We have friends who recently moved to Seattle all the way from Spartanburg, South Carolina simply because it was something they wanted to do. Yes, they prayed about it – they were even considering a couple of other places, one being “back home” to the Tampa Bay area – but in the end, Seattle seemed like the right place to go. Now that they’ve been there for several months, they are planning on moving to Los Angeles for at least a year to get involved with a large inner-city ministry there called The Dream Center and then see what God has for them next. We have other friends we’ve been praying with, who have decided to leave a city they’ve been pastoring in for several years, and move “back home” to help strengthen the church they were raised up in almost thirty years ago. When I was talking with them the other day to see what their decision was, they had told me they hadn’t heard what we would call a “God said”, but how it seemed like the right thing to do. But is it?
There are many who will read this, or who may know these couples or someone like them, and who will say their decisions are the wrong ones – that it’s wrong to make such a move without a solid word from God. Some others would say they are just not happy and are trying to find something or somewhere that will satisfy, but how these friends are going about it all wrong. For years I might have been one of those people. But the funny thing about TIME is, that as it passes you by, or as it accumulates in your life, you gain this wonderful thing called perspective, which Websters defines as “the power or act of seeing into a situation”. I’m learning a simple truth… wisdom really does come with experience.
I sat in a room this week with about 100 people listening to a woman give her testimony of recovery from addiction. My wife was asked to come and lead worship on Monday nights for this group, and even though it’s a bit of a drive for us, we load up with whatever young musicians and singers we can find and go, hoping to bring the people there to a new level in their experience with God. So, something this woman said got me thinking. She was listing off all of the changes she’s made in the last 8 years – all of which were pretty amazing things for someone who had known the better part of 35 years being addicted – when she said how she is “trying to become a better Christian”. Now, I understood what she was saying… but it hit me that this is where most of us miss it. It’s not about us BECOMING better at anything… what it’s really all about is learning how to simply BE a son or daughter. That’s it. We have got to come to a place of comfort knowing God is our Father. Think about this… every single bit of a child’s identity and security in their formative years is wrapped up in their mommy or daddy. As they grow and learn how to understand things in life, their identity as a son or daughter grows as well. Their understanding of what makes their parent’s happy or sad becomes understood, and a foundation for life is established.
Even Jesus needed this foundation. At the start of His public ministry He went to the Jordan River and was baptized by John. Coming up out of the water, the Bible tells us a light shown from heaven, the Holy Spirit came and rested upon Jesus as a dove would, and the Father spoke from heaven saying, “This is My Son, the dearly loved, in whom is My delight.” (Matthew 3:17) What an affirmation from the One who mattered most in Jesus’ life! IDENTITY – “This is My Son”… ASSURANCE – “the dearly loved”… AFFECTION – “in whom is My delight”. We all need this kind of foundation – to know no matter where we are, what we do, or who we become, God loves us first and foremost because we are His children. It’s when we really know this that we aren’t afraid to pick up and move across the country and start a new chapter in life. And this is the assurance my friends who just did this have… they KNOW they are a Son and Daughter first and foremost – how even if it wasn’t the right thing to do, it doesn’t change the Father’s love or opinion of them.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” – Proverbs 3:5
The word “acknowledge” in this verse is the Hebrew word “yadah”, which is one of the words for worship. It literally means “to lift your hands in a sign of surrender”. Wow – think about the wight of that meaning, and read the verse again. “In all your ways lift your hands up in surrender to Him, and He will make your paths straight.” I think many times we try too hard to make the right decision or do the right thing, when God isn’t so much concerned with anything more in that moment than seeing if we are surrendered to Him. Does He care about where we live and what we do? Of course He does… scripture even says, “From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.” (Acts 17:26) Interesting though, the word “determined” here is the Greek word “horizo”, and it means “to mark out the boundaries for”. What I think this is saying is, God has set the boundaries for us, and like a good father He says, “I’ll let you do what you want outside, just stay in the yard – don’t go outside the fence!” Disagree? Keep reading.
In 1 Samuel 14:1-14 a story is told of when King Saul’s son Jonathan and his armor-bearer snuck away from the safety of being with his father and the army of Israel, and took on an encampment of Philistines. In my opinion verse 6 is the key to the story: “Then Jonathan said to the young man who bore his armor, ‘Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; it may be that the Lord will work for us. For nothing restrains the Lord from saving by many or by few.’” Did Jonathan hear from God on this? No – at least it doesn’t tell us that he did. As a matter of fact, the priest with the elements to discern God’s will for the moment was sitting back at camp under a tree with King Saul. Instead, Jonathan said, “Hey… maybe if we try this, God will give us success. What do you say?” So they climbed up to where the Philistines were waiting, and they did indeed get the success Jonathan hoped for.
I think some people find themselves always waiting for a word from God to do something. They’ll hang out with the right people and seemingly be in the right place… but they don’t ever really do anything. That’s King Saul. Others look at what God has done in the past, get that feeling like something needs to be done, and they just do it and hope that they are stepping in the right direction. That is Jonathan. Where did he get the idea to do this? How did he know God might come through for him? Well, remember, his best friend was the Giant Slayer – and you remember that story don’t you? The Bible doesn’t say David heard from God to do that either… he just did it. He moved when no one else was moving, when it wasn’t the popular thing to do… and yes, he got ridiculed for it – that is, until he met with success. Funny how our friends and family members can sometimes act just like David’s brothers, too, isn’t it?
Old Testament stories too old for you? OK, how about the Apostles deciding where to send Paul and Silas on their first trip… “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” (Acts 15:28). And what about Paul making decisions about where his traveling ministry team would go next? There are several instances of following the direct, specific leading of the Holy Spirit, but other times when they went in a “general direction”. If we sent out missionaries from most churches in America today and they were then repeatedly thrown out of towns or into jail for preaching the Gospel, we’d start to wonder about their wisdom and if they were really hearing from God or not. It appears that Paul and his group made some of their decisions simply on what seemed to be right to them, just as they’d seen with the Apostles in Jerusalem. And consider the time when Peter walked on the water out to Jesus – Jesus didn’t initiate Peter stepping out of the boat, Peter did. “’Lord, if it’s you,’ Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water.’”(Matthew 14:28) Now THAT is stepping out on a “maybe”!
“If God tells you to go after Moby Dick in a rowboat, bring tarter sauce.” – Rick Warren, Pastor/Author
Some of you are thinking right now that I’m crazy, or that I’m saying it doesn’t matter if we have a “God said” or not. If that’s you, you couldn’t be farther from the truth. I am 100% about seeking the face and heart of God for direction in your life – as a matter of fact I like to challenge every high school junior or senior to spend at least 3 days fasting and praying about their futures before they make any solid decisions. I’ve been on several extended fasts myself doing just that. No, what I am saying is, if you have sought God’s will for something in your life, and after an extended time you are still not “hearing” anything… maybe what God is saying to you is, “You choose.” Maybe He is allowing you to step in whatever direction you want.
I guess what it all boils down to is do we trust God? And do we have enough confidence in His love for us as His sons and daughters to make a move on a “maybe” – even if in the natural it doesn’t seem like the “responsible” thing to do? I’m beginning to want more and more to stand with the Davids, Jonathans, and Peters in life who chose their paths not only because of where God said to go, but also because of the times that God said, “So?”