Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (ESV) 1 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 2 a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 3 a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 5 a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 6 a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; 7 a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 8 a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.
If there is one thing that I have learned about life it is that it has an ebb and flow. Ebb and flow defined means: “A decline and increase, constant fluctuations. For example, He was fascinated by the ebb and flow of the Church’s influence over the centuries. This expression alludes to the inward and outward movement of ocean tides.”
There are constant fluctuations with declines and increases. We can see this in our relationships, our ministries, our jobs, our church experiences, our health you name it and it seems to have an ebb and flow. Ecclesiastes says it best there seems to be a time and purpose for everything under heaven. Learning to accept that and go with the ebb and flow of life can prevent undo stress and anxiety. Understanding the sovereignty of God can help us to use the ebb and flow of life to our advantage.
Learning to grow even during a decline and flourish during an increase comes when we live in God’s grace understanding that no matter where we find ourselves within the ebb and flow of life God is there, God is working, and God is sovereign. If we are not careful we can focus so much on the negative within the ebb and flow we miss all that is positive. We are in danger of focusing on the dying, plucking, breaking down, weeping, mourning, casting away, refraining from embracing, losing, tearing, silence, hating and warring which only leads us deeper and deeper into decline fearing we will never increase.
We must learn to embrace the ebb and flow yet stay focused on the birthing, planting, healing, building up, laughing, dancing, gathering, embracing, seeking, keeping, sewing, speaking, loving and peace making. It is there that we feel and experience the true depth of the increase afforded to us preparing us for the natural ebb and flow of life. In turn it helps us to deal with the declines by focusing on the future increases and the lessons learned within the declines about ourselves, our lives, our church and our callings.
Here is an example. In the business of church planting, church growth movement and pastoring the measure of success for so many is nickles, numbers and noses. There is an ebb and flow in every one of those categories. Success cannot be defined by nickles, numbers and noses it must be defined by knowing and doing the will of God for our lives. The ebb and flow of nickles, numbers and noses can destroy a church planter, pastor and church. When nickles, numbers and noses are in decline the pastor, church planter can fall into a deep dark depression feeling like a failure. Then when the ebb and flow changes and the increase in nickles, numbers and noses comes the pastor, church planter feels like the cream of the crop. This is not a healthy ebb and flow. The healthy measurement for ministry and church planting is knowing and doing the will of God which also has an ebb and flow. Hopefully it is more increase than decline.
The question isn’t nickles, numbers and noses the question is are we and have we discovered the will of God for our lives and the church and are we closer than we were a year ago, a month ago, a week ago or today. When the ebb and flow of nickles, numbers and noses outweighs the ebb and flow of knowing and doing the will of God for our lives and the churches we lead we are in danger of falling into a deep decline and seeing the increases become few and far between. The tide stays out longer and the whole eco-system of the church and the city God has called us to is affected. Ebb and flow is natural accept it, learn to thrive within it and to be thankful for what God has provided during both the ebb and the flow.
This is true in all of life no matter what God has called you to. When the ebb and flow of our life’s work outweighs the ebb and flow of knowing and doing the will of God for our lives successes become few and far between and declines seem to stay longer and take more than we were willing to give. There is a natural ebb and flow to all of life learning to measure that ebb and flow according to knowing and doing the will of God for our lives makes dealing with the natural ebb and flow of life much more bearable and doable.
As I sit in my office today we have had two weekends in a row where the attendance has been unusually low at COAH. (One due to a tropical storm) Numbers that I haven’t seen in two years since we first opened the church. For two solid years we grew and grew and grew monthly increasing our daily average attendance. Honestly, at first it bothered me. Not because of numbers and noses but because so many are not getting the discipleship through the Gospel that they desperately need to sustain them during the ebb and flow of life. It bothered me because I thought maybe I had done something wrong to keep them away. It bothered me because people said it would happen and I chose to ignore their reports.
But then I stepped back and looked at it from the proper perspective of knowing and doing the will of God for our lives. I am not bothered anymore. Why? I know that I know that we know and are doing God’s will in our city. We are seeing the lost found, wanderers come home, disciples being made, disciples making disciples, missionaries are being sent. We are seeing the fruit of a church deep and rich in faith. I am glad we measure success by knowing and doing the will of God and not nickles, numbers and noses. Besides the nickles, numbers and noses conflict for while the noses and haven’t been there the nickles have been above average to the glory of God. What does that tell me? Ebb and flow is happening within the church. People are knowing and doing the will of God for their lives and are growing in their faith and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ which is expressed in their lifestyle. What else does that tell me? Never measure success by the ebb and flow of nickles, numbers and noses! Measure success by knowing and doing the will of God for your life.
So I sit here today fully embracing the ebb and flow of knowing and doing the will of God for COAH and my life. I sit here today fully embracing the ebb and flow of church attendance in the summer time. I sit here today fully embracing the ebb and flow of my life and the struggles I find myself in daily. I sit here today ebbing in some areas and flowing in others all to the glory of God. I sit here today measuring my life’s ebb and flow according to knowing and doing the will of God for my life focused on the future and ready to embrace both the times of decline and the times of increase all the while trusting in God’s ever sufficient grace to sustain me. I pray the same for you today. Whether you are ebbing or flowing know that God loves you! Seek to know God’s perfect and pleasing will for your life and whether you ebb or flow you’ll be doing alright in both by God’s grace:) Both ebb and flow are necessary to grow just be sure you know which ebb and flow to focus your attention on. Be encouraged!