I’ve always had a keen sense of God’s direction in my life. I rarely get a glimpse beyond the next bend, but, much like dangling a carrot in front of a donkey’s nose, the Lord has led me one step at a time. It is an agreement I have with God: I trust him for my every step, and he faithfully leads me to the next destination.
I remember, quite vividly, the day we came to this understanding. It was at a public restroom in a city park, and I was barely out of high school. The floor was littered with streams of toilet paper and crumpled paper towels. Tiptoeing through the mess, I was ready to get out of there when I heard these words from the Lord: Pick it up. It wasn’t quite audible, but I so deeply sensed it in my heart that I might as well have heard it with my ears. To be honest, I tried to ignore it, pretend not to notice, but I heard it again.
Pick it up.
This time I tried to reason with the Lord. I mean, there are people paid to do this sort of thing! What possible good could come from it? My hands would be covered with germs, and the soap dispenser wasn’t even working! Surely not, Lord!
Pick it up.
I had my hand on the door, ready to make my escape, but the Lord gently, persistently tugged at my heart. With a deep sigh, I turned around and picked up every piece and threw it all in the trash.
What might seem like a silly illustration was a profound moment for me. I sensed that God was placing a calling on my life. I wasn’t quite sure what sort of calling it was, but I knew the Lord was asking for obedience. When I left the restroom, there was a great peace in my heart that the Lord was with me and would always be with me as I submitted to his will.
I have felt that same peace whenever he prompts me to walk in obedience: calling people out of the blue to pray for them, stopping the car in an unfamiliar neighborhood to pray for the community, starting a Bible study with strangers in our apartment complex, homeschooling our kids, moving to another country, buying a home, or having a fourth child. In each of these faith-stretching events, the Lord opened the door, and I trustingly walked through.
I learned, very quickly, that God rewards obedience with more and bigger opportunities to be obedient. God gave me more work as a reward for doing work. It sounds perplexing. Can you imagine if I rewarded my kids for doing a great job washing the dishes by giving them dishwasher duties for the rest of the year plus vacuuming the floors as an added bonus?
It sounds perplexing until, of course, we frame it within the parable of the talents found in Matthew 25:14–30. The master rewarded his faithful servants with more responsibility. “You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things” (v. 23). How many times has the Lord said this to me?
I was faithful with a small group of teenage girls in youth ministry, and the Lord led me to lead women’s ministry. I was faithful with women’s ministry, and I became the director of life groups. I was faithful with directing life groups, and I became the lay pastor for spiritual formation. I was faithful as a lay pastor for spiritual formation, and I became the campus pastor of a multisite church. I was faithful as a campus pastor of a multisite church, and now I am the director of pastoral development for a whole district, supporting my husband in the role of district superintendency.
There have been a number of times when I found myself completely bewildered by some of the opportunities that have come my way. How did I get here, Lord? You want me to do what, Lord? What if I’m not able, Lord? The Lord has carried me through these doubts and insecurities, teaching me some valuable life lessons on the way.
1. Do ministry with God, not just for God. I used to teach my kids piano. They often asked me to sit right beside them when they practiced, claiming that practice sessions went by much faster because they actually enjoyed playing when I sat with them. I offered tips on their hand positions, guidance on how to tackle challenging sections, and help with minimizing mistakes. I cheered them on and encouraged them when they felt like giving up.
Doing ministry with God is very much like that. Seeking his presence, whether during sermon prep, preaching, leading a retreat, facilitating a board meeting, or even having coffee with someone who’s asking for counsel, I feel the Holy Spirit guiding and encouraging me.
Sadly, there have been occasions following a ministry event when I realized I didn’t include God. Instead, I leaned on my own abilities and patted myself on the back for a job well done—or I complained about others when things didn’t go the way I envisioned.
Leaders who do not lead from a deep relationship with the Lord often end up burned out, cynical, and judgmental. Partnering with God ensures healthy attitudes, humble hearts, and unfaltering confidence.
2. Ask God for a “fleece” to confirm big decisions. When my husband, Albert, was called to be the district superintendent of for the Northern California district in the Church of the Nazarene, our first instinct was to say no. We were pastoring a multisite church that had just adopted another campus. We were days away from closing on a new home nearby the new campus, and following heavy research on schools, our kids were about to attend public school for the first time after years of homeschooling. It seemed so unlikely that God would uproot us at what seemed like the worst time possible. But then I got that feeling deep in my spirit that God was indeed sending us into this transition. We asked for three fleeces (see Judges 6) to confirm the call, and God answered in no uncertain terms. He even threw in a fourth fleece for good measure!
Sometimes it feels like God is silent, and it takes a bigger step of faith to move forward. I’ve been inspired by people committed to following big dreams until God very obviously closes a door. For me, all my biggest decisions in life have been accompanied by a deeply felt conviction that God was already leading the way. God often gives signs to help guide us, but we need to have eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart predisposed to obedience.
3. Don’t let fear keep you from moving forward. What about those moments when you feel like God has opened a door for you to walk through but you’re too petrified to do it? It could be for all sorts of reasons. Perhaps a phobia, past hurts, a sense of inadequacy, fear of the unknown, a loss of comfort and security. It’s been said that “the safest place in all the world is in the center of God’s will.” Some might argue and point out that many have been put in harm’s way for doing God’s will. I suppose the word “safety” here needs to be put into context.
For myself, I can’t foresee facing death or persecution for being obedient to the Lord in my present circumstances. I am not at risk of being shipwrecked, flogged, or imprisoned for my obedience. The simple fears I face are much less physically perilous but no less real. For example, I was ready to turn down my first high-profile speaking engagement because I was scared. I feared I would not have anything worth saying. I feared I would make a mess of the presentation. I feared people would realize they’d made a mistake of asking me in the first place. I sensed the Lord inviting me to test his faithfulness in this situation. If the Lord had called me to do something, he would surely equip me for the task. Each time I found myself out of my comfort zone and hanging on to the Lord for dear life, God indeed proved faithful.
This current season of life is perhaps the greatest example of trusting God in my obedience. Even as I write this, I am consciously trusting God for a new chapter in our lives. After a very long transition, we finally moved into our new home. After pastoring our beloved church for the past fifteen years and leaving the only community our kids have ever known, I find myself missing my congregational family and friends, mourning the loss of my position as pastor, and anxious about the kids developing new friendships. As I wait for the moving trucks to deliver our belongings, I know God has given me much reason to have faith that the Lord will build a new home for us here.
I have no assurance but assurance in the Lord. As Oswald Chambers put it, “Faith is deliberate confidence in the character of God whose ways you may not understand at the time.” With the wind at my back, I am going to keep moving forward, eager to hear the Master’s words: “Well done, good and faithful servant! Well done!”