Thirty-three years ago I took a woman to a Gilbert and Sullivan play as a first date. Before the evening of our get-together, I had a collection of facts about her: she was a farmer’s daughter, she was a Social Worker, and she was cute. After the evening of our get-together, I told my parents that I had just met the woman I would marry.
What happened during those few, short hours? I had known she wanted to be a missionary, but over a glass of wine, she told me of her longing to help internationals. And I fell in love. I didn’t get new information; somehow, something I already knew became real.
She breathed life into the facts I already possessed. A personal connection trumped my data.
Western nations—Americans in particular—are information junkies. The Self-Improvement market guzzles ten billion dollars a year as we gather more info on health, personal finances, and relational well-being. Yet we remain over-weight, under-saved, and highly-divorced.
Christians likewise are data collectors. We download hundreds of sermons, stockpile libraries of books, frequent retreats, and memorize verses. Yet we remain anxious, timid, and lonely.
We don’t need more information; we need what we already know to become real.
Last week, a delay by God disappointed me. It also shocked me awake like smelling salts.
For ten years, I’ve wanted (and waited) to write a book on hearing God. Last month, I finally finished it. And I’ve paid a professional to edit it, commissioned an artist to design it, and found a proofreader to fine-tune it and a marketing expert to promote it.
I originally planned to publish Hearing God in Conversation last May, but I was hindered by a month-long bout with pneumonia, friends with unexpected needs, and my first ever (hopefully my last ever) IRS audit.
After months (and years) of postponements, my book was finally ready for release September 1st.
Then a friend slipped a copy of my manuscript to a publisher. The publisher invited me to meet their management team. And the team offered me a contract last week. But a contract with a hitch (because we missed an important publishing industry window). If I sign their agreement, my book’s release date will be deferred by yet another year. Argh!
I was disappointed, dismayed by another delay (though thrilled that they liked the book). I asked myself: Should I publish it myself in three weeks or wait another twelve, long months?
And then one of my smart-aleck kids (never mind which one) commented, “Gee Dad, you’re writing a book about hearing God; have you asked him what you should do?”
Our romantic 30th anniversary trip to Italy began the same week Dan Brown published his latest book, Inferno (Italian for Hell). I think it was prophetic.
Carla and I have very different ideas of vacation. She likes cultural sites. I like scuba diving. She likes exploring museums. I like exploring shipwrecks. We are very different.
Our differences make it difficult to find a good place for anniversary getaways. We went nowhere for our 15th, 20th, and 25th anniversaries, except out for dinner. In the past we’ve had several family scuba vacations, so I agreed to a trip to Italy for our 30th.
On our first day in Italy we toured the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica. On the second day we visited the Coliseum, the Roman Forum, and the Pantheon. After two days, I had walked 33,134 steps through museums and cultural sites, and I had seen approximately 4,741 masterpieces.
My flat feet ached. My fat brain overflowed. I was irritated and I didn’t hide it. I kept thinking, “I can’t take another twelve days of this!” Maybe I sulked. I was tiresome enough that Carla was thinking, “I can’t take another twelve days of him!”
The countless masterpieces were driving me nuts, and my sulkiness (I’m ashamed to admit) was driving Carla nuts.
We’ve been remade through a re-birth; we’ve become new creations and given new hearts; and the walls that imprisoned us have been bulldozed. And yet . . . we still fear our bosses, speak harshly to friends, dwell on anxious thoughts, and obsess about ourselves. Why is that?
Years ago I read an article written by a counselor who worked with concentration camp victims shortly after World War II. The sheer breadth of the war’s destruction restricted the Allies’ ability to help feed and shelter people, so refugee camps were built for the victims.
The counselor noted that many of the victims in the refugee camps acted as though they were still in prison. While they had been freed from the camps, they asked permission for the smallest liberties, such as a nighttime stroll outside their dormitories. The therapist made this observation:
We took the victims out of the camps in an instant,
but it may take decades before the camps are taken out of the victims.
Their story is our story. God has opened the prison doors on the outside, but we still need him to free us from the prisons walls within.
Let’s admit the plain fact that most of us want to hear God’s voice for one simple reason: Guidance. We’re looking for an answer or some formula that will provide us with a clear choice between competing options.
But God rarely limits his guiding voice to a formula. Rather, like a master painter, he uses an artful mix of brushstrokes and palette, sometimes speaking, other times orchestrating, oftentimes through counsel, and frequently even in his silence.
God’s primary purpose is to deepen his relationship with us. He doesn’t give us a paint-by-number scheme for guidance. Each of our lives is his masterpiece, and each masterpiece is painted with different colors and varying brushstrokes. Let’s not limit God’s guidance to dime-store paint kits.
Let me walk you through a bit of God’s guidance in my journey. As you see God’s painting of my life, I hope you will recognize his brushstrokes in yours as well.
Last week I experienced a tempest in a teapot, and I failed to weather the storm with grace. On Monday afternoon, I discovered that my blog’s subscription sign-up form was broken. It accepted the entry of an email address; everything looked fine. Except it didn’t actually update the subscription files. So I began a sweaty scramble to fix it.
I worked from 3:30 Monday afternoon until about 9:30 that evening. At that point, the tiny-tempest sank my site: everything stopped working. I went to bed. I woke early Tuesday morning, coordinated communication between four different help centers, got the site running, temporarily jury-rigged an email signup form, and published last week’s article.
Phew! It took me nine hours, but I got it done. Afterward I took a prayer time, beginning with My Utmost for His Highest. The devotional ended with:
Is there someplace where you are not at home with God? Then allow God to work through that particular circumstance until you increase in Him, adding His qualities.
I immediately felt convicted (in a good way). I hadn’t really repaired my website “in God.” Sure, I had asked God for help, but I had been “at home” in my skills rather than in God.
My work had the stench of human sweat rather than the fragrance of the Father.*