“God told me to move my family to Saudi Arabia.”
Alex stared at his friend, wondering if he was just joking or had gone mad. Alex had known Tom for more than 10 years. He’d been best man at Tom’s wedding, and godfather to Tom’s and Alicia’s twin girls. Alex knew that Tom and Alicia were as suited for missionary life in Saudi Arabia as toads are for an omelet.
“That’s, well, a pretty big decision, Tom. How do you know it’s really God’s will for you?”
“Well, just a lot of things.” Tom stared deep into his coffee cup. “Pastor Mel’s sermon a few weeks ago really got me thinking.” He glanced up at Alex. “We’re pretty selfish enjoying the good life here in America while people all around the world need help. I gave it a lot of prayer, and God seemed to answer that we should go.”
Alex nodded thoughtfully, weighing how to respond. “How did God give you that answer?”
“Well, for one thing, I was talking to the Hogarths, you know, the missionaries in Saudi Arabia. They said they could use some help.”
“What kind of help?”
“Well, you know, I’m pretty good at carpentry, and they said that’s just what they’d been praying for—somebody good at carpentry. It was like God was just saying to me, ‘This is what I want you to do, Tom.’”
“What does Alicia think about it?”
“Oh, she’s not as excited as I am, but I’m praying she’ll come around.”
“Not as excited?” Alex said.
“Well, actually she’s dead set against it. She can get pretty hardheaded sometimes. But I think the Lord will show her it’s the right thing for us to do.”
“Hmm, I see,” Alex dumped a pack of sweetener into his coffee. “What if he doesn’t?”
“He will, Alex. I trust the Lord. I have a really good feeling about this decision.”
Tom is not unique. Every day, Christians somewhere are convincing themselves that God is telling them to marry a certain person, take a certain job, go to a certain college, or “get out there” and do something really big and meaningful for him.
But is he—really?
How can we know whether God is leading us into some major life decision, or whether, just maybe, we are simply bored and frustrated with our current situation and looking for a change or a way out? A way out with God’s name stamped on it?
A few thoughts
Here are a few thoughts God told me to pass along about decision-making. Or maybe he didn’t. In any case, here are my two cents’ worth. I believe they are a biblically rooted two cents’ worth.
When God spoke to people in the Bible, there was no question that it was a message from God. It usually was delivered by an angel, and it usually scared the people.
When God had to tell people what he wanted them to do, it was usually something they did not want to do.
Sometimes, our prayers for God’s blessing are really our prayers to get our own way despite what God thinks. Take King Ahab, when he wanted to attack the King of Aram, who had captured some of Ahab’s cities. Ahab asked Micaiah the prophet if he’d be victorious. Micaiah told Ahab the truth, even though all the other “prophets” had said Ahab would surely win the battle. Ahab wasn’t looking for God’s will; he was looking for affirmation of his own will. He was doing a bullheaded thing, but he also wanted God’s blessing to cover his backside. But God is apparently not into covering the backsides of bull-headed people. Ahab attacked the king of Aram and was killed. God doesn’t stop us from making stupid decisions when we are determined to make them.
God is pretty clear about what he tells us to do: “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” For what it’s worth, we don’t have to go half way around the world to find our neighbors.
One of the reasons we crave to do something “great” for God is that we are unsure of how we stand with him, and we hope that if we do something “great,” like move to a faraway corner of the earth and be a missionary, God will like us more and we can feel better about our relationship with him. That’s not gospel thinking—that’s superstitious thinking. God loves us where we are, and there is a “great” Christian work in us being ourselves in Christ and showing his love to the people we run into every day.
Changing our location does not change us. We can’t run away from our problems. If I’m a lazy curmudgeon in Peoria, I’ll be a lazy curmudgeon in Bangladesh. If I’m a short-tempered mule with my first spouse, I’ll likely be a short-tempered mule with my second, or third, too. If we need to change, we might need to change our selves first, not merely our circumstances. We might need to pray for a clean and godly heart of love, and then take that clean heart wherever life leads us, not where we think there might be more spiritual glory.
Spiritual glory is invisible, and it’s present in every act of kindness and self-sacrificial love. Geography or possessions have nothing to do with it. If I want to do “more” for God, I might do well to start by being a better husband and father, or wife and mother.
Some ordained people give poor advice. When a pastor or missionary says, “I think God is calling you to such-and-such,” don’t think that they necessarily know what they are talking about. “In a multitude of counselors, there is safety,” says the proverb. We shouldn’t take one hyped-up person’s opinion as though it were God’s sacred word just because it’s what we wanted to hear.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com
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This article was written by J. Michael Feazell in 2005 and updated in 2014. Copyright Grace Communion International. All rights reserved. If you'd like to learn more about the Bible, check out Grace Communion Seminary. It's accredited, affordable, and all online. www.gcs.edu.
“God told me to… ” is often a euphemism for “I want to and have decided to…”
It isn’t wrong to want to do something and decide to do it. But why not be honest? Why not say: “I have decided to go to Africa and work in a health clinic. Please pray for me.” That would be honest.
God can and does bless us in our decisions without making them for us. God gives us the ability to weigh the factors in our lives, get advice, do some research, study the issues involved and make informed, well-considered decisions. And we should ask him to lead us.
Wouldn’t it be nice to enjoy the godly freedom to say: “Lord, I’ve got several paths before me, and based on all the facts as I understand them, here’s what I think I should probably do. If there’s something I’m missing here, would you show me before it’s too late? And if I miss the cue, then please have mercy on me, a sinner and a frequent dumbbell. And if this is a trap door instead of an open door, would you mind not letting go of my hand until I get back to where I ought to be? Thanks. Amen.”