“We cannot embrace our present blessings if our hands are full of past failures.”
“They had been oppressed for so long they did not know how to live in blessing.”
These were two quotes from a recent guest speaker at church. Also recently, a friend sent me a link to part of a lecture by Dr. Jordan Peterson, wherein he was discussing what he described as ‘the call to adventure’. (See Jordan Peterson – How To Stop Rotting Away At Home) In the lecture he drew upon the examples of Abraham’s calling as well as Israel being called to leave Egypt. At one point he commented, roughly, ‘there’s a chance that if the perfect opportunity came along, you wouldn’t recognize it as such.’
Accordingly, I think that you can pray for God’s will, but I believe that the bigger miracle than Him giving you an answer for that question, is Him preparing you to be able to receive that answer.
In Acts chapter 7, Stephen gave an answer to his accusers in the form of a concise history of God’s dealings with his people, up that that current moment. He commented in verse 39; “Our forefathers were unwilling to obey him, but pushed him away, and in their hearts turned back to Egypt.” I would describe it like, they pushed away the messenger of their freedom and in their hearts turned back to captivity. And then they made idols for themselves, images of their own making, cheap and insufficient substitutes for Divine guidance.
More than a cheesy-looking image of some false deity, I believe that an idol is, 1.) a way of seeing something; that Greek word eidolon, comes from eidos (“a view, that is, form (literally or figuratively)” Strong’s Concordance), which comes from a verb eido, which means ‘to see’, and thus, 2.) carving out that image is like fossilizing, hardening that vision, that perception, that ‘mode of seeing’ into something unchanging, and then worshiping that calcified conceptualization. By that process, an idol might form a prison for your perception.
Why would someone turn, or turn back to such captivity? A surface level answer would be comfort, and that’s true, but what does comfort mean in this case? I would say maybe a sense of familiarity, or control, or certainty. The process of stepping into something new can conflict with those needs. That is an understatement, because, in my experience, when we ask God for something new we underestimate how new ‘new’ can be.
Here’s a thought: people often use the phrase “seeking God”, and I think, “why am I ‘seeking God’ when He isn’t lost or distant?” What I am really trying to do is reorient my perception so I can hear what He’s saying and see what He’s doing. Again, it is easy to underestimate, or under-value, how new new can be. Therefore, the process can be disorienting, so it can be tempting to grab onto old, insufficient things, but I think the importance of continuing to walk through that disorientation is that you do feel the smallness and insufficiency of the constructs that propped up 1.) who you thought you were, 2.) where you thought you were in the world, relative to the bigness of all that God is and thinks and does.
There is a call to a purposes which are bigger than 1.) your current level of comfort, 2.) your current level of perspective and understanding. As God’s people, it is important to get beyond those levels because His mind and His purposes are so much bigger than our own, and to honor Him by reflecting His glory in that way; in a way that reflects the vastness of His thoughts. So, we might have to get stretched in order to reflect more of His glory.
Related to this calling to go on an adventure for a higher purpose, I was recently struck by what is written in Genesis 11:31-32;
“Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot (Haran’s son), and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they set out together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there. Terah lived 205 years and died in Haran.”
And when I look at that story, I see that 1.) Abram’s clan had settled in a place that was not the destination, and 2.) Abram was still in that place where his father had settled, he was still in the place where his father had left off.
So, how do you get to a Divinely appointed destination? How do you start?
I think you just do. You just start.
Do it with prayerful consideration, but do it. You might not know until you do. I think you start by simply offering yourself: you offer yourself by giving your story, giving your story of faith (aka your testimony), giving your teaching (what you have learned personally, how you have learned to live effectively in some way). And in offering yourself, you end up leading in some way because you brought order to an unstructured reality* by describing your experience with words, and better yet, by doing so, you give someone else a lens by which they might be able to navigate their own reality: thereby offering them a tool that might be useful to them. And if it proves to be useful, you have helped lead them to a new place in their journey.
Now, I said that you start by offering yourself, but there is a simple step before that: stepping out.
I’m talking about stepping out from where you’ve settled, or where your church has settled, or where your family has settled, or where your community has settled… and why, why would step out? Because God often has a purpose that is far bigger than the places where people often settle. There is also a good chance that someone, other than yourself, would benefit from you stepping out in that way. Therefore, stepping out into something more than what you have known is an act of love.
I am thinking of these three actions as parts of a loop or cycle: you step out, you offer yourself, and because you offer yourself to others, you end up leading them in some way, and because you are leading, you naturally stand out from the crowd, and because you stand out, the things you say and do are acts of stepping out from whatever is average or status quo, and because those are the things which you are saying and doing, they are what you have to offer. And it is an offering, you are an offering at that point because you stand in a place of vulnerability. It is a place of vulnerability because if the group is actually going someplace new, (someplace that represents a substantial victory), then the leader must walk on the bleeding edge of that new-ness. He is called upon to preach truths that he has only begun to feebly stand in himself. The story of a leader who is actually going somewhere bears the weightiness of Abraham’s journey, or of the exodus of the Israelites, or of Jesus in the desert. God, You are all I have. Maybe Jesus saying “the Son of man has no place to rest his head” (Luke 9:58, Matthew 8:20) could stand as a metaphor for the challenge presented by a journey of newness. I think also of the parable of the wineskins (Mark 2:18-22, Luke 5:36-39); how the old would be insufficient to hold the new.
If you are going someplace worth going, you bear the burden of the new. This might strain your comfort, your sense of control, or other peoples’ opinions of you. In seeking God’s guidance in keeping with the true-ness of how He has created you (“Each one must be fully convinced in his own mind.” see Romans 14:5 and 14:23), you might encounter such challenges. If you don’t feel like you fit in, maybe it is because God has, or is, optimizing you to fulfill a very unique purpose. “Based on the gift you have received,” it is written in 1 Peter 4:10, “everyone should use it to serve others as good managers of the varied grace of God.”
*This language is somewhat borrowed from the way in which I have heard Dr. Peterson describe the function of the divine ‘Logos’. I also think of Genesis 1:2-3, where God spoke over a formless and empty earth.