Following God When He Leads from Behind

We have a new Christmas eve tradition of going ice skating with my sister and her family.  I can’t even begin to tell you how fun it is even though I’m still a bit wobbly.  I have great respect for Olympic athletes who make it look so easy!

The only bummer is this year I somehow managed to lose my gloves, the only gloves I have that aren’t heavy duty for biking.  So the day after Christmas wearing dress gloves I biked across town hoping to find my lost gloves turned in so I could get them back.  As the lady pulled out glove after glove from a huge box of things left behind, not one was mine.  Afterwards, I sat on the bench outside wondering, “Lord, why did that have to happen?  And why did I just waste all of this time coming over here?”  As I got back on my bike I decided to take a different way home.

Now on my trip to the ice rink I passed right by a used Christian bookstore and thought, “oooh!  I could stop there on the way back!”  but when I decided to head back a new way through town I figured that wasn’t going to happen.  But as I took one street after another – remember with the hills out here you can’t just go straight across town on one road! – can you believe I ended up on a street that dead ended right across from the bookstore?!  So being an off the charts bibliophile I went in!

Now I was pretty surprised that I ended up there so I asked the Lord as I entered, “Is there a book here you want me reading?  If so, would you please guide me to it!”  This is an amazing used book store loaded with books from floor to ceiling!  Every month they place a different section on sale with those books half off.  This month it was their “Christian Living” books so I decided to look in that section.  After pulling two possibilities off the shelves I looked down at a stack on the floor where a cover caught my attention, “Seven: The Deadly Sins and the Beatitudes” by Jeff Cook.  Sitting down on the floor I started to read the other two books first.  They were pretty light stuff – but when I opened Jeff Cook’s book I was blown away at how his words resonated in my soul.

Now I only had 15 minutes to be there as I didn’t bring bike lights so I  needed to get home before dark.  I grabbed the book by Jeff Cook – and have been reading it since, absolutely amazed at how the Lord has been meeting me there, even answering questions I’ve been asking Him!

What an incredible discipler the Lord is!  I am so amazed at how He guides, even when I haven’t a clue!  I thought I was biking across town to get gloves!

And you know even in those light books that I read a chapter from but didn’t buy the Lord also spoke to my heart.

In one I read a story about George Whitefield – how when his wife was pregnant he thought the Lord told him the baby was going to be a son who would follow in his footsteps as a great preacher and he boldly announced this to everyone.  But then the boy died a few months after birth and the author went on to talk about listening to God and said while we need to be careful and use caution when we think the Lord is speaking to us regarding something nonBiblical, we also don’t want to fall into the trap where we view following God as walking a tightrope – one misstep and you’re a goner!  We need to remember He is our shepherd and He is so able to catch us and help us if we make a wrong move while seeking to follow Him.

Has that image ever been resonating in my mind.  You see, if I think of following God as walking on a tightrope, I’m not going to want to take that next step until I’m absolutely certain God is telling me to – can that ever paralyze you!  And cause you to miss out!  As in the case of my bike riding and book finding – God doesn’t always lead us by telling us what the next step is.  Sometimes He directs us mysteriously as we’re moving!

As it says in Isaiah 30:21, “Whether you turn to the left or the right, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the way, walk in it.”  Sometimes God leads from behind!  I find that takes far greater faith than waiting for a neon sign!

I realize I don’t know what I need to know, that God’s ways aren’t my ways and I want to live a life of total dependence on the Lord, but often I’m finding that means crying out to Him to guide me and trusting Him to do so without having to tell me each step in advance.

In fact, I’m finding the clearer His direction is, that usually means the situation is going to be a harder one and I’m going to need that clarity to get me through!  So I’m starting to learn to welcome those murky times, when I’m just not sure what to do, or why I’m doing what I’m doing – because just like with the gift of the book, I am always even more amazed to look back and see how His hand was at work guiding me when I didn’t have a clue!

He knows I’m like a two year old spiritually in my ability to discern His will.  The question isn’t, “Do I know the right way to go” but “have I declared my dependence asking Him to get me where I need to be even when I don’t know.”  And just like the Perfect Father He is, He’s got me covered!

One of my friends was accepted to two programs for grad school and wasn’t sure which one to take.  So she asked my advice and I said, “Go where you know you’ll have the best fellowship” which meant “come to the school I’m at!” So she did!  But it didn’t take long till she realized that program was not at all suited for her learning style. Two weeks in she was pulling her hair out, decided to contact the other program which started later, found out they hadn’t yet filled her spot so she switched schools and ended up exactly where the Lord wanted her!  And did he ever provide great fellowship too!

Do you see how God was at work in that?!  He doesn’t want us to walk in fear, afraid of taking the next step.  He really is an amazing shepherd!  Even if we go the wrong way, as long as our heart truly is seeking to follow Him, inviting His intervention, we can rest in Him, trusting Him that He will guide us and get us where we need to be.

What an amazing God He is!

Discipleship Lessons from the Christmas Story ~ The Blessing of Each Other!

Luke’s account of the Christmas story begins with failure.

After years of disappointment Zechariah receives an angelic visitor telling him his prayer has been heard and his wife is going to bear him a son!  But instead of joy, he responds with disbelief.

“How shall I know this?  For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years…”  and he ends up voiceless for the next nine months as a consequence.

Fast forward ten verses and the angel Gabriel makes another visit, this time to a young girl.  When he tells her she’s going to get pregnant without ever having known a man, and before she’s even married, she responds, after a little clarification, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”  What faith!

But here’s the question ~ was Mary more spiritually mature than Zechariah?

Remember, Zechariah is introduced as being righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.  That’s a pretty incredible intro!

Now we can’t measure spiritual maturity on the basis of this alone, but here’s a thought ~ it’s one thing to trust the Lord when you are young and have no idea what you’re getting into.  It’s a whole other to trust him after decades of disappointment, when you’ve finally resigned yourself to the reality your last opportunity passed years ago, when you’ve hoped and hurt so many times…

Does this ever illustrate why we need each other!  Why the Lord tells older believers to invest in younger ones!  Not just so the young will benefit but so those older will too.

Yes, when you’re older you’ve had more time for your roots to grow deeper into the Lord – no amount of excitement can ever take the place of that.  But, well, I guess I should say each season of life brings challenges in trusting and following Jesus.

Younger believers often have a harder time persevering because their roots aren’t as deep so there can be much benefit for them having someone older come alongside encouraging and helping them hang in there when life turns out far more difficult than they anticipated.

But for those who are older, there is something so invigorating about the optimism of youth, when you are with someone and they’ve first experienced Jesus and can’t get enough time with Him! When they’re ready to go anywhere in the world without a second thought or do whatever he calls them to do, no matter the cost!  It can be so infectious!  And spur you on to do the same!

I remember shortly after I became a Christian writing a poem that began…

I’ll climb the highest mountain, I’ll sail the roughest sea

I’ll travel to any distant land and live life dangerously

I’ll brave the harshest winter, pushing onward through sleet and snow

I’m ready Lord.  Do with me as you will, just show me the way I should go…

And I spent my years in college sleeping on a reed mat on the floor of my dorm room getting ready to do pioneer missions, to take the gospel where it hadn’t been before and meeting with anyone who showed any interest at all to share with them about Jesus!

I remember someone commenting once I was a gift to the woman I met with because I was so excited about anything that had to do with God, at a time when she was wrestling with the reality she was probably going to be single the rest of her life and discouraged over shattered dreams.  I better understand this now.

As I approach 50 it’s not quite as easy to climb those mountains, and after having endured this past week’s negative zero temps, I’m not certain how eager I’d be to push onward through sleet and snow – that’s not only cold, that’s wet!!!

We had a national staff conference a couple weeks ago and were so blessed to have Jim Downing and Jerry and Jane Bridges join us.   I got to see first hand – It’s a whole lot harder for them to come to these conferences than it is for someone 80 years younger!  But how blessed the younger staff are to have them there – and what a delight to see the joy on their faces as they interact with new staff!

If the Lord keeps me here I so hope to follow in their footsteps.  I want to follow Jesus however, wherever, whenever with whomever, but I’m much more aware of the cost now.

Do those I meet with ever keep me on my toes, challenging me to go out of my comfort zone.

Here’s one other thing – note where Mary heads right after she gets this news…  Straight to Zechariah and Elizabeth’s house!  Can you imagine the incredible one on ones she shared with Elizabeth during their three months together?  And what a blessing that was to her, too?!

Don’t you just love how the Lord works things out so we all get blessed as together we follow him?!

Discipleship Lessons from The Christmas Story ~ 1

“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”  Matthew 1:1

Got to love the way the New Testament begins with a genealogy!  One that places Jesus smack dab in the middle of a family… and one with quite a colorful lineage!  Reading through Matthew 1:2-17 is like a review of favorite stories from the Old Testament, only you really see how interconnected they are.

Then verse 18 begins, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way…”  Only it doesn’t begin with his mother going into labor or even with her conceiving…  Jesus’ birth story begins with Mary being betrothed to Joseph.  And then we see how the Lord goes out of his way to make certain that Joseph stays in the picture, sending an angel to encourage him to not be afraid to take Mary to be his wife.

He didn’t have to.  Mary could’ve been a single mother.  Yes, she needed in that culture to be provided for but the Lord could’ve done this through other people or even through birds bringing her food!  He’d done that before!

But in God’s perfect timing and ultimate wisdom, He chose Mary to be Jesus’ mother and Joseph to be her husband and to care for Jesus as his earthly father.

So what does this have to do with discipleship?  Just as the Son of God was born into a family, so each of us is born into a family.  When we disciple someone if we ignore this reality we will be greatly hampered in helping them.

1.  The Lord chose the exact family we were born into and grew up with.

For those adopted this may involve two families!  Jesus had this experience – at least through his father!  (note Luke 2:48 )  And I wonder…  adoption is such a key part of the gospel, could this be why the Lord so wanted Joseph involved?!  So Jesus could experience the temporal illustration of what He was going to make possible eternally?!

In Psalm 139:13 we’re told, “Certainly you made my mind and heart,  you wove me together in my mother’s womb.  I will give you thanks because your deeds are awesome and amazing.  You knew me thoroughly; my bones were not hidden from you, when I was made in secret and sewed together in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw me when I was inside the womb.”  (NET)

Do you see the intentionality of the Lord revealed in these verses?  The hands on care?  Can you imagine the wisdom, power, artistry that went into hand fashioning each individual?  It is so vital for those you meet with to understand this!  So they can appreciate God’s majesty as creator through His  role in forming them but also…

To the extent they reject or feel shame or harbor bitterness or resentment against their family this will greatly hinder the Lord’s work in their lives and even without them knowing it, can impact in a huge way their relationship with the Lord.

2.  The Lord has a purpose for placing each person into the exact family they are born into.

Does Matthew’s genealogy ever highlight this for Jesus!

Note the Psalmist continues, “All the days ordained for me were recorded in your scroll before one of them came into existence.  How difficult it is for me to fathom your thoughts about me, O God!  How vast is their sum total!  If I tried to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand.  Even if I finished counting them, I would still have to contend with you.” (NET)  

God’s work in us does not “begin” when we become Christians!  From the getgo, even before our first day came to be, God was at work purposefully planning…  This was not a slap ‘er together and move on event!  Can’t you hear the Psalmist’s amazement at all the thought the Lord puts into this?

And yes, this can be hard to swallow for those who’ve experienced abuse at the hands of their families.  But even in these cases, it’s so important to help women work through these issues with the help of the Lord.  The reality is the Lord in His Omniscience knows everything that happens and knew in advance what would happen and He still chose to place them in that specific womb, in that specific family.  

Over the past thirty years I’ve met with many women who’ve come from homes where they experienced extreme physical, verbal and/or sexual abuse.  When this has been caused or allowed by their mom, it’s easy in situations like this for them to want to look to the older woman discipling her to take the place of her mom.  I try so hard to never do this, but instead am always encouraging those I meet with to learn to love their moms, to forgive her and pray for her ~ and whenever possible we pray for her parents together.  Time after time I’ve been blown away as I’ve seen the Lord draw the mom to Himself and bring deep healing not only to the relationship, but also to the woman I’m discipling!

3.  Our families play a huge role in shaping us

It wasn’t just happenstance Jesus ended up being a carpenter!  

With family it can be so easy to only look at the negative and forget the positives we’ve received from those who gave us birth and raised us.  What a difference it can make if we take time to help those we meet with identify the good they’ve received, even if it’s just healthy genes or inherited abilities!

And it’s vital to remember our families don’t just shape us as we’re growing up but throughout our lives.  Unforgiveness can have an even greater impact on one’s heart than abuse itself!

And even where abuse hasn’t occurred we’ve got to take the gospel and apply it, including, “All have sinned and fall short…”  I became a believer six years before I gave birth to my son.  And I so wanted to love him well and raise him well!  And yet, even in the areas I tried hardest, I fell short!  We all always need the grace of God and the forgiveness of Jesus!

But here’s the kicker – to the extent we are critical of and judge our families, not extending grace to them it will continue to have a huge negative impact on us… and our families!  In Titus 2:4  Older women are to be trained so they can teach younger women first and foremost, “to love their husbands and children.”  One of the best ways I can love my immediate family is by loving well the family I came from.  To the extent I don’t, one will impact the other.

4.  Families are important to God.

In 1 Timothy 5:4 Paul writes, “But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God. ”  This pleases God!  It brings Him pleasure when this happens!

Now Jesus is to be a higher priority in our lives than our families (see Luke 14:26) – it’s so important we don’t go to the other extreme where families become idols!  But Jesus makes it clear in Mark 7:11 we are not to spiritualize neglect of our families either!

5.  It’s not just about what our families have done (or not done) for us, but also what we can do for them.

When the healed demoniac begs to go with Jesus, the Lord refuses and tells him, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you and how He has had mercy on you!” (Mark 5:19)

6.  Families provide an incredible relational network for helping spread the Gospel and God’s Kingdom!

When Jesus was selecting his disciples, he chose two sets of brothers!  Indeed, all throughout the scriptures it’s amazing how many times one person believes in Jesus and the rest of the family is impacted.  And note while Jesus’ brothers start out seriously misunderstanding him (John 7:5), one of them ends up not only believing in Him (Galatians 1:19) but many believe he contributed the book to the Bible called by his name!!!

One of the neatest things about family – you’re an insider there!  And as your family expands through marriage and yes, even through tracking down distant relatives can you ever have neat opportunities to share the most important part of your life!  They may think you’re crazy, but you belong!

This is one thing I love about being married!  I don’t just have my family!  I’ve now got my husband’s whole family too!!!  :0)

If those you disciple are trying to run away from their families can they ever miss out on important opportunities to let their light shine!  What if God placed them in that broken, dysfunctional family (and what family isn’t?!) so they could give the reason for the hope they have inside and see God do a miracle of redemption?

I love how the Lord puts it in Jeremiah 32:27, “I am the Lord, the God of all flesh.  Is there anything too difficult for me?!”

7.  Families aren’t just about those who’ve come before us, but also the generations that will follow!  What we do or don’t do doesn’t just impact our life!

I’ve just finished reading through 2 Kings and over and over as each King is introduced and identified as either doing evil or following the Lord you know what it says?  Who his mother is!  Do we ever have a huge impact on the generations that are to follow – for good or for harm!

Reading about Hezekiah was so sobering.  He loved the Lord.  He did great things for God.  And when Isaiah came and told him he was going to die, he prayed earnestly and the Lord gave him an extra 15 years.  But later on when Isaiah told him the Babylonians were going to come and take everything, does he earnestly pray, asking God to change this?  No!  He actually replied, “The Word of the Lord you have spoken is good” for he thought, “There will be peace and security in my lifetime.”  

Let’s not fall into Hezekiah’s trap (if you want to see the outcome of that read 2 Kings 21), just caring about ourselves or only about the women we are meeting with.  Even Jesus right before he died on the cross made provision for his mother.  Care about those who will continue on after you!  And after those you disciple!  Ask the Lord to give you a vision for her whole family, even for those yet to be born!

What a difference this can make when you disciple… and beyond!