Once upon a time, I had a change to make. I was doing one thing, and I felt in my belly that it was time to do another thing, and in a move that surprised precisely no one except myself, I didn’t do it.
I like to fancy that I’m quick to obey. Key word: fancy. When I read in the Word about the saints of old receiving a calling or directive from God, and they don’t snap to obedience, it’s easy for me to roll my eyes and laugh. Like Jonah, what are you even doing? Where would you run to that God couldn’t find you? And now you’re angry enough to die over a plant? Get a grip, Jonah.
I like to think that if God spoke to me clearly, I would do anything to please Him, and trust Him unwaveringly, and leave behind any creature comforts to chase down whatever task He deigned to include me in. I spent years of my young adulthood singing along with my Hillsong records that I surrender, I surrender. I have made many genuine promises to God by the riverbanks in Palmyra that He has my Yes, and He will always have my Yes. I have meant every word, and I still mean every word, and I have learned why Jesus entrusted Himself to no man.
Some time ago, a trusted mentor challenged me with some questions about the direction I was taking in my life. At the time, I was working in an administrative position in my church, happy to be behind the scenes and plowing away with fervor and faithfulness. Years before, I had been in full-time ministry in a different church, and when I eventually had to walk away from what was an unhealthy situation, it was with both pockets full of ‘never agains’. Never again to ministry, never again to trusting people, never again to church leadership, never again. (Pro tip, careful with those never’s.) For me to be working again in any capacity at any church felt like a miracle, period, and like I said, I was very happy and fulfilled. I hemmed and hawed and dug my heels in, and successfully defended my carefully cultivated plot of ground. The ground bore fruit, and it was good. Still, over the years, variations of that conversation would present itself through different people and in different forms.
In words I couldn’t speak, and in ways I couldn’t firmly identify, I knew there was an “Other” thing – not a better thing, not more things, just Other – that I was meant to pursue, but I didn’t know how I could grab onto the next thing without letting go of the current thing, and I was certain about being unwilling to do that.
A little over one year ago, the wrestling came to a head; I was running scared from some things I knew I ought to be doing, and life was a vapor – I was asked how long was I going to keep running. First of all, I love running, so stick that halfling leaf in your pipe and smoke it. I’ll run all day. I’ll ultramarathon myself to the nearest port at Joppa and then set sail to Tarshish.
But the thing is, I already knew it was time. First, the Time had been approaching, and then, without my desire or permission, it was Time. I knew it, I just don’t like change, especially when I thought I’d never get to be happy again doing what I loved. On any given day, if you present me with a scenario that requires exchanging the known for the unknown, I will build you a house of cards built on why I don’t need to do it so fast that your head will spin. My spiritual gifts are not limited to, but may include, running, and arguing, and building card houses on questionable logic.
So I took a walk with the Lord on this month of last year, and I prayed, and I told God all the reasons why I wasn’t ready to let go of what I loved, and how I was scared for the future, and would He please lead me, etc. I remember exactly where I was standing on that walk when I felt reminded of King Hezekiah. In 2 Kings 20, we read about Hezekiah’s illness; God was gracious enough to send the prophet Isaiah over to let Hezekiah know that his time was up in life, and to prepare his things, and set his house in order, because he was ill, and he was not going to recover.
Naturally, Hezekiah wasn’t thrilled at the news, so he rolled over, and wept bitterly into his wall, pleading for God to give him some more time. God gave him what he wanted, and promised to add 15 years to his life, but in those years, he ended up setting in motion the plundering and destruction of his entire kingdom. In his attempt to eke out just a little more time in his glory, he ended up losing everything.
I knew. I knew I was receiving my answer to the pleas I was lobbing up for “just one more” hour, month, year. So I turned around, drove home, and obeyed my call onward immediately without hesitation or deviation.
I went home, and thought about it, and did literally nothing. Nothing.
I didn’t put my two weeks in. I didn’t start taking the next steps I knew I should take. I did try really hard to figure out how I could continue doing what I wanted to do, while also taking the next step I felt I needed to take. I told everyone about my answered prayer and how I think I needed to move on it soon. And still, I didn’t take any concrete steps. No lie, at one point, I put out a Gideon-esque fleece in prayer – literally asking God to have a random person say a specific, obscure phrase to me, and then I would obey. Guess what. It happened. Did I obey? No I did not.
Y’all, I have been through some hard years in my life before, but absolutely nothing compares to the year that came after that decision not to act. It has been said before that you can control your sin, but you can’t control the consequences of your sin. That saying is true, and don’t come at me with how being unsure or unwilling to move isn’t a sin, because it was enough for Lot’s wife, and it misses the point. The year was rife with all manner of awful and heartbreak, and at the end of it, I still had to give it all up and walk away from what I loved.
I will instruct you and show you the way to go;Psalm 32:8-9
with my eye on you, I will give counsel.
Do not be like a horse or mule,
that must be controlled with bit and bridle
or else it will not come near you.
Do you know how many times I’ve underlined those verses in my Bible over the years? So many. Here’s the thing. I’m not saying that the last year was some kind of divine punishment meted out for my not listening the first (few) time(s). I am unreservedly saying that when God directs or commands anything, it is in everyone’s best interest to obey immediately.
If God initiates an ending, it is wisdom to yield to it, and the height of folly to resist it. Don’t be a stubborn mule that needs to be controlled by a bridle. Like the old song goes, ‘Trust + Obey, there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus but to trust + obey…” From one mule to another, it’s easier just to listen the first time.
The Lord is the Sovereign Creator of the entire universe. He loves us. He made the atoms that stardust is formed from. And He formed us, and He loves us. He knows each sparrow that falls and the number of hairs on our heads. He has marked out the appointed seasons and places for every man on earth to live. Every day of life was written in His book before one of them came to be. That is a God that can be trusted, whose timing can be trusted.
He knows what’s ahead. He has seen it, He has arranged it all for His glory and our good. When God says ‘all done’, whether a season, or relationship, or job, or any other dearly beloved thing, it’s all done. When God says, “See, I am doing a new thing!”, no amount of Jonah-ing your way across the seas is going to thwart His will – and thank God for that mercy.
I am so grateful that I cannot manipulate the unchanging One by tears or pleading, and that when we pray for Him to thwart us from sin, or from anything that would take us off the path He has for us, He answers those prayers. I believe He only ever answers those prayers out of His kindness.
Obedience carries no assurances of avoiding pain and suffering, or of only good days and happiness, or of all our dreams coming true. I think it carries much better things. And thank God, we’re all better off for it.
Tomorrow, after running and arguing, and a Very Hard Year, I will matriculate into university, which is just one step towards the next right thing in a long obedience in the same direction. Despite every fear and sleepless night and tear stained pillow it took to get here, everything is okay. It’s better than okay; it is well. I didn’t lose anything that didn’t need to be lost; I was allowed to keep every good and perfect gift.
I am learning what good can come from fallow ground. I am learning to take out the plow and use it how it’s meant to be used, and then to put it away at the end of the day. I am learning that my life is kept by much safer hands than my own, in spite of my best running shoes and worst card-houses of logic. Thanks be to God, for His indescribable gift.