Sometimes I catch myself thinking ahead to some moment in the future when my story will be in the middle rather than the beginning. That’s how I see this time, the back story to my real mission, my real purpose.
When will my life begin?
A few years ago, I was crying out to God about my desire to serve him boldly. I wanted to “go into the world and do noble things for the good of all!” (Knowing nod to those of you who just started singing Barbara Manatee in your head.) I pleaded with God to reveal my purpose, my mission so I could prove my love for him by doing whatever he asked me to do. Preparing my heart for the great calling, I heard only “keep doing this”.
What, this? Driving my kids to a doctor’s appointment?? Oh. Being a mother and wife to these people. That didn’t fit my vision for a great follower of Christ.
Called to Stay?
In Luke 8, there’s a story that always kind of creeps me out: the story of the man so full of demons that he referred to himself as Legion.
A madman, naked and raging, lived among the tombs. He was too deranged for a house. His eyes were wide and rolling, his hair matted and tangled, his nails untrimmed, and his skin bore marks of self-harm. I imagine Hannibal Lecter mixed with Sirius Black’s newspaper image. He was so savage that he had been chained and broken free. No padded cell could hold him!
He didn’t stride up to Jesus and shake hands. He screamed at him “SON OF THE MOST HIGH GOD! I BEG YOU! Do not torment me.”
Don’t you think he was tormented enough? Of course the man was. Then, it wasn’t he who screamed out but the demons within him who feared torment from one more powerful than their legion. JESUS.
A great meeting of spiritual powers was taking place, with one obviously holding the upper hand.
The demons begged to be sent into a herd of pigs, and Jesus consented. The herd was driven off a steep bank into the lake to drown. Those demons were wild and angry.
“Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. And those who had seen it told them how the demon-possessed man had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear.” Luke 8:35-37 ESV
The people were terrified. Something bizarre and powerful had happened. Not to mention the fact that a huge herd of pigs—someone’s livelihood—had just been destroyed. I imagine they were a bit angry. So they asked Jesus to go away.
But what of the healed man?
The man who was set free from the demons, got dressed and sat down to talk with Jesus. And he BEGGED Jesus to let him go with him
But Jesus said no.
The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” Luke 8:38-39 ESV
Jesus had a different mission for this man. He didn’t get to be a “follower” of Jesus. He wasn’t needed on their mission. He was needed in his hometown among the people who had seen his transformation. His impact on the Kingdom and his testimony would be greater among the people who already knew him.
That had to be hard.
Those people had actually SEEN him naked and tearing chains and running out in the wilderness. How embarrassing! I wouldn’t want to look them in the eye.
He was violent and self-harming, now he wants to tell your wife and kids about this man called Jesus? I bet there was fear from those who had known him. He had been a terror to their community. Now, he wants to preach the Good News. Who would listen?
Wouldn’t it be better for him to go with Jesus and tell all the people around Galilee. Maybe he should write a book. I bet it would hit the NYT Bestseller list.
That isn’t what God wanted for him. He was told to stay put.
Sometimes that’s the hardest thing in the world: staying where you are.
Losing your “Life”
Back to my own story, when God told me to stay put, I thought he must have made a mistake. I knew some amazing people who were serving in ministries locally and in countries all around the world. Surely he wanted me to GO too! But he reminded me that my vision for my life was not necessarily his vision.
In the very next chapter of Luke, Jesus says, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” Luke 9:24
And then He reminded me that laying down my life for him may not mean my physical life, but my dream life, my desire for great, noble, admirable work. And I saw the pridefulness of my desire to do Great things…so I could be seen as a part of something great.
And so, I obediently turned my attention to my “little women” and this little town, and my dear husband. And I realized that what God was asking me to do was just as important. It may not be as dangerous or glamorous or grand, but if God tells me to do it, I need to do it 100%.
For you, it may be the opposite. Perhaps you’ve always wanted to stay, and God is telling you to go. Just like the man in the story, you’re filled with fear. Staying or going both have their challenges. It is only our faith in God that gives us the courage to do what we fear.