THE GAP YEARS
The stories of other people's lives are told using their highlights. The biographies in the Bible are no different. We read the stories of great people in their highs and lows and swept along with the pace of their lives. That's how good story-telling works. But it's not how life works. 'Moments' shape our lives but the gaps between the moments determine how we will be shaped.
¶ So Abram went, as the LORD had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.Gen. 12:4
What you do when you're doing nothing will have a large bearing on what you do when you have to do something. These 'life-gaps', those parts of our stories that are too uneventful to include in the telling of our stories, are perhaps the most important parts of our lives. These are the moments when we are in routine mode. They're not spectacular. They would bore our readers if we wrote their details down. And we often refer to them as "nothing" (Q: What did you do today? A: "Nothing"). Oh how wrong we are!
Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram.
¶ When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, "I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless"
Genesis 16:16; 17:1
It's easy to live for the big moments and feel that life is empty when "nothing" is happening. Moments are exciting. Even crisis moments provide a certain kind of attention that we occasionally revel in. But 'everyday', 'mundane', 'ordinary' and 'usual' are considered to be of little to no value in the overall story. Abram was seventy-five, then eighty-six, then he was ninety-nine. Three significant moments happened at each of those ages. But what happened in between?
What are your moments? Perhaps for Winston Churchill it was April 25th 1915? His disastrous handling of the Allied War effort in the First World War saw him demoted and devastated. He then reemerges in 1939. From the ending of World War I in 1918 to his appointment as Prime Minister at the commencement of World War II, is an 'Abrahamic' eleven year gap. When war with Germany breaks out though, those eleven 'gap' years have transformed the beleaguered former Minister Of War into the victorious Commander in Chief of the Allied Forces. 'Gap years' may look as if nothing is happening. As we descend into the depth of one of the coldest Winters Tasmania has ever experieced, we are again lulled into thinking that Winters are like Gap years. But we would be mistaken. What is necessary for a fruitful Spring and a lush Summer, happens in Winter. What is necessary for you to handle life's 'moments' happens in the gap years of your life.
¶ Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days.
Leadership guru, John Maxwell, famously says that he could tell what a person will be like in a decade by just spending a day with them. He says that it's the little daily habits, decisions, priorities, use of time, which reveal where a person is going with their life, and ultimately where they will be in a decade. I'm not as adept as Mr Maxwell, but I have noticed that people who are in their gap years who are "Waiting for the time to..." rarely find such bonus time. Whereas I have noticed that people who understand that gap years are golden years, talk about "Making time for..." I have learned much from people who view gap-years as golden years.
¶ Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me.
Have you ever considered the gaps in the story of Jesus' life? We are introduced to Him at birth. We see Him again briefly when He is twelve. Then we get to know Him from the age of thirty. There's two big gaps in the story of Christ's life. But those gap years must have been important because God doesn't waste anything. God ordained that His Son's thirty-three years of incarnation required thirty (gap) years to maximise His three years of ministry! Time spent alone is not wasted time. Time spent in prayer is not wasted time. Time spent reading God's Word is not wasted time. Serving others is not wasted time.
Gap years can be golden years. Time spent in these routine, mundane, everyday non-moments help to shape our character and resource us to deal with the big moments that are not always welcomed. Mike and Julie were interrupted a few months ago with a moment of bad news. I spoke recently with Mike about a course in Apologetics he had commenced with Biola just prior to receiving their news of Julie's cancer. We marvelled together how much of the course had intellectually and emotionally helped him to handle this most difficult moment. Last week I spoke briefly with Craig and Louise about their same news. Their gap years, where they sowed the Word of God into their lives, planted themselves in a church, and served others, is going to pay dividends at this difficult moment.
You might be dealing with a 'moment' now. However, you are probably in a 'gap' year. I guarantee you - what you do now in this season of uneventfulness will determine how well you deal with your 'moments'. Today, I dealt with someone who went to church for all their life without ever managing their 'gap' years at all well (they hadn't been discipled, they hadn't learned to seek God in prayer and Scripture). They were then rocked by a series of moments: his marriage failed; his parents' marriage failed and his father remarried some objectionable woman; his employee made him redundant - and he clenched his fist toward the sky and shook his fist at God for letting him down so severely. After hearing his story, I am again stirred that some people waste their gap years. This is why each Sunday I preach to improve people's gaps. It's why each week I write this pastoral gap-filler. It's why I use my gap time to produce teaching videos, and small-group Bible studies for download. I hope you recognise these days ofyour gap years and began to make time for what's important so that unwelcomed moments don't cause you to shake your empty fist at God. Rather, when horrible or joyous moments inevitably come your way, your open hand lifts in worship and thankfulness to God.