I’m sitting on my back deck—on a swing—taking in a breathtakingly beautiful day in the middle of a rather difficult week. (I won’t bore you with the painful details part.) The sun is smiling at my back, preparing to sign off for the day in a spectacular array of color. Psalms are playing in the earbuds. Just to my left, killing the grass, sits a couple of sets of “Tiny Tikes” contraptions—spaces claimed by energetic grandkids who didn’t exist five years ago. Further in the distance, against the woods, grow five young peach trees—or as I prefer to call them, “deer feeders.” Three of them are still holding pre-ripe peaches. The other two became clandestine “night spots” for local deer—the peach pits in the hoof-marked dirt the “giveaway.” Dana loves the deer, so she’s happy they can enjoy our peaches. Me—not so much.
It’s August 1, 2019. Seven years ago life was total turmoil. Health was in question. Finances were in question. Living space was in question. Future ministry was in question. From our vantage point it seemed like massive risk and unreasonable sacrifice. Jesus said “Go.” We said, “What? You’re kidding?! How come? Where? How? Are you SERIOUS?!? No way! …Okay.” He listened to our questions, refused to give us a lot of answers, and just kept saying “Go.” He’s persistent that way—and oh, so very lovingly firm and patient.
We were twelve days from leaving our home and following Jesus to New England. That day, these words from Oswald Chambers absolutely rocked my soul (it’s in today’s devotional if you care to look it up):
“When Jesus had made an end of commanding his disciples, he departed thence to teach and to preach in their cities.” (Matthew 11:1) “If when God said ‘Go,’ you stayed, because you were so concerned about your people at home, you robbed them of the teaching and preaching of Jesus Christ Himself. When you obeyed and left all consequences to God, the Lord went into your city to teach; as long as you would not obey, you were in the way. Watch where you begin to debate and to put what you call duty in competition with your Lord’s commands. ‘I know He told me to go, but then my duty was here;’ that means you do not believe that Jesus means what He says.”
Boom! If I had disobeyed and stayed, I would have been in Jesus’s way. I would have robbed others of hearing from Jesus. I tried placing duty into competition with Jesus’s call, and it didn’t go well. He expects to be Lord of my life, even over “what I believe is best for me to do for Him!”
Then I read these words:
“Are we playing the spiritual amateur providence in other lives? Are we so noisy in our instruction of others that God cannot get anywhere near them? We have to keep our mouths shut and our spirits alert. God wants to instruct us in regard to His Son, He wants to turn our times of prayer into mounts of transfiguration, and we will not let Him. When we are certain of the way God is going to work, He will never work in that way any more.”
Ouch! Not only was I trying to play amateur providence in my own life (for God, of course), but others were trying to do the same. Well-meaning friends thought we were crazy, getting out of God’s will, walking away from a fruitful, opportunity-filled future. Conjecture abounded— “Cary is just… (pick your narrative and fill in the blank).” Some were hurtful and intentionally false. Some were well-meaning but misinformed. Jesus just kept saying, “Follow me—if I am truly your Lord, you will do what I say regardless of the cost.”
Gotta tell you—I didn’t see the upside. I was floundering—spiritually, emotionally, relationally. I sure didn’t feel up to the call or task or desperate mission—whichever you prefer to call it. Never have I felt more weak and fearful than in that season. But one thing I didn’t want to be, and couldn’t allow others to be—amateur providence. That’s a dangerous thing.
Then I read these words:
“He works where He sends us to wait. ‘Tarry ye…until…’ Wait on God and He will work, but don’t wait in spiritual sulks because you cannot see an inch in front of you! Are we detached enough from our own spiritual hysterics to wait on God? To wait is not to sit with folded hands, but to learn to do what we are told.”
Boom! (again!) It was like God drove every line of this devotional like an arrow through my heart. It was as if these words from Chambers were written with intimate, imminent knowledge of my precise circumstances. Wait on God. I wanted to work hard. It’s all I knew to do, but I was weak and the work was impossibly overwhelming. I couldn’t see an inch in front of me, and it drove me into spiritual hysterics. But God, in His marvelous grace, forced me into a life-season where I could do nothing but “wait on Him”—learning to simply do what He told me to do.
I confess—I keep regressing back into spiritual hysterics. It’s like a strange addiction. I have to work at waiting. Hysteria is a default setting—not like wildly out of control emotions, but more like frenetically working things out myself, as if the problems around me are all mine to solve. Do I really think I can solve them all? Maybe I’m afraid of the opinions of all the people who expect me to solve them? Perhaps I’m just worrisome? Most likely it’s the middle option. I don’t like to let people down.
But then I sit on my back deck swing, and contemplate the last seven years. Wow. How can it be seven years? My fifty-year-old self is still fearful and insufficient. I still don’t know how it’s all going to get done. I still don’t have all the solutions. Surrounded with problems I can’t solve and people who wish I could, I stare into the backyard and I remember how God has worked.
Still, my mind darts—like a firefly—from one need to another. The young man grieving the death of his wife. The faithful elder couple fearful of an upcoming biopsy. The large roof at the school needing to be replaced. The financial needs of ministry forthcoming. The new pastor who called this week for encouragement. The faithful man needing a job. The single mom who is discouraged. The lost man we’ve been praying would trust Christ. Endlessly the list grows, by the hour—every need impacting so many lives.
God interrupts—in song—Psalm 91—
“I will raise you up on eagles wings, bear you on the breathe of dawn, make you to shine like the sun, and hold you in the palm of my hand.”
I wait, He works. That’s how this has happened, that’s how it will continue to happen.
What keeps drawing you back into “spiritual hysterics”? Where is Jesus telling you to go, and you keep debating with Him about your present duty? Who is standing in the way and trying to play amateur providence? How is God at work in you and around you that has thrown you completely “off-kilter” (whatever that means)? He knows what He’s doing. And you can trust Him.
There’s no rest in resistance. No rest in negotiating for Him to change His mind. No rest in spiritual hysterics. No rest in fear or “unsurrender.” No rest in the heart that refuses to wait.
My view over seven years (and more) is simply this—God is not impressed with my inflated sense of self-importance or my frenetic, worried work for Him. He is fully capable of handling His world, His church, and His children. He does a really good job with all of it—without me.
Mostly, He just wants me and wants me to have Him! He wants me to be like those peach trees—growing deeper each year, letting His organic processes produce fruit, and even letting that fruit feed those He chooses—even if it’s a few rogue deer in the middle of the night.
What if my worry is a frenzied distraction from all the amazing things He’s doing all around me?—new Christians being born, families growing in grace, teams serving together in a healthy church, the gospel growing in New England and around the world, a school raising up the next generation of spiritual leaders, a great team of fellow laborers, and countless hundreds of really good things. Just like the problems, the blessings list goes on and on… and on!
I wait. He works.
God interrupts, in song, again—this time Psalm 34—
“I sought the Lord, and He answered me, and delivered me from every fear! Those who look on Him are radiant. They’ll never be ashamed. This poor man cried, and the Lord heard me, and saved me from my enemy. The Son of God surrounds His saints. He will deliver them!”
“Magnify the Lord with me! Come exalt His name together! Glorify the Lord with me! Come exalt His name forever! Oh taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, blessed is He who hides in Him!…”
I wait. He works.
I don’t know where this random moment of musing finds you, but it’s likely not by accident.
Find a quiet place. Look around you. Think back. Really—what good was your worry? What good was your fear? What good was your wrestling with God? Hasn’t He been good to you? Hasn’t He brought you to this moment? Be content to wait. Surrender. Give in. Give up.
When He wins, you win! Give Him what He wants. Trust Him. Really—just wildly fling yourself into His imminently trustworthy hands. Somewhere in your future, there are peach trees growing roots and fruit, and adolescent deer that need feeding. Somewhere in your future there are “Tiny Tikes” gleefully giggling around your back yard. You future needs you to wait.
If you wait, God works, and everybody wins.
Your future self will celebrate the wait!
PS—Thanks to Shane and Shane for singing the Psalms!