We may hear God’s promises and feel as if we have a direction from him, and yet we can’t seem to make headway in our pursuit and are left wondering why.
Legos are the best childhood toys on planet earth, bar none.
My younger brother and I would bolt straight through the toy store to salivate over the newest Lego sets. Entire days vanished into the creative vortex of our Lego pile as it gradually consumed an entire bedroom floor. The brutal agonies of stepping on a Lego piece on a nighttime sojourn to the bathroom were well known in our household.
Receiving a new Lego set for Christmas was always a momentous occasion, particularly as we got older and our mother conceded that we could probably handle bigger, more complex sets.
The aquanauts’ Crystal Explorer Sub proved to be particularly challenging. We were stuck right in the middle of the instructions for what felt like eons.
Finally, I grabbed a piece that looked close enough, if you closed one eye and squinted with the other. “Here. This is it.”
“That’s too big.” My brother tried to force it on. “See? It doesn’t fit.”
“Yes, it does. Watch this.” I went in the garage, grabbed my father’s ball-peen hammer, and beat that little brick into place. I stepped back, and we examined it. The brick was slightly warped, and the straining plastic had a white-ish color.
After a few seconds, it fell out.
The Two Paths to a Poisoned Heart
Sometimes, we know what we’re called to do. We can feel the spiritual gifts God’s given us. We’ve heard a promise in the middle of our prayers. We have our heading in life, and we’re raring to go.
The only problem is we seem to be stuck in the starting gates.
All the positions in ministry remain stubbornly closed. We can’t rustle up enough money to go to seminary or graduate school without some unexpected disaster sucking our bank account dry. Our book or album isn’t being picked up by anyone. The person we’re meant to marry is nowhere in sight. The dream job isn’t hiring.
We start thinking, “What’s up with this, God? You’ve called me to this thing, but every time I try to pursue it, the door slams shut in my face.”
At this point, there are two very dangerous temptations we’ll face: use questionable or outright sinful means to force our way forward, or become so discouraged that we stop pursuing the promise. Both missteps are born out of specific forms of unbelief.
Does God actually know what he’s doing? If we try to force his hand, our answer is “No.” We’re treating God like a senile grandparent. The most ‘benign’ form of this unbelief is the idea that God promises a thing but we’re the ones who accomplish it in the end. This isn’t to say that a dream won’t require any work on our end, but people with this mentality tend to make a plan and then only want God’s input so long as it doesn’t disrupt their own arrangements and timeline.
Abraham’s wife, Sarah, is perhaps the clearest biblical case of this progression.
God promises her husband that they’ll have children. Fantastic! However, they get older and older, and no babies arrive, so Sarah decides that there’s a simple solution to this that God clearly didn’t consider. She tells Abraham to have a child with her servant, and that will be their promised child (Genesis 16). Et voila, problem solved. Except it isn’t, and this choice spells a lot of grief for both Sarah and Abraham.
How many friends or peers have I seen throw themselves prematurely into a ministry or relationship because they’re tired of waiting for God? Far too many, and these efforts almost always end up going horribly awry.
Once everything blows up in our faces, we either scramble to find another solution, and the cycle repeats, or we collapse in on ourselves.
When God shows up again to promise Sarah that she’ll have a son, she mockingly laughs (Genesis 18:1-15). She’s given up. God’s promise didn’t come through. Did God lie? Maybe. Did we mishear God, and this was never actually his plan? Maybe. Doubt spreads dark tendrils through our minds. Either God’s not as good as we thought, or we can’t trust those nudges from the Spirit. Our hearts feel poisoned.
Learning the Lessons Between Point A and Z
Carter Conlon, pastor of Times Square Church and World Challenge board member, mused on this proclivity in nearly every believer’s heart.
“Don't try to get to where you need to go too fast. Don't try to tell Jesus how you need to get there. A lot of people make that mistake. You remember when Jacob came to his father looking for the blessing of God? He brought the venison, and his father said to him, ‘How did you get it so fast?’ He says, ‘Well, the Lord brought it to me.’”
This false claim on God’s blessing and provision can quickly put us in a dicey position where, like Jacob, we are prone to hurt others and ourselves.
“In other words—and there's a lot of young people who do this—you to want to be prophets. You get saved at five o'clock, and you want to be a prophet by eight o'clock in the evening. You want to stand and say, ‘Thus sayeth the Lord.’ The Lord looks at you and said, ‘How'd you get here so fast, son?’ ‘Oh, the Lord gave me this great gift of the Spirit.’
“Don't try to get too quick to where you need to go. There's a little bit of a school involved between point A and point Z. There's some teaching. There's some understanding to gain first, and don't think, because we've become familiar with the presence of God, that we have the right to dictate to him how to do things.
Recalling an early reference to Jesus’ first miracle, Conlon stated, “Sometimes we'll cry out for something in our life and he'll look at you as he did his mother and say, ‘It's not time yet….’”
Truly, those are some of the hardest words to hear.
When God says, “I will give you this must-desired, oft-dreamed-of thing, but you need to wait,” everything in us wants to rear up and scream, “No! I want it now.”
There’s no telling what specific lessons God has waiting on the path to a dream. Whatever they are for you, they will prepare you for challenges and difficulties that you could’ve never anticipated. If you wait patiently, you will be seasoned and properly equipped when God’s answer finally becomes, “Yes.”
A Promise for the Broken Wanderers
Maybe we feel like we’ve already messed things up. Maybe we were that person who rushed ahead, forced the issue and used our ball-peen hammer to smash a piece that didn’t belong into place.
We’re dealing with the fallout and wondering if we’ve lost the opportunity to ever enjoy God’s promise.
Fortunately, our God is a master mender of broken lives. He didn’t abandon Abraham, Sarah, Jacob or hundreds of other biblical figures who were no better than us. Maybe they had to wait a little longer and deal with some of the natural consequences of their missteps, but God didn’t let his promises to them fall flat. He walked them through the rough patches they’d run off into, and he transformed their bad experiences into a valuable part of their calling.
In one of his prayers, Pastor Conlon reminded us of a beautiful pattern we see throughout all of scripture, “We are your church, Lord. There's no other plan for this generation. There's no plan B or C. This is plan A.”
Let’s not lose hope in God’s promises. Wherever we’ve been, whatever we’ve done, our all-powerful, all-knowing God still has a plan A for us.