These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt.”—Mark 6:8,9
Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help,
who rely on horses,
who trust in the multitude of their chariots
and in the great strength of their horsemen,
but do not look to the Holy One of Israel,
or seek help from the Lord.—Isaiah 31:1
When Jesus sent his disciples out for their first experiences of ministry, he told them to go without a safety net. They took no food, and no money. This meant they were counting on the fact that some nice person, whom God had prepared ahead of time, would take care of them in whatever city He sent them to. If that didn’t happen, they would be out of luck, hungry and homeless. Their only safety net was God.
It was the same with Israel when the Assyrians were preparing to attack them. As I wrote about last week, the logical thing to do was to accept help from the powerful Egyptians, but God had specifically told them not to do that. I can just imagine them saying, “Well, God, if not that, then what? What’s the plan?” And God’s answer was “Me. I’m the plan.”
When I was young and single, it was easy to take steps of faith. After a miserable semester at a seminary in Chicago that was not a good fit for me, I decided to transfer to a school in Denver, because in a time of prayer I believed I heard God tell me to. The week I was supposed to move there was a terrible blizzard in the Midwest. But I packed up all of my earthly possessions in my ’86 Isuzu Trooper and headed out into the storm. I had a piece of cardboard stuffed in front of the grill to keep the engine from freezing up in the driving wind, and I had to stop and get a hotel room somewhere in Nebraska when I could no longer see the road. Also, I had never been to Colorado, and I had not yet been officially accepted at the school. Details. I was confident that God was leading me, and my heart was at peace.
Things are more complicated now. I have a wife and three children who all need food and shelter and health insurance. I have a mortgage and utility bills. And somewhere along the way I became less comfortable sleeping in my car than I used to be. In this season of life, I read passages like the ones above and I think, What does it look like for me to trust God today? What steps of obedience is He calling me to? Or, to put it another way: If I always have a backup plan, am I really living by faith?
Moving to Denver was a major turning point in my life, because there I met Mark Hanke, the mentor who is a major reason I am the pastor I am today. A few years later, after Carey and I were married, I found myself moving to Colorado again. This time it was my wife who had never been there, and we needed a single small U-Haul to fit all of our earthly possessions. We were moving there for an unpaid internship at Mark’s church. We had no jobs, and we spent the first 3 months living in his basement. It was an adventure we still look back on and praise God for, despite some real hardships. Eventually I became the college pastor at the church, and I remember my frustration as I counseled young adults who were considering spending a year on the mission field, but whose Christian parents discouraged it in the name of “prudence.” I am a parent now, and I understand their concerns. But if we always take the safe path, how can we say we are trusting Jesus? Aren’t we just trusting in our own plans?
For the three years we lived in Colorado, I worked multiple low-paying jobs and Carey worked hard in a daycare. We were starting to think about having children, and we knew our situation wasn’t sustainable. When the internship ended, I sent out my resume and landed a real job as an associate pastor on the Oregon coast. We relocated and bought a small house. Life became a little more comfortable and predictable. Soon we were expecting our first child. One night Carey and I were talking, and she was expressing some sadness that we were moving from one season of life to another. I don’t remember her exact words, but what she was really asking was this: “Does this mean the adventures are over? Do we have to be boring grown-ups now?”
In that moment, I spoke without thinking, with words that I hope came from the Holy Spirit. This is what I said: “I don’t think God is done doing creative things with our lives.” Since then, whenever we have gone through some kind of transition, such as having children or moving to Susanville, I remember those words. I truly hope God is not done doing creative things in my life. I don’t want the adventure to be over.
I know that major changes don’t come all the time. I know that most of the time, being faithful doesn’t mean taking a huge step in a new direction, it means staying the course. And no, I don’t plan or hope to go anywhere anytime soon. And that’s the point: sometimes we get to trust God by taking a leap of faith, but those moments are rare, and rarer as we get older. But when life is more stable, how do I keep my edge, leaning on God rather than on myself? Somehow, in small ways, whether it’s serving in a ministry that’s out of our comfort zone, being generous with our finances or our time, or even initiating an important conversation that intimidates us, I think it’s important for us to continually find ways to place our faith in God and not ourselves. It may not be a giant leap, but is there a small, scary step of faith God is calling you to take, where there is no backup plan, no safety net, only Him?