As of this blog’s writing (last Thursday), I just arrived back from a retreat with our Lead Team in North Webster, Indiana. (Yeah, I had no idea where it was either.) Our team was able to rent a small cabin off of Lake Webster and spend a few days together, thinking about our church, seeking direction, and looking for ways and opportunities where we could play a part in leading our church in a greater way to be used by God to change lives. Here’s a small picture of our view for the week. It was absolutely beautiful on Tuesday morning as the sun came over the horizon. I’m not a nature/scenery person, but even I had to admit it was pretty nice.
As a part of our retreat time together, Bobby Jackson (Suncrest’s Cultivate Pastor) led us in a few worship experiences together. During one of these worship experiences, he gave us a sheet of paper and asked us to write a note to ourselves as if God was speaking to us. What would God say? What would he ask us to do? While hesitant at first, it was a really great experience for me personally in leaning in to listen to the Holy Spirit. I imagine I’ll be hanging onto this note for a long time, as I have no doubt that God was speaking to me through that experience. Cool stuff.
But one of the things I feel God really impressed on me in a big way during that time was actually something we tackled together at all of our campuses a little over a month ago in our Sons of Grace series. We were teaching through the story of Joseph, and the main idea of the whole message was that our job is to obey God by do the next right thing and leave the results to him.
I got a chance to teach through that message at the Highland Campus (video below if you haven’t seen it or need a refresher), and I remember feeling pretty compelled that this really was a big part what God wanted to teach us through the story of Joseph. More than any other message I’ve gotten a chance to teach, I got more feedback from people who attend our worship gatherings at Suncrest just saying how that message hit home for them in a big way and how God was using that to shape and form them as followers of him.
As I sat in our cabin off Lake Webster that cold Tuesday night writing this letter to myself from God, I was really struck by that teaching. One of the challenges I always face is this temptation to think that just because I taught on something, blogged about it, or tweeted some cool insight that I’ve actually learned it. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Unfortunately, teaching doesn’t always equal application. As I looked around at my life and even reflected on my thought processes of the last 24 or 48 hours, most of it could be characterized as stressed. As the point leader for the Highland Campus, I always worry about questions like:
- Why aren’t more people attending?
- Why aren’t more people serving?
- Are we being generous?
- Are we actually making a difference in our community?
- Are lives really being changed here?
Those are all great questions to ask, I think. They direct me to a healthy place of reflection, and an equally healthy place of taking responsibility for my role in answering those questions and leading well. But I think what I allow questions like those to equally direct me to are stresses. All of a sudden, I shortchange God out of the equation. Instead of living in a place where I am being used by God to change lives, I begin to internalize this horrible mindset of I need to be God and change lives.
You could certainly say that is horribly unhealthy.
It’s something I was drawn to that night of needing to repent of. God has invited me to play a part in moving his kingdom mission forward. In fact, I’d say he has given all of us a responsibility to do so. But what I was brought face-to-face with that Tuesday evening in North Webster was that I had totally cut him out of the equation. Instead of totally obeying him and trusting in him, I was trusting in myself. I was putting it all on me. That’s self-idolatry. Not to mention stressful… and the fact that it just plain doesn’t work.
I think we do the same thing all the time. If you and I were able to sit across the table from one another and share in a conversation, I’m sure you could pretty quickly identify the things in your life you wish were different or that you wish you could wave a magic wand and change. For some of us, it’s our family. Maybe your marriage is falling apart and you don’t know what to do. Perhaps you have a son or daughter who is a prodigal; far from God and far from home. For others of us, we are bent out of shape about wishing we could have a family, either because we are struggling with having children or maybe right now just struggling to find a spouse. Others of us are facing financial difficulties, health diagnoses, or work drama.
As hard as it is, I think God’s invitation to all of us is the same it was to me last week: Do the next right thing and trust me with the results. Those results may not always work out the way we hope. The marriage may not be healed. The financial upturn we so desperately need may not come. The medicine or chemo may not work. That is the nature of the broken world that we live in. It’s the same thing we see operating in the Bible: Abraham taking step after step while desperately hoping for a son, Joseph holding tight to conviction while in an Egyptian prison, Daniel walking into the lion’s den after his friends walked into the fiery furnace years earlier, and even Jesus taking steps toward the cross while praying that God might deliver him from a certain fate.
There’s something beautiful that gets cultivated in us and cultivated in our relationship with Christ as we take these steps of obedience. I think it’s the trust that grows here. I have some key turning points in my life that I could point you to in my relationship with Jesus not because of the results that come from these moments, but because of the trust God cultivated in me by taking step after step obeying him.
My prayer for us today is that wherever we are, whatever we are doing, that you might experience the same. And it’s my prayer that God might use these experiences for us to cultivate our personal relationship with Jesus.