Are You Always "Safe" In God's Will?
I’ve done LOTS of hard things in my life but probably the hardest was bringing children into my home to raise who had come from some pretty traumatic backgrounds. When I was about three years into that journey, I found myself in a “hole”. I had checked out. Yes, I was getting the kids to school. Yes, I was making sure they were fed. But emotionally, I was gone. Somewhere absent the body. I just couldn’t do it anymore. You know…. “mom”. I mean, I was doing the keep them alive part, but I just couldn’t engage. I was at that brick wall, the throw your hands in the air, the I give up, I don’t care anymore place. And to be quite honest I was blaming most of my pity party on God. I was also angry that He had seemed to be so silent, for so long now in my “struggles”. Then one evening I was reading a book with Brady that he had to read for school and the Lord spoke right to me. The book is called “The Barbarian Way: Unleash the Untamed Faith Within” by Erwin McManus. There were no new truths in it. They are truths I think I’ve written about previously in posts, but they were truths I had chosen to push back and forget about during my “hard”. Most of my thoughts in this post are not necessarily my thoughts but are coming straight out of the book. I just needed to write them down and further ingrain them.
So here is why I was in my “hole” and why I felt justified in being there. Everyone knows Shane and I had a calling from God to minister to the “orphans” and so we did that. We were faithful to follow His lead and at each juncture with a child, we sought His guidance and, I believe, were faithful in what He’s led us to do. Here’s the problem, we were three years into this journey, and it wasn’t getting any easier folks! Sometimes I felt like the poster child for, “Don’t do this, it sucks!” in adoption rather than the one whom I WANT to be, that tells others how amazing it is. Some of you know the specific issues we battled with each of our children, but most don’t. All I know is we had been faithful so why the heck wasn’t God being faithful to us and coming to our aid? Why does He seem silent while we cry out on behalf of our children? Why does it just have to be so hard….every….single….day?
Here’s where the book comes in. The chapter we were reading was talking about John the Baptist. You know him, right? The one who prepared the way for Jesus, was the cousin of Jesus, and was just a little bit radical in his following of Jesus. Well, John ended up in jail and was getting ready to have his head served up on a platter. Ok, so maybe my week didn’t suck that bad. John was having word sent from prison for someone to go ask Him if Jesus really was who He said he was. I mean, come on! John knew the answer to that question! I hate it when my kids ask questions like that. Really, what John was doing though was trying to ask him why the heck Jesus was letting him sit in prison. Jesus responds basically with, “You know I’m the Messiah now don’t fall away or stumble on account of me.”
I mean what the heck Jesus?! He basically told him, “John, I’m not coming through for you. I’m not getting you out of prison. I’m not sparing your life. Yes, I have done all this and more for others, but the path I choose for you is different from theirs. You’ll be blessed, John, if this does not cause you to fall away.”
If that were not bad enough, scripture states, “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.” What exactly, one might ask, was the good news for John? Jesus knew all along that John had been imprisoned. He knew very well the fate that John would face. Even then Jesus understood His purpose was to save us not from pain and suffering, but from meaninglessness. For Jesus, John was exactly where he needed to be, fulfilling God’s purpose for his life. Why would He save John from that?
So often, we think that if we live faithful lives, we should live a life of endless comfort, security, and indulgence. We forget though that we are called to live in this world as citizens of an entirely different kingdom. He never lied about the danger or cost associated with becoming His follower. He told them up front, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.”
Another individual that this chapter in the book spoke about was Peter. You know him…. the poor guy is remembered for being the one that denied Jesus 3 times right after he told Jesus he would die for him. You know Jesus had to be doing the internal eye roll. After Jesus had been resurrected, He and Peter were having another conversation, and three times Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him. Peter gets slightly irritated with Jesus for asking him the same question 3 times. After Peter INSISTS that YES, he loves Him, Jesus says to him, “I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.’ Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then He said to him, ‘Follow me.’”
Jesus had only one invitation for Peter, only one course set for him, only one path for him to choose if he were to journey with Christ. Jesus never watered down the cost of following Him in hopes that Peter would then choose to follow. If Peter chose the path with Christ, it would mean that one day he would be taken against his will and dragged off to be killed. If he wanted to live a life of love and allegiance to Christ, it would cost him his life. We, too, are called to a path filled with uncertainty, mystery, and risk.
So how did Peter respond? He turned and made John the focus of the conversation: “Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. When Peter saw him, he asked, ‘Lord, what about him?’”
I know exactly what Peter was doing. He was thinking, well if I have to face that kind of death, he should have to too! I do the same thing. I compare myself and my children to other adoptive mammas and adopted kids and ask God to make everything “fair”. But it just doesn’t work that way.
Jesus answered him, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me”.
That’s where the sticky part of following Christ comes in. It’s not fair or equitable. When you hear the call, when you follow the call, you must recognize that it is a life-and-death proposition. When you understand what Jesus means when He says that you must follow Him, you finally realize that this is not a cattle call. He is not calling you to the same life that everyone else will live. He’s not even calling you to the same path that every follower of Christ will walk. Your life is unique before God, and your path is yours and yours alone. Where God will choose to lead you and how God chooses to use your life cannot be predicted by how God has worked in the lives of others before you. Jesus’ response to Peter was as straightforward as it could possibly get: “If I want John to live and you to die, what is that to you? Your part is to follow me. My part is to lead the way.”
Hebrews 11 is one of my most favorite chapters in the entire Bible. It’s often called the “hall of faith.” It begins with the declaration “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for”.
Throughout the chapter, the writer challenges us with the power and vitality of ancient faith. He points to individuals such as Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Joseph, and Moses. He even refers to some surprising faith heroes such as Rahab and Samson. In summarizing the exploits of this extraordinary list, the writer explains their qualifications by telling us, “Who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again”.
This is the kind of stuff that all of us think of when we think of women and men of faith. When we live by faith, we don’t die by the sword. When we live by faith, every battle is won, and every enemy is conquered. When we live by faith, lions go hungry, executioners become unemployed, and the Grim Reaper’s prospects look grim.
But faith doesn’t stop here. Oh, how I wish it did. It would make life so much easier. But it really only begins here. This short list of the faithful is pointing us not to the rule, but to the exception to the rule. These men and women are listed exactly because their lives were so extraordinary, and the results were so unusual. I’m not saying that God doesn’t work like this anymore. What I am saying is that God is just getting started. He has far deeper and more profound work to do in and through us.
Any understanding of faith that is genuinely rooted in the Scriptures must always make room for the “others”. Who are the others? We don’t exactly know. We just know how faith worked out in their lives. After all, isn’t that what Jesus was preparing us for? Speaking to His disciples, Jesus said, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first…’No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” Peter continued this theme by reminding us: “Do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange was happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ”. Hebrews continues describing the heroes of faith in verse 35 with this:
Others were tortured and refused to be released so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted, and mistreated – the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
The ”others” experienced a different result of faith. To say the very least, their lives were far less desirable than the lives of those we’ve come to know from biblical fame. Yet their lives were no less expressions of a life well lived and fully lived in the presence and power of God than those we aspire to emulate. All were commended for their faith. Although the first group of the faithful have names that will be known throughout history, the others remain nameless. That is not because they lived a life of lesser faith, but because there were so many more of them.
All of them chose and walked with Jesus and they were blessed. They trusted Jesus with their lives, and they lost their lives on the journey. If you could interview any one of them, however, each would insist that even amid the suffering and hardship, they were most fully alive. They were not disappointed in God because they did not misunderstand who He was. They understood His call, and they chose it willingly. Some of the faithful survived the night in the lion’s den; others experienced their darkest night and woke up in eternity.
In your hard times, don’t become confused in your faith because God isn’t coming through for you the way you think He should. A statement I always have a problem with is “The safest place to be is in the center of God’s will”. I don’t think being in the center of God’s will guarantee any kind of safety, at least according to what the world says is safe.