Beliefnet
Mark D. Roberts

Part 4 of series: Grace in the Rearview Mirror: A Pastoral Retrospective
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Every time I sit back and begin to reflect on my last sixteen years of ministry at Irvine Presbyterian Church, I am flooded with gratitude.
At first my mind is filled with images of people, people who have been my colleagues, friends, brothers, sisters, fellow-laborers, and prayer partners. I think of those who have been consistently faithful as encouragers. I remember those who have opened their hearts to me as they have struggled with hard things, and then who have shared their joy in subsequent times of blessing. And so it goes, on and on.
You may have noticed that I started my list of people for whom I am grateful with “colleagues.” Pastoring can be a lonely business, not to mention a tiring one. But God gave me some wonderful co-workers: associate pastors and others on my staff who labored side-by-side with me, prayed with me, forgave me when I was short with them, defended me when I was criticized, dreamed with me about God’s future for our church, and shared with me in long hours of service. My staff and I have laughed together and wept together. We’ve shared, not just ministry, but life. One of the things I will miss most when I leave Irvine Presbyterian Church is the friendship of my staff colleagues. (Photo to the right: one of the entrances to the patio of Irvine Presbyterian Church.)
I am grateful for so many things God has done in this church during the last sixteen years. Some are obvious, like new buildings or new ministries. Most of God’s works have been less obvious, having to do with people’s souls. I have seen God do amazing things.
Let me cite just one example. Several years ago a young woman made an appointment to see me. Carolyn was a brilliant graduate student at the University of California, Irvine, on the way to finishing her Ph.D. in Chemistry. As I soon learned, she was also Jewish. Why was she meeting with a Christian pastor? Because Carolyn was interested in Christianity, and had “a few questions.” A few! She brought in a list of the twelve toughest questions about Christian faith, from “Why does God allow suffering?” to “Why is Jesus the only way of salvation?” As Carolyn asked me her questions, and as I tried to offer some reasonably coherent answers, I felt discouraged. “Here is this bright young woman,” I thought, “a Jewish grad student in science, and there’s no way I can begin to satisfy her concerning so many tough issues.” I felt terribly inadequate, rather like a failure as a pastor.
At the end of our meeting Carolyn allowed me to pray for her, and I promised to keep doing it. Sometimes I would see her in the congregation while I preached, and I would offer a silent prayer that God would make Himself known to Carolyn. But I knew the odds of a Jewish grad student in Chemistry becoming a Christian weren’t high, at least from a human perspective. So my prayer wasn’t exactly bursting with faith, I have to confess.
About a year after our first meeting, I had the incredible privilege of baptizing Carolyn as she made her public profession of faith in Christ. In that moment I felt overwhelmed by God’s grace to Carolyn and, in some small measure, to me. What a joy it was to have been a part of her journey to faith!
I couldn’t even begin to count the number of times I have experienced God’s grace in my ministry. I’ve already written about that. Each time I sense God’s kindness, I felt a huge measure of gratitude. And as I look back at my ministry in a rear view mirror, my gratitude mounts up even higher.

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