Ken and I used to spend sleepless nights imagining different lives, rather than ministry. We discussed re-activating our teaching degrees or opening a restaurant. With skewed vision, everyone else seemed to be happier than us. We’d foolishly fantasize better lives without contentious people to deal with. I know!! I’m laughing out loud reading it.
Each time we discussed exit strategies we ended at the same point. We knew we couldn’t let Satan drive us out of a place God planted us. Thankfully, God sent transparent, genuine people into our lives. They shared their joys AND trials. We learned EVERYONE wants to check out on their life, at some point.
We also internalized God’s truth about departures. There’s a chasm of pain that lies between running away and being led out by God. Praise Jesus, He saved us from ourselves. We latched onto promises He gave us for that season, worked faithfully and did not leave ministry until we received a clear word from Him years later. Don’t misunderstand, our exodus still involved the pain of leaving the familiar but, it came with God’s blessing, favor and provision.
Isaiah 55:12 says, “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace…” That’s not just nice poetry. We left ministry abruptly, from human perspective. In my head, I pictured my daughter’s rehearsal dinner in our parsonage backyard. I thought we’d retire there. Instead, we leaped into God’s known and our unknown when she was twelve. We experienced pain but simultaneously felt such joy because we weren’t running away, we were following God.
Please hear me on this, lest you become the next Jonah, Elijah or Hagar. Each one ran away from a painful situation only to have God send them right back into it. When God leads you out of your current field, it will be with joy. If you leave a thorny field with bitterness, you will struggle to find peace in your next situation. Sorry, that’s the way God designed things.
When you follow God and leave in joy, it doesn’t mean the people left behind will celebrate also. Some of our opposition forces probably did a happy dance when we left but many supporters felt sad, confused, perhaps angry. They liked our ministry. Why did we leave them?
I experienced that same dynamic with a school in which I taught. God made it clear this assignment was short term for me. My philosophy of education didn’t mesh with the administration. The year and a half I taught there, I subjugated my beliefs to comply with theirs and respect authority. I conversed several times, at their invitation, to those above me as I struggled to adhere to policies I believed to be detrimental to students. Still, when I resigned, for those same reasons, disbelief and anger exploded. “You’re doing such a tremendous job and the students love you so much. How can you leave ?!?” They did NOT celebrate my exit.
“Okay,” you’re sighing, “I get it. I better not leave my situation in a wrong way. I just don’t know how to be here anymore.” I heard a profound thought years ago by author and teacher, Tony Campolo. “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s comin’!” Resurrections cannot happen until there’s a death. As we reflect on aspects of the Easter story this month I want to encourage you with two words. Don’t quit. If God stops you, that’s another matter, but don’t quit.
The disciple’s dreams of the future blew up on the first Good Friday. The intensity of their emotions kept most of them away from Calvary for Christ’s final hours. The earthly kingdom they imagined ended in the torture and death of their King. We are not so different. With hopes, dreams and expectations we enter relationships, jobs and ministries. We picture scenes and events of what could be, like movies in our minds.
Then, the realities of a fallen world intrude, and we want to quit. The principle of death before resurrection is laced throughout Scriptures and creation. “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives.” (John 12:24 NLT) “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:38 NLT)
I don’t know what kind of Friday you’re living in. I just know Sunday’s comin’; He will bring new life. It is in His nature to do so. “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19 NIV) Don’t wallow in the puddle of dashed expectations and miss what God is doing now. Lost in their sorrow, the disciples teetered on the brink of missing the resurrection entirely.
God’s eternal kingdom is vastly superior to the disciples imagined earthly one. The same is true of your broken dreams and disappointments. God’s destiny for you is far beyond the life you’ve imagined, although it may not seem so right now. As my former pastor, Wayne Benson, used to say, “Just keep doing the last thing God assigned you to do until He gives you a new a new assignment.” Above all, don’t quit before God’s timing and miss the new things He has for you right where you are.