When unforeseen complications show up in my life demanding a change in direction, my first gut-level response is often “I’m not ready.” I’ve made my plans, and this new idea wasn’t in them, and what if…. You get the notion. But what is “ready?” What does it look like?
In my experience, this hesitation is usually borne of apprehension. What is this shift about? Should I embrace it or oppose it? What is expected of me? What if I make a mistake? What are the implications for my plans, my desires? Most of us don’t enjoy being surprised after we’ve invested energy into arranging our lives, even less so being forced to adjust how we see ourselves, our role, even our value.
One of the milestones of my life was preparing to graduate from college. I had a vision for my future and knew what I wanted to pursue in a career. Only a Christian for about two years, I sought God’s help. My prayers were filled with requests that God would give me the job I desired and smooth the interview experience. I successfully obtained an interview with my desired company, enthusiastically expressed my preferred field to the interviewer and was promptly informed no positions in that field were available. Boom. There were, he mentioned, openings in an area I had never considered, and would I be interested?
Honestly, in that moment, my brain felt like a tornado was raging in there. This was my first interview; I would surely have others, possibly even in my desired field. This new direction zinged me from left field and knocked me completely off balance. I wasn’t ready to even consider the idea, let alone express interest. All of these thoughts and feelings whipped through in about three seconds.
Thank God for the Holy Spirit! In those moments, while my twenty-two-year-old mind was zipping through the options, He sort of poured a layer of peace over me. It’s okay, he said. Don’t be afraid of this. I felt confidence surge inexplicably from somewhere other than my personality or performance, encouraging me to move forward. I responded positively, relaxed and enjoyed the rest of the interview, and soon thereafter received an attractive offer. Incidentally, I had only one other interview, a brief, flat and uninteresting conversation which lasted only half an hour. God had taken the burden and made my decision plain.
I’m sure you’ve experienced similar moments – not necessarily job interviews, but situations where much was at stake and the ground beneath your feet abruptly decided to relocate itself. Where’s the pause button? I wasn’t at all prepared for the unfolding of the interview scene, but Father was. He knew what was coming, knew what he intended to do, and gave me the confidence I needed. When I had searched for that confidence in my self, I discovered only panic. The feeling of not being ready was nearly overwhelming. I wanted some space, breathing room to regroup, but it wasn’t an option.
As I recalled this and subsequent similar events in the years since, I detected an illusion, like a subtle mist, hovering amidst the memory. Why did the interviewer’s news catch me unaware? I should have been prepared. I should have anticipated outcomes different from my desire, then I could have avoided… what? The discomfort of my intentions being disrupted? Experiencing unpredictability and uncertainty about my next moves? Being forced to rely on God more heavily, more desperately than ever before? The Holy Spirit powerfully scorches the misty deception then, purging it like summer sun. The internal criticism I sense is merely sin and Satan conspiring yet again to agitate my flesh, to raise up anxiety and despair and reclaim my attention. But they are all inconsequential, because Father was not unprepared for this trial or any other, and he is for me. (Rom 8:31-32) The desperation I experienced grew my faith, the answer to my new heart’s perpetual prayer and fulfillment of his promise.
Some theologians and commentators I’ve read have indicated that merely “watching God work” constitutes being faithful to him. I suspect this is an attempt to address the futility of men viewing their works of faith as somehow accomplishing God’s will for him, in other words, helping God out. While it’s true we can add nothing to the Lord, this summation of faithfulness to God is inadequate and, again, has the familiar odor of risk avoidance to it. Inaction is not faith. While godly works can not earn salvation, they are a necessary result of it and are highly valued by God. (Gal. 3:2-3; Eph. 2:10; James 2:18-24) I must be willing and prepared to respond when the Lord moves me to act in faithfulness, regardless of whether I perceive the outcome or feel content with the risk.
I have begun to understand that godly preparation is not defined as imagining every possible outcome and thoroughly planning my corresponding actions; those threads are the Lord’s to weave. In his often perplexing merging of grace and sovereignty, the Lord concurrently provides himself for my need, accomplishes his intent, but also allows me to re-enter the mire of arranging my plans independently if I choose to. He is truly perfect! For the choice I make cleans me, driving me to repentance (should I opt for my flesh) or saturates me with hope, assurance and power (when I follow the Holy Spirit and keep my path open to his preference). (Rom. 8; 2 Tim. 1:7)
Comprehension of my role in his kingdom is unfolding to reveal something more wonderful and quite different from my earlier understanding. Assessment and pursuit of the best action – embrace or oppose the unforeseen, fulfill or reject the desires I feel – is not the error. God designed me with mind and heart, both equipped by the Holy Spirit to work together to discern the truth and the path pleasing to him. (Job 34:4; Ps. 119:125; Pro. 18:15; Phil. 1:9-11) Rather, it is the flesh, pulling on my will to insist on complete analysis and predictability before moving forward, which ignites confusion and fuels despair and apprehension when the unpredicted occurs.
A short time ago, I set out to install a new water heater in our RV, located on a remote piece of land in eastern Washington five hours away. The old one ruptured two years ago due to someone’s inept winterizing attempts, rendering the whole water system unusable. I purchased the replacement model online (not cheap). It was shipped to me and promptly stored in my garage while I tried to plan the installation. Most people I consulted discouraged me from attempting it, favoring hiring someone to do the job. My own fear borne from complete ignorance about RV water heaters paired with my embarrassment for the poor fool who let the old one break in the first place paralyzed me. Which way to go? One service person who was willing to make a house call estimated the cost at several hundred dollars, so I set out to learn how to do it myself.
As we traveled to the RV, installing the heater in mind, anxiety again harassed my thoughts. What if you do it wrong and ruin the RV? What if it rains after you take out the old and you can’t finish? What if you do the gas connection wrong and blow everyone up? Small concerns like that. But I prayed hard, my faith feeling like a shield that was tenuous but holding. Can you guess what happened? The water heater installation went off without a hitch! I was feeling pretty good, giving glory to God, but also thinking, Cool, I’m done, the trial is over. Wrong. Once we pressurized the system with water, the floor of the RV flooded. A few minutes later, once I was finished praising the Lord for this new opportunity to glorify him (not), I discovered a burst water line under the shower. So, while a problem which had intimidated me into submission for two years was solved, I wasn’t quite free of its effects.
The point here is that there is a brutal contrast between how we imagine our lives and what they ultimately turn out to be like. Though each of us who trust Christ possess eternal life and have been rescued from condemnation, we have to realize our flesh can still influence our thinking, and be wary. I desired the water heater to go in correctly, smoothly, and for the RV water system to be usable again – that was my vision, my hope, my prayer. And Father guided my work and made it happen. So why was I upset? Because I hadn’t anticipated the burst pipe. And I should have. If only I’d been more prepared, I could have avoided…. Okay, we’ve covered that.
Saying I want to avoid the unexpected is equivalent to saying I want to avoid the strengthening of my faith. The requirement for an organized, ready-for-anything feeling, a need to eradicate all risk, is simply a less blustery cousin of the lust for control. Suddenly, it’s a familiar tune, populated with the lyric of Genesis 3. The lure of dependence on temporary and temporal flesh and on the capability of our human intellect is the misery of mankind and foe of the Body of Christ. It will continue to bait us until our majestic King returns to conclude this chapter in his story and shatter the ruins of sin. What a marvelous first breath that will be! Until then, the hope for each day, each hour, is in letting Father’s mighty arms take the burden during these moments. His arms are opened to you and me forever. (Mt. 11:28-29; 1 Pet. 5:6-8)
So the next time you’re startled by something unexpected (you likely won’t have to wait long), let that burst of anxiety be drowned by the Holy Spirit who lives inside the temple of your heart. Reject the reflex to count on your abilities to manage the situation. When you feel unsure, inadequate, “not ready,” don’t seek escape – recognize what’s happening, nod, look into God’s eyes and count on him being for you. The truth is, you’re right; you’re not ready. None of us are. And that’s the point.
If you died today, are you absolutely certain that you would go to heaven? You can be! TRUST JESUS NOW
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