I was talking with a friend the other day about his job and how things were going. He told me that things were getting really difficult and what was supposed to be a great opportunity for him was now rife with drama and stress - all those things that lead to a lack of fulfillment and overall unhappiness. The conclusion was that this job was clearly not where God wanted him to be. Things had become so difficult, so maybe God was closing the door on this place in order to move him on to something bigger and better -- or at least something not so miserable.
The thought occurred to me that I had been in a similar situation last year with the same kind of conclusion drawn. God had directed my path to an entirely new career, one that I had never sought out and one that I honestly had never desired. I went to school to be an engineer, not a teacher. So when this opportunity to teach both Calculus and Apologetics at a private high school was brought to me (combining my engineering background and my current heart for apologetics), it was clear to me this was where God wanted me to be. But when that first year got under way, it was so much more difficult than what I anticipated: ridiculously long hours preparing lessons; hours spent re-learning all that calculus I hadn’t done in 20 years; challenging parent conferences; figuring out a fair way to grade; trying to figure out how to keep teenagers engaged and learning. Pile on top of that the grief in the recent loss of my mom only four weeks before school started; the sleepless nights; the struggle to maintain this ministry; my oldest son starting kindergarten; my youngest now having to go all-day at pre-school. None of this was what I had planned for my life, career, family, and ministry. It was emotionally, physically, and spiritually the most draining and exhausting thing I’ve ever done. All at once.
Now, I know that compared to many jobs and many situations, this was not “difficult,” but it was certainly not what I thought it was going to be. I began to ask those same questions as my friend. If this is really God’s will, why is this so hard? If He brought me to this place, then isn’t it supposed to just “all work out”? Wasn’t it supposed to just all fold nicely into what I wanted my schedule to look like? Why did that first semester just feel like a black darkness of misery? Surely this means I had misunderstood God’s will. Surely this isn’t what God had really planned for me. I must have made a mistake because being in God’s will means that “doors are opened” and things are successful.
By the grace and strength of God, and the prayers of some cherished people around me, I survived that first semester. And by the second semester I could start to see the many reasons why God put me in that place, as difficult as it was. I had formed new and precious relationships. I had seen those kids have their eyes opened to the battle of ideas they would soon be facing out in the “real world.” And I grew to love those teenagers (and I re-learned Calculus too!).
What I wish I could have understood better at the time, and what I do understand now, is that being in God’s will does not mean things will be easy. We have the tendency to think that if God has called you into something then it’s going to be a smooth course of action. I don’t mean we think there won’t be any problems, but that the problems are supposed to be manageable. We even think that the mission is supposed to be successful. How often have we started down a path that we think God has led us down, and we hit a bump in the road, and then turn around thinking God has “closed the door” here? We think every difficulty must mean God doesn’t want us there and every easy open path means God wants us there. Think about how dangerous that can be to us! Have we ever stopped to consider that maybe the difficulties are there because it’s what Satan is trying to stop and the clear path is where Satan is trying to trap us? Or maybe the difficulties are there because God is teaching us and growing us so that we are equipped and able to fulfill the mission He has for us?
Or even worse, have we ever stopped to consider that maybe the difficulties are there because it’s what God is trying to do? I think about the life of David. God sent Samuel to Jesse’s house when David was just a young boy. And he was anointed as the next king of Israel. But he spent the next 8 years fleeing for his life, hiding in caves, and seeking shelter from the enemy. Eight years. Eight years, folks. Could you be on the run for your life for eight years before God actually brings to pass what He promised you? Or would you conclude that you made a mistake in thinking God wanted you to be king and then decide to move off to another place and be a shepherd? I mean, the path for David to move off and be a shepherd would certainly have been easier. Can’t you hear the conversation now? “Well, clearly God closed the door for me to be king because Saul really wasn’t having any of that. There was just so much drama surrounding it. And in my wanderings I came across this little piece of land JUST when this guy put up a for sale sign. Clearly God just opened the door for me to go back to being a shepherd.” On the contrary, God was using that time to test David in his faithfulness and to teach to be David fully dependent on Him.
We can see the same thing with Joseph. When he was 17, he had a prophetic dream that his brothers and parents would bow down to him. And instantly that happened! Nope. Joseph was first captured by his brothers, sold into slavery, moved to Egypt, worked as a slave, falsely accused of rape, and thrown into prison. Thirteen years after his dream – and after going through more than you and I could imagine – Joseph was made overseer of Egypt. But it was another nine years before the dream of his brothers bowing before him became a reality. Yet everything that happened along the way was part of God’s plan for the salvation of His people. Genesis 50:20, “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.” The fulfillment of God’s plan included slavery, imprisonment, and twenty-two years of a less than comfortable life for Joseph.
David, Joseph, Paul, John the Baptist, and so many others were right where God wanted them to be, yet their journeys were difficult and long. But in each of those circumstances, God was still faithful; God was still present. It says God is not so much interested in our comfort as He is in our obedience. He desires our willingness to follow Him over our happiness. So maybe we should stop using our comfort level and happiness to ascertain God’s will. I look back at last year and I see how even with the strife and difficulty, I was still right where God wanted me to be. The hard times was not God “closing the door,” but instead it was God teaching me something new. Besides, as my dad always says, if it were easy, they’d get anybody to do it.