Pastors and church staff members are facing a dynamic shift on the landscape of ministry as many members have lost jobs or felt a financial hit and are looking to the local church for counsel. How can Christians connect the dots when things do not go as planned? Avery T. Willis says nature gives us a strong clue.
Willis and his grandson Matt have co-authored a soon-to-be-released book from NavPress titled “Learning to Soar,” presenting a compelling perspective on how God works through unplanned events and trials.
The Bible uses the metaphor of the eagle 25 times in the Old and New Testaments to help illustrate God’s ways, Willis observed. He cited the first instance when God led the people of Israel out of bondage and told them, “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself,” quoting Exodus 19:4.
Willis’ own life has been a series of transitions through which God redirected his ministry. First as a pastor of two Texas churches, then as a Southern Baptist-appointed missionary and president of an overseas seminary in Indonesia, Willis returned to the U.S. to develop adult discipleship for the next 15 years before serving as senior vice president for overseas operations of the International Mission Board from 1993-2004.
He’s no longer surprised by life’s storms. In fact, he says unplanned trials are inevitable and a vital part of a Christian’s living testimony before others.
“When the storms rage, it is then that you can model the peace of Christ,” Willis writes.
These storms, according to Willis, allow God to propel a ministry into new directions and present an opportunity for growth. An abundant life, he says, is not dependent on circumstances or well-worked plans.
“The eagle’s story is woven throughout the story of Israel and is found most explicitly in Deuteronomy 32:11-12,” he notes. “Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that hovers over its young, He spread His wings and caught them, He carried them on His pinions. The LORD alone guided him, and there was no foreign god with him.”
“There is a reason the writers of the Old Testament used eagles in their metaphors,” Willis says. “Magnificent and fierce, these large birds were a symbol of strength and boldness and an inspiration to the prophets who watched them from below. If you understand and apply the stories of eagles and the Israelites to your own life, you will gain new insight into God’s ways.”
Willis did extensive research on the eagle in order to convey the parallel with God’s ability to teach us?and even bless us?through seasons of personal struggle.
“People may wonder whether their difficulties are caused by unfortunate circumstances, Satan, or even their own incompetence. But have you considered that God often brings difficult circumstances into our lives in order to prompt us away from complacency and a spiritual plateau?”
It is through understanding the ways God works?the underlying principles he has used throughout history?that we can make sense of a job loss, tragic death, economic challenge, or ministry shift, Willis writes.
“God’s ways have not changed since He clarified them in the Bible. And He wants to help you better understand His ways so that you will not only walk with Him but also soar with Him on wings like eagles,” he writes, alluding to Isaiah 40:31.
In order to propel eaglets to try their wings, the mother eagle tears away the comfortable layers of the nest, stirring the nest, exposing sharp sticks and edges of stones, he continued. It is the feeling of discomfort that draws the eaglets to leave the nest. In this same way, Willis explains, God moves us to greater stages of ministry. He refers to this as God “stirring the nest” in the life of a Christian. This “stirring” process is where many people have found themselves in recent days of economic uncertainty.