have reached those most like you, the easiest to reach. Remember: “As the will of man cooperates with the will of God, it becomes omnipotent. Whatever is to be done at His command may be accomplished in His strength. All His biddings are enablings.”2
Gaspar F. Colón, a lifelong pastor, educator, and administrator of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in many regions around the world, serves as mission integration coordinator for Adventist Review.