Perhaps you heard about the arrogant actor who changed his name to “Exit” so it would be in lights all over the English-speaking world. But you may not have heard about the playwright and director who were discussing the male lead in the play they were producing.
“I like the fellow,” said the playwright. “He’s got a great voice and he’s good-looking, but there’s something wrong with his acting that I can’t pin down.”
“I agree,” said the producer, “and I know what the problem is. He’s great on entrances but he doesn’t know how to exit.“
“All the world’s a stage,” wrote William Shakespeare in As You Like It, “and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and entrances.” The Great Bard didn’t say this, but he might have added, “And each must know how to exit as well as how to enter.”
All of us need to pray, “Lord, teach me how to exit.”
When We’ve Enjoyed a Great Victory
Driving home from church with his wife, the pastor waited for her to compliment him on the sermon, but she didn’t say a word. Thinking he might prod her a bit, he said, “You know, there aren’t many great expositors these days.” She quietly replied, “No, and there’s one less than you think.”
What makes a message “work”? Who do some sermons hit the bullseye while others miss the mark? Some obvious essentials are prayer, serious tudy, time for meditation and organization, and a heart right with God and full of love for our people. But along with these essentials we must have the evident unction of the Spirit of God, and this is an element we can’t guarantee even though we have the others. There are those times–blessed times!–when everything comes together under the mighty hand of God and the preacher and congregation march into Canaan and claim the land. That is the gracious work of the Lord and only He can take the glory.
I think about the young man who was asked to preach at Free St. George’s Church in Edinburgh, where Alexander Whyte ministered for nearly fifty years. He walked confidently to the pulpit, head high and smiling. He read his text and looked at the congregation, and from that point on, the sermon evaporated. The young man stammered and stumbled and somehow managed to finish his message. He prayed briefly and walked slowly from the pulpit, all the while looking down at the floor. After the service, the minister lovingly said to him, “Son, if you had gone up the way you came down, you might have come down the way you went up.”
Very good counsel, and the lesson is clear: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (1 Peter 5:5-6; PRoverbs 3:34). When God graciously gives us a great victory, let’s be careful to step aside and let Him receive the glory. Learn how to exit.
Or maybe we’ve experienced a remarkable answer to prayer. A friend of mine was praying the pastoral prayer one Sunday morning and felt led to intercede especially for a little girl who was very ill in the hospital. Her parents were members of the church and were greatly concerned. The pastor and church family discovered later that at the very time they were praying, the girl took a turn for the better. The hospital staff pin-pointed the cause of her problem, and within a few days, the child was back home.
I don’t remember who first said it, but it’s true: “There’s no limit to what God will do for the person who lets Him have all the glory.”
When We Have Experienced a Seeming Defeat
You have been in a board meeting for three hours and the plans you’ve presented have been systematically and efficiently pounded into the carpet. Eventually the chairman prays and adjourns the meeting and the board members either cluster or leave. What do you do?
You can sit there and sulk, trusting somebody will sit down and sympathize with you. Or you can pretend to be busy with your notes of the meeting and hope somebody will be impressed. Or you can stand to your feet as though you had won every point and left the opposition in the dust. The important thing at the end of a board meeting is not that your officers approved all your ideas, but that your Lord approves the attitudes of your heart.
One of the neglected servants in the Bible is the prophet Samuel. In spite of his many years of faithful service to Israel, the people fired him! (1 Samuel 8-10) “We want a king!” was their plea. “We want to be like the other nations!” Does that sound familiar? Sometimes God’s greatest judgment of His people is when He gives them just exactly what they ask for!
How did Samuel exit? Graciously, with a clear conscience and, considering the foolishness of the laders, building the best bridges possible. He had never read Matthew 5:39-42, but Samuel prayed for the people who abused him (1 Samuel 12:23), and then he went home and started schools for training prophets! He prayed and taught the Word (Acts 6:4), and risked his life by encouraging young David. “Life, like war, is a series of mistakes,” said British preacher F. W. Robertson, “and he is not the best Christian nor the best general who makes the fewest false steps. He is the best who wins the most splendid victories by the retrieval of mistakes. Forget mistakes; organize victory out of mistakes” (Sermons, First Series, p. 66).
General Joshua did not wait on the Lord for wisdom but impetuously made a covenat to protect the Gibeonites (Joshua 9). Three days later he learned they were not strangers from a distance but neighbors living twenty-five miles away in Canaan, and that made a difference (Deuteronomy 20:10-18). What did he do? He admitted his mistakes and made them work for him! He put the Gibeonites to work doing menial but important tasks in the camp. Joshua and Samuel both knew how to exit positively.
When We Have Given Somebody a Job to Do
A local church is made up of people who are “God’s fellow workers” (1 Corinthians 3:9). As shepherds, we must lead the sheep, not drive them, because dictatorship is not leadership. One of the joys of ministry is being used of the Lord to help believers discover their spiritual gifts, develop them and dedicate them to God’s service. But there comes a time when we must quietly move aside and let our students go ahead on their own. The student pilot has to solo, the student preacher or teacher has to prepare and present the Bible lesson, with your prayers and without your help, the student musician must lead the congregation in worship.
It’s been my special joy to instruct ministers in the seminary classroom as well as to mentor them over the breakfast table, and at some point we have to “cut the cord.” The mentoring relationship is much more difficult because it’s voluntary, but it’s also much more rewarding because it’s more personal. I have daily prayed for these young men by name and resisted the temptation to interfere with their ministries. There are some lessons that have to be learned the hard way, and I try to be an encouragement when my mentorees crawl out from under the rubble and start looking for bandages.
“Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10) can be translated “Relax–take your hands off–enough! I am God.” We don’t have the right to “play God” in the lives of other people or in our own lives. We must take our hands off, step back and let God be God, in our lives and in theirs. We must learn how to exit.
Dr. Warren Wiersbe (1929-2019) was an internationally known Bible teacher, author, and conference speaker. He graduated in 1953 from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. While attending seminary, he was ordained as pastor of Central Baptist Church in 1951 and served until 1957. From September 1957 to 1961, Wiersbe served as Director of The Literature Division for Youth for Christ International. From 1961 to 1971 he pastored Calvary Baptist Church of Covington, Kentucky south of Cincinnati, Ohio. His sermons were broadcast as the “Calvary Hour” on a local Cincinnati radio station. From 1971 to 1978, He served as the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago 1971 to 1978. While at Moody Church he continued in radio ministry. Between August 1979 and March 1982, he wrote bi-weekly for Christianity Today as “Eutychus X”, taught practical theology classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and wrote the course material and taught a Doctor of Ministry course at Trinity and Dallas Seminary. In 1980 he transitioned to Back to the Bible radio broadcasting network where he worked until 1990. Dr. Wiersbe became Writer in Residence at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids and Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. In his lifetime, Dr. Wiersbe wrote over 170 books—including the popular Be series, which has sold over four million copies. Dr. Wiersbe was awarded the Gold Medallion Lifetime Achievement by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA).