”You don’t have to be great to get started, but you have to get started to be great.”
— Les Brown
This week’s devotional prompt would immediately lead most writers to thoughts of Abraham, and I was no different. Hand-picked by God to become the father of the nation of Israel, when God’s call came to him to pull up stakes, put Ur and his kindred in the rear-view mirror and follow an unseen God to an unknown place, it was decision time. Stay or go?
I have often found myself somewhat mystified by the story of Abraham, wondering what was it that prompted a 75-year-old man, seemingly without question or hesitation, to leave familiar surroundings and head off to an unknown destination and future. There isn’t a visible theophany here, no burning bush, just a compelling voice telling him:
“Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.”
— Genesis 12:1 NIV
There’s little doubt that his kinsmen thought him off his rocker. “You’ve lost your mind, Abram,” he was told. But Abraham’s decision, as difficult as it must have been, was to go, to heed the voice of God and embrace God’s promise:
“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
— Genesis 12:2–3 NIV
Leaving the familiar for a heavenly assignment is not always easy. Believe me, though, it takes just as much faith to stay put in a place or situation where conditions are less than favorable and the immediate future lacks luster.
Pastor David Griffin applied the case of Ruth to this truth pointing to the multiplied uncertainties she exposed herself to by refusing to leave Naomi and stay. Extreme poverty, hard work, and even death were real possibilities. But her decision to stay led to Boaz, which led to Obed, which led to Jesse, which led to David, then up-up-up the family tree to Jesus and, ultimately, to your salvation and mine.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, and both Abram and Ruth already knew, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
To stay or to go I cannot tell you, but God can, and he will.
But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.
— Isaiah 40:31 ESV
Should I stay or should I go? Whenever I hear these words, the ever so catchy song by The Clash always pops into my head. But outside of those words that everyone knows, they are followed up with, “If I go there will be trouble, and if I stay there will be double. So come on and let me know…” Those words can speak so true to us, we often times just look at the fact that if we go there will be trouble, but don’t always think about the truth that staying could cause even more. It can work both ways. Leaving could also cause double the trouble we are currently in. It may seem like the easy way out in the short term, but if it is not where you are called to be, there will surely be more difficulty as you make that decision. The Bible lays out many times where these types of decisions were made and, over and over again, we see where God is telling people that he will bring them up again as he will be with them.
“I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.”
— Genesis 46:3–4
As God called Jacob to go into Egypt to be with Joseph, one of the great things Jacob did during this journey was to stop and make sacrifices to God in the middle of his journey. He stopped, not only to make those sacrifices, but to put his emotions aside and listen to what God had to say about his decision. Jacob learned through this time that God called him to go to Egypt, because God would be going with him and God would raise him up again through his obedience to leave what they had known and follow him.
One of the things that we struggle with is the idea that we, as humans, are able to just bear down and make decisions on our own about whether or not we should stay or go in whatever it is that we are doing. We often don’t take the time, or any time at all, to ask God what it is that he wants for us. As we learned from week four of this current series, setting our eyes on Jesus won’t just get us to the point of starting or stopping something that we know we should or shouldn’t be doing. Setting our eyes on Jesus will help us to make the right decisions on whether we should stay or go. Leaving our comfort zone is something that can be so very difficult for so many of us. We love the people we work with, or the house we live in, so why in the world would we leave? The only answer to that is that it is through our obedience to what God is calling us to do. It may be uncomfortable, but more often than not, it is through those times, whether it be staying where you are, or moving onto a new journey, that we find God right smack in the middle of it all, making it all OK.
Focus your eyes on God when you are in the middle of a “Should I stay or should I go now” moment. Take a step back, put thought and prayer into what God wants for you in this situation and follow his lead. You may not feel that your decision is the easiest one to make, but with God in control, he tells us that we can trust him with our burdens.
“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
— Matthew 11:30
His burden is light. Trust him with this decision, and he will bring you up again, whether you stay or go.
One of the most notorious instances of the common “should I stay or should I go?” question occurred in the book of Jonah:
The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai:
“Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”
But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the LORD.
— Jonah 1:1–4
Jonah had been given instruction from God to go to Nineveh to preach against all of the horrible things going on there. Jonah, in fear, ran away from the situation. In life, many of us find ourselves making the same foolish mistake as Jonah. We run away from what God is calling us towards, simply because it makes us uncomfortable or brings us great fear. Whether God calls us to move jobs, share the gospel, or let go of something that is holding us back, we often find excuses to avoid going through with God’s instruction. We fool ourselves into believing that we know best, or that God might not know our situation, but in reality, God has a will for our lives that will be done eventually. It’s just a matter of whether or not we choose to be obedient initially. As people actively pursuing Christ, it is imperative that we that we are obedient and always willing to do what God is calling us to do in our lives.
Discerning what God is calling us to do can be very difficult. I will admit that, as a young person, I definitely don’t have the wisdom to always be 100 percent confident in what God is telling me to do. What I have learned through making important decisions in my life is that it is necessary that I seek God in every situation. Ask yourself, ask God, and get in the Word in order to make the best decision that you can. Make yourself available to God. Be open to God’s plan.
And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”
— Isaiah 6:8
No matter where you are, God is going to use you. Don’t miss out on opportunities to reach others just because you are unhappy or uncomfortable with where you are.
When I first came to Christ and was brought to my knees about 10 years ago, I received a clear message from the Lord: “Stop.” I was so broken and so devastated by the inner consequences of my way of living that I was ready. “Yes, Lord. I will stop. No more.”
But then, a second clear message came through: “Now go tell your husband about your life.”
What? Why? No way! There was no need for that. “Yes, Lord. I will stop. No more. But I will not start.”
For four years, I wrestled with the Lord. Amidst every prayer to him, the Lord said to me, “Go tell.” It got to be so persistent that during my prayers I would literally stop and say out loud, “Do we have to talk about this every time?!”
What would telling my husband mean? It would mean revealing who I really was to him and losing his love. After all, this is not who he thought he married. This is not who he loves. It would mean losing my marriage. It would mean losing the respect of my children and my family. It would mean disgracing and bringing great sorrow to my parents. It would mean losing status among my siblings and my peers. And it would mean causing great pain for all the people that I love and who did not deserve it, my greatest fear. I truly did not understand why the Lord would ask me to do this.
But one day, at 5:30 in the morning, while my husband was setting out the coffee cup that he set out for me every morning, I submitted to the Lord and told my husband who I was. It was the hardest thing I have ever done in my entire life. My husband put down the cup and left the house for three days.
When he returned, he had 3,000 questions for me and, for three days, we talked and cried and talked some more.
And then, he had no more questions. Suddenly, my husband became the man I had always wanted him to be. He had a new zest for life and an ambition that I had never seen before. He didn’t leave me. In fact, he turned into a new person, one that I could rely on as the leader of our family and the rock that we needed. I truly did not understand what was going on. He was supposed to leave this person he did not know and did not love. He was supposed to be so disillusioned by my lies. But he seemed to have completely and utterly forgiven me by some supernatural means.
About six months into my bafflement by this new husband and new life, I finally asked him, “What is going on? Why do you seem so content? Why are you so happy? Why are you still here?”
He looked at me a little confused and said, “Because you told me. I didn’t find all of these things out from someone else. You came to me and you told me how broken you were. You let me know that you are not perfect, and that let me know that you need me.”
Then it hit me like a brick to my face. The reason my husband was happy and renewed was because I had done exactly what the Lord had asked me to do.
I had started.
And through my husband’s gracious response, I more fully understood the work of Christ. I more fully understood this amazing grace of which I was not worthy. I more fully understood that God is faithful, so faithful that he provided his son to take my place, and he created a means by which I could walk with him in grace. If you want to know Christ, start.
At each stage in life, we find that our time is more and more valuable, understanding that any remaining time is ultimately precious. There are things I must do that stretch my time relatively thin. After I do those things, I intentionally leave time for myself to make sure I can then do the things I want to do, too.
But the dangerous trap in meticulously planning my day is I make God just that — a plan. I live in the world he created, breathing in the air he formed through the lungs he gave me, yet I only give him a portion of my time. (And, if I’m being honest, it’s a small portion, at that.)
Why are we content making God just part of our plans when he holds perfect direction for our entire lives?
Because we’re selfish.
I have many aspects of my life I ensure that I make time for. I visit a coffee shop each morning before work, tweet about sports for a living, and buy tickets for the newest Star Wars film two months in advance. Most of my time and energy is spent towards things that don’t directly bring me closer to Christ. This plan results in spending whatever time is left on the fruits of the spirit, but I’m often too tired by then and I just endlessly peruse Twitter instead.
Thankfully, we serve a compassionate God. We serve a God who, despite our constant misuse of time and personal resources, loves us anyway and spends eternity in pursuit of his children.
Because of this, we can decide to change how we use our time.
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
— Matthew 6: 19–21
I love this passage. It’s convicting and full of hope. We should be wary of living lives based around earthly matters that are eventually meaningless. We should also be full of celebration because we have space in heaven for us where we will encounter eternal treasure in a seat at the right hand of God.
Because of the love of Christ, we can stop and start.
We can stop looking to fit God in like he’s a meeting to be slotted into our schedules, and start living lives that reflect the sacrifice he endured for us and the glory we’re to give to him in return. When we can live with this sort of clarity, we won’t struggle to “find time for God” anymore, opting instead to give our time to God for him to allocate as he sees fit.