Uncovering God’s plan | Steve Rothert
Notes from the Call
I was complaining last week about having to follow Sam. Anyone who has listened to Mark speak much knows he says, “I don’t bang my head against a wall thinking it’s a door.” After listening to Sam last week, I’m going to go ahead and put my head through that wall. That was a good, old-fashioned, out-behind-the-woodshed tail-kicking, and I liked it a lot. Well done, Sam.
I’m going to talk this morning about becoming who God designed us to be. Skipping ahead, the punchline is this: We know that God has a plan for our lives. We would agree to this, we give mental assent to this. But do we really believe it? Do we live as if it is so? And do our efforts, Fellow Disciple-Makers, suggest that we believe it is so?
I’m going to wander a little bit, but that’s where we’re going.
We have, on this call, men from fantastic communities of believers – from Jackson, MO or from Alexandria, LA – where we are doing great work. I’ve listened to your success stories and have been pleased that your efforts have been so effective, but I’ve been envious too. I came back from our retreat on fire. There was going to be a revival inside US Embassy Mexico City. Noah and I, and a couple other guys -- we prayed. We reached out to like-minded men in various agencies. We set up a teaching program, we publicized, we launched. And we have failed, by my lights, pretty spectacularly.
Now, I don’t want to make too much of this, but I do think there are a couple of points we should make. One: I mentioned when I was home over Christmas that I need to hear about people’s failures too, not just their successes. We’re here to encourage one another. For those of us still finding our way in this discipleship stuff, we need to be reminded that it’s a struggle, and that our failures aren’t just because we’re the spiritual JV. Two: Has it really failed? We’re not really the one’s doing the work, and so, we shouldn’t really be expecting a report card. Who knows what effect this will ultimately have, what God will do with this? This particular observation is, of course, made in retrospect. I was pretty disappointed at the time. And why should that be? This is my third point: I will tell you – have told some of you – that I just wanted to be effective. And that is mostly true. But also, I’ve wanted to be seen being effective, to be doing something heroic in some way. And if that’s the case, the question must be asked: who am I really glorifying? I’m just being honest. I think this is natural enough. It’s hard to take yourself out of something you’ve invested yourself into.
“Heroism, generally, is totally out of place in the spiritual life, until we grow to the point which it would never be thought of as heroism anyway.”
Willard, Dallas. The Divine Conspiracy (p. 241). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
There is a pastor in Carterville, Illinois who has written a neat little book about evangelism. He writes:
First, we evangelize because God commands it. We are to, “preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15) Evangelism is about obedience. (The opposite is also true: not evangelizing is about disobedience.) Regardless of what outcome we may expect, we evangelize as a matter of obedience.
Even if we knew ahead of time that not one single person would ever respond to the gospel we would still be required to evangelize. Obeying God is the issue; the outcome is secondary.
Gentry II, Thomas J.. You Shall Be My Witnesses: Reflections on Sharing the Gospel . Kindle Edition.
He was a chaplain in the military. He would travel throughout his region, giving sermons and providing counseling. He often delivered the sermon he’d worked on to only a couple of soldiers. More than once, no one showed up. He said that only once he had stopped expecting any kind of result did he start to find peace in his work. And only once he’d stopped worrying about the effect he was having did he start to be effective.
OK, let’s talk about what we’re here to talk about. If they haven’t already, people will start to seek you out. People with horrible problems will seek your counsel. Close friends talk about helping marriages in discord, or a married man with young children revisiting the homosexuality he’d dabbled with in college, or a husband and father deciding to change his gender. At about the time that people were avoiding our prayer groups in droves, someone visited my office and said, “I know I’m your boss, but I don’t know who else to talk to. And if this gets out, they’ll send me back to Washington. My wife beats me.” Or the Marine promoted below the zone to Major and LTC, clearly on the track to general, who’d made an unguarded comment to a young female lieutenant and who was facing a sexual harassment complaint that would derail his career. I didn’t know what to say to him. I said, “I don’t know what to say to you. I don’t know if you’re into this, but we’re gonna pray.”
I’d been specifically praying that God would use me, that He would allow me to show his love and healing. At first I was almost giddy, thinking that these events were answered prayers, evidence that I was in his will. But then, and quickly, I felt something like embarrassment and fear of inadequacy. I mean, these are real people, not test questions. These are real problems, not hypotheticals.
This entire series of events is outside my comfort zone. But that’s part of the point. I signed up for this. We signed up for this. This is going to happen to us.
According to Experiencing God (in the chapter called “God is at work around you”),
“A common teaching is that people should “discover” their spiritual gifts and then find a ministry that specifically utilizes their gift. . . . Biblically, God always gives the assignment first. Then God equips the person by the Holy Spirit to accomplish what he assigns. . . . When you recognize that God is inviting you to join Him and you respond obediently – even when it is to do something you believe is outside your giftedness – you will experience God working in and through your life in an entirely new dimension than you imagined possible.”
Over Christmas, I spoke with the pastor I mentioned above, a gentleman named TJ Gentry. He suggested a number of books to read. He said, “Read these. Pray a lot.” About three weeks ago, I came across this illustration:
We enter the story with David speaking to King Saul:
“Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.” Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a boy, and he has been a fighting man from his youth.” But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” Saul said to David, “Go, and the LORD be with you.” (1 Sam. 17:32–37)
It is at verse 38 that many preachers begin their sermons on David and Goliath, but for our purposes the most interesting information is given earlier. When David encountered the lion, he had a number of options, but let us narrow them down to two. He could hide or he could fight. The lion represents what can be called a “grace event.” Grace events are the difficult battles—that is, life situations—we encounter that help form our personality, often without our knowing it. Only afterward do we realize they were turning points. I refer to them as events of grace because they represent the primary intention of the Holy Spirit for the Christian—to work upon our lives until “Christ is formed” in us (Gal. 4:19).
Viewed from this side of eternity, these grace events look a lot like problems and tragedies. So David, when he faced the lion, was facing, for the sake of illustration, a lion-sized problem. Yet from heaven’s perspective, it was a grace event. If we could replay this encounter, allowing David two choices for each event, how would the outcome be affected? What we discover is the birth of a second David, with the grace event being the defining point, splitting the two.
Now if David had been my son, he would have heard my voice whispering in his ear, “You are more important to me than some sheep. Take care of yourself!” Indeed, it would have been common sense, from my way of looking at it, to do so. So let us say David hides from the lion, protecting his own life. Here is where the split takes place. We now have two Davids, the one who defeated the lion and the one who protected his own life. They split at the grace event, that is, the lion.
Let us assume that the first and second David each encounter a bear along their separate time lines. We know the first David defeats the bear. By contrast, there is good reason to believe the second David is going to protect his own life once again. He has been formed by his choice at the previous grace event. He must now act without this alternate experience. He has never had a courageous victory over the lion.
Now each David, in his separate time line, meets Goliath. In each case, the problems have grown more threatening, but God’s grace has also increased (Rom. 5:20). Both Davids hear the taunts and curses of Goliath. Both are outraged, but as history records, the first accepts the challenge. The second stares, is angry, knows “someone” should do something, but stays behind the Israelite line where he is safe. He goes on to live a long, full life, eventually inheriting his father’s flock, marrying, and living to a ripe old age. Then he dies and is remembered by his family for a few generations.
The David who accepts the challenge defeats Goliath, thus experiencing another encounter and a decisive victory through God’s grace. This turning point is the third defining moment in his life. He goes on to become the most revered king Israel ever had, is loved and remembered by millions, and through his seed the Son of David, the King and Savior of the world, is born.
Kollar, Charles Allen. Solution-Focused Pastoral Counseling: An Effective Short-Term Approach for Getting People Back on Track . Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
Why is this a big deal? Why am I reading this to you early on a Sunday morning?
For the person you’re counseling, consider: 1. He is coming to you in the turmoil, in the midst of a grace event. Remind him that this is a turning point, that the life he will lead and the person he will become depend upon his decision; 2. God has a plan for his life. Alert him to this comforting fact. Tell him, “You have an all-powerful God who knows your name, and wants, even now, to get the robe, the ring, the sandals and kill the fatted calf. You need to talk to your Father!”3. Again, God has a plan for his life. You do not need to be an expert in whatever the problem is – addiction or infidelity or gambling or pornography – whatever. You are not really doing the work. “So what is the relevance of all this for counseling? It is exactly this—to help the counselee get on track in regard to the formation process that is already in place. . . . Inasmuch as counseling is in agreement with God’s intention for the counselee, it will be effective.” Kollar, Charles Allen. Solution-Focused Pastoral Counseling: An Effective Short-Term Approach for Getting People Back on Track . Zondervan. Kindle Edition. And finally 4. I’m not trying to create a false sense of accomplishment or ability in your role as counselor. You may not be able to meaningfully address the problem. You may need to refer someone on other counselors. But you can shift their paradigm from having an overwhelming problem on the throne of their hearts to having hope of a life that is unimaginably better. The key word there is hope. You can help them put God back on the throne.
And what about you? What does this story say to, or about, you? 1. You have to be asking yourself some hard questions, or flipping back through the catalog of your life. Are you listening to God’s call? Have you grown complacent or comfortable? A recurring theme of discipleship is to challenge the boundaries of your comfort zone. 2. We are promised the life that God has planned for us – not just eternal life, but an eternal kind of life. We get to partner with God now, do his work now, and from now on. Becoming everything He says we should be is the fun part. 3. There are any number of ways to exhort you, by people who use the language so much better than I do.
“Of course I know that the Enemy also wants to detach men from themselves, but in a different way. . . . When He talks of their losing themselves, He only means abandoning the clamor of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever.” CS Lewis, Screwtape Letters
And again, from Dallas Willard:
Men who live for the gratification of their own desires are all boringly similar. It doesn’t much matter which desire they pursue, whether it’s power, or sex, or money, or drugs. You can predict what they will do. But show me a disciple of Jesus Christ – there’s no telling what he will do.