I had an interesting moment with Jesus a few days ago and I can’t quit thinking about it. It followed these three related entries I’d posted right in a row on Twitter:
(1) “I don’t care if it sounds like the opportunity of a lifetime, if they say, ‘But we need your answer right now,’ it probably needs to be NO.” (2) “One of the opportunities I most regret taking was a snap decision over the offerer’s insistence on an answer NOW. No time for prayer? Uh, NO.” (3) “Gah. If I can save you the pain in the neck that decision has continued to be to me for a solid 10 years, please let me.”
I meant every word. Still do. Good grief, it’s been a pain. A lot of people hopped on board in response to those tweets and my misery found some good company and, in turn, a few good laughs. Man, I love when that happens.
A few hours later while I was on a walk in the woods, a deep and specific conviction of the Holy Spirit welled up in me unexpectedly. It was a conviction of gratitude: the leading of the Holy Spirit for me to, right then and there and henceforth, give no small thanks to God over the very situation that had been such a pain. If I had to wrap English language around a conviction of the Holy Spirit, it would go something like this:
“You really ought to thank Me for that.”
Sometimes the conviction of the Holy Spirit comes so unexpectedly in an area that we are taken aback. I know. I know. You’re wanting to quote me 1 Thessalonians 5:18 – “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” I get it. And I know it by heart. But we can read those words, quote those words and believe those words to be absolute truth, absolutely appropriate and even restorative and yet have a treacherously hard time applying them to situations that have nearly perforated our stomach lining. Circumstances get infinitely harder to be grateful within than the one I’m talking about in this article. Still, call me superficial but I can’t say I’ve thrown my back out with cartwheels for a thorn in the flesh that got stuck in my skull from diving headlong into an instant yes. It’s been a gift that just keeps on giving.
But that’s just it. I think God wanted me to stand there in those piney woods and consider what a gift that situation had been to me. Of course, for the sake of humility. Nothing’s wasted if it works humility because nothing will get us into deeper trouble or set us up for a steeper fall than pride. We have no greater obstacle to our divine callings than our egos. But that pain in the neck also offered me a second gift. It taught me a lesson I’m pretty sure I won’t soon forget. It seeded a hyper-phobia of snap decisions made under human pressures. These days I can’t shake the word “no” out of the word “now” to save my life.
Pain is the superglue that makes a lesson stick. That’s nothing new. The most basic one-word synonym for “disciple” is “learner.” Maybe you need to know today what I’ve needed to know so many days: learning, for a follower of Christ, is still a mark of discipleship even if you learned some lessons the hard way.
Or the excruciating way.
Or the embarrassing way.
Or the exasperating way.
Or the explosive, expensive or excessively long way.
If it attached you to the Teacher, if it marked you with Him and caused you at all to imitate Him, that’s the beating heart of discipleship.
Here’s the thing. The lesson wasn’t to try hard to dodge controversy. That’s not character. That’s cowardice. Those early followers of Jesus were nothing if not controversial and not just to the world but also to the religious establishment. The lesson was the idiocy of doing anything like that without taking the time to seek the will of God. It sure seemed like something that would be His will. And the folks needed an answer right then. And goodness knows everybody around me was all excited about it.
“Therefore do not be foolish,” Ephesians 5:17 says, “but understand what the will of the Lord is.”
Because that’s the game changer. If we know – I do mean KNOW – we are doing the will of God, if the step we are taking is – to the best of our prayerful understanding – in obedience to Christ, the fallout falls into His very capable lap. We walk in the shadow of the Almighty wherever Jesus leads us. We may still get hit. We may still be hated. For Christ’s sake, we could lose our earthly lives. Jesus did the will of His Father from first breath to last and was hit, hated and crucified. But He was resolute. He knew nothing He could lose would compare to what He’d gain. What we’d all gain. Nothing could stop Him. No demon. No disciple. No dread of death.
There is a key word in this segment of Matthew 16 that stands out to me on the page every time I read it:
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.
Of course, there’s always somebody close by who will try to talk you out of doing God’s will and with good reasoning and excellent rationale.
22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
The “learner” part of the disciple Peter might have suffered a few developmental delays but the lesson took. Here’s one way we know. From Acts 4…
17 But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us (rulers, elders, scribes) warn them (Peter and John) to speak no more to anyone in this name.” 18 So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”
We’re not Jesus. Ours is finite understanding. We can’t always discern the exact will of God in every detail of a drastic decision. We’re not Peter, who, in his own words was an eyewitness of Christ’s majesty and heard “the voice” of “the Majestic Glory.” (2 Peter 1:16-17) But we are Christ’s followers now, called to pore over the Scriptures, to seek the beautiful face of God and the saving will of God. And, then, to the best of our understanding and with the fullness of our God-given ability, to DO the will of God.
Gravity holds the soles of our feet to a spinning blue globe. Because all authority has been given to Christ, we can exercise the audacity to “go therefore into all nations.” With the wide waistline of this globe, why would Jesus send us to the same places with the same gifts to do the same things the same way? Part of His perfection is His pure practicality. He calls this one there, that one here, this one to do that, that one to do this. Mind you, audacity out from under authority is lunacy. But Jesus sent the promised Holy Spirit for the purpose of leading us from the inside out. He makes His will known if we’ll seek Him with all our hearts.
I’m going to be straight with you here after thirty years of ministry and a heap of observation. If you make your secret goal to sidestep controversy and to keep everybody liking you and nobody misunderstanding you, you’re going to lock yourself into such a jail cell of stale air that you will suffocate every last breath out of your calling. Your soul was made for more than three square inches of breathing space. If you’re trying to avoid a label, good luck with that. Social media has sentenced us to label hell. And, since there’s not much changing that, this is the one label we Jesus-followers can try to avoid: disobedient.
Whatever your calling is, it takes guts. Jesus didn’t call us to follow Him to the chaise lounge. We’ve got a globe to cover. Not a couch.
If you’re a follower of Christ, you’re here on this planet to do one thing: the will of God in the spread of the gospel. So am I. We must take the time to seek how. Then, with some hint of clarity, we must do it. Come what may. Whatever others say.
And there we’ll find protection in the secret place of the Most High. There we’ll have confidence even should it get brutal or controversial. There we’ll have comfort when it hurts. There we’ll have fellowship, entering into Christ’s own experience until we make it safely into His arms. There we’ll have the pleasure of God. And nothing is like it. A lifetime of man’s approval can’t compare with a single moment of God’s.
So, you see, that was the missing factor in that ten-year pain in the neck. That was the frustration. I forfeited the confidence and comfort and companionship that would have come with knowing I’d followed Jesus – the best I knew how – where He wanted me to go. Those things would have carried me. Given me peace. Been worth any criticism. Every inconvenience. Or the thousandth explanation. I know that because they’ve carried me other times. They’re carrying me now into entirely new territories that would have terrified me before.
And they’ll carry you because they’re bound up in the heart of Jesus and He, Himself, carries us. Let’s be terrified of this: of missing Jesus. Of missing His will. Of putting the soles of our feet on a safe tidy path undisturbed by His valiant footprints.
Anyway, I’ve got a new outlook on that old pain in the neck. Maybe it’s not so bad after all. Maybe God used it to save me from a dozen other missteps. In fact, maybe – God help me – just maybe, for the very first time, I’m the least tad thankful for it.
Be brave out there.