“When Pharaoh finally let the people go, God did not lead them along the main road that runs through Philistine territory, even though that was the shortest route to the Promised Land. God said, ‘If the people are faced with a battle, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.’ So God led them in a roundabout way through the wilderness toward the Red Sea. Thus the Israelites left Egypt like an army ready for battle.” — Exodus 13:17-18 (NLT)
Sometimes I feel like the journey that God has me on parallels many parts of Israel’s journey through the wilderness. I sit back and I say to myself, “Man I wish I had a pillar to follow, because that would be so much easier that just sitting here and waiting.” If you don’t know me, I am not exactly a patient person, so the waiting thing is pretty tough. When Alicia and I were visting and flying to churches I would get anxious on the tarmac as we approached the gate. I definitely don’t do well waiting in tight, poorly ventilated areas, but I am quickly convicted by my lack of appreciation for the miracle of human flight (If you didn’t get that reference click here).
About a year ago we felt God prompting us to leave Pennsylvania for numerous reasons. The problem is that leaving was not going to be an easy matter. We had bought a house in November 2011, we had just hit our one year anniversary at the church, and I had no idea what our next step was. The fact that we loved our youth and our youth leaders so much made it even harder to leave! Again, at least the Israelites knew they were heading to the promised land where there was everything in abundance. I was prepared to work as a shelf stocker at Walmart, but we ended up moving in with my parents and me working as an office assistant at my dad’s business (not the ideal scenario for a young youth pastor and his wife, but God has a way of uniquely meeting our needs!).
I never would have imagined that it would be nine months before I was able to get back into full time ministry. However, just like the Israelites, God knew just the right path for my wife and I to take. The fact is, God didn’t take the Israelites on the quickest path to the promised land. He could have, but he had a path that was better and would protect the Israelites. God also knew that if the Israelites took the shortest route, they would never achieve the long term dream that God had for His people.
Most people would say that the ideal situation is to leave a church and know exactly where you’re going, but we NEEDED those nine months. People leave churches for all sorts of reasons, but Alicia and I needed time to heal, grow as a couple, and refocus for the ministry God had called us to. There were plenty of awesome churches that we interviewed with in that time, but God knew that we needed to take the long path. Honestly, if we had left and gone straight to another church we would never be able to achieve all that God wanted us to achieve. We could have gone and found a good job somewhere, but God was saving the right job for us.
The roundabout way has had it’s struggles, but it was the path that God used to grow us and bring us to Hopevale Church! I am so blessed to be a part of the team here. Looking back, nine months was not as long as it seemed in the moment. In that time we went from Pennsylvania to Virginia to Michigan! The road you are on right now may not make a whole lot of sense right now. Some of you may be starting a job, leaving a job, waiting for a job, or pressing steadily on but always trust that while the road may be long, God always knows the destination and has dreams for you that you can’t even begin to imagine.
If I were to ask you what your time in the word looked like, what would your answer be?
- I give God the first 15 minutes of the day.
- I listen to pastors on podcast 3-4 times a week.
- I read my Bible through every year.
- I read my Bible when I prepare my lessons.
There are any number of answers that you could give to this question. Some are good answers and some answers totally break my heart. The first point that I want to make here in this post is to, GUARD your time in the word. This is my number one piece of advice I would give after a year of full-time ministry. GUARD your time in the word and FIGHT for time with God. If you do not guard your time in the word then you cannot be successful in anything else that you are trying to do. There are a million things that vie for your attention each day from parents, to events, to counseling, but you cannot do any of those things if you don’t guard your time in the word.
The answer that breaks my heart the most out of the four that I listed above is, “I read my Bible when I prepare my lessons.” This is like an accountant saying, I study tax code when I’m preparing your taxes. This is like a doctor saying I study the newest surgery procedures when I’m prepping for surgery. There is not one person out there that would say, “yes that is the doctor or accountant that I want to have.”
You were hired to be a shepherd of students! A shepherd is not just one of the sheep, a shepherd is a leader who knows the dangers has lead sheep before and knows what it takes to get the sheep through the various obstacles in their way. If you are going to shepherd your students, then you have to know where you are leading the students. You have to know the word better than your students.
My second question to you would be, if you don’t have a desire to be in God’s word daily, why is that? If God’s word is as life changing as you preach it to be, then why don’t you desire to be in it daily? I am not by any stretch saying that reading the word is always easy for me to read but we need to be disciplined in knowing and reading God’s word.
The reason I say GUARD your time in the word and FIGHT for time with God is because if you are not spending personal time in God’s word then you cannot lead people into the depths of God’s word. If you don’t GUARD your time in the word and FIGHT for time with God, then you may be successful for a time, but there is a shelf life on your ministry.
What are you doing to GUARD and FIGHT for time with God?
Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
There is just something about watching the Olympics. Don’t take this the wrong way, but I love watching freakish athletes do things that us normal people can’t do. I love watching Usain Bolt break world records every time he takes the track. I love watching Michael Phelps take home 18 gold medals in a sport that I only get excited about every four years.
I love watching the Olympics for the same reason that I love watching the NBA or NFL more than college sports (I know this may be a blasphemous statement to many of you). The reason I love watching professional sports is because I love watching people who have dedicated their lives to be amazing at something to a level that I know I could never be. The thing is, I could train for years upon years and I’m never going to be able to run anywhere close to Usain Bolt speeds. I am never going to be able to dunk a basketball, especially not “Like Mike.”
The thing about sports is that we all find players and teams and we place a lot of stake in how our team does. For me, the player that I watched and adored we Reggie White. He was a defensive end for the Green Bay Packers and he was also known as “The Minister of defense.” I loved Reggie because he was a believer who was a monster on the football field. We watch these players and think I could never do that and often times we look at the people in scripture the very same way.
The thing is, we look at the apostle Paul and say, “Man I could never suffer like that guy.” We look at Moses and say, “I could never lead people like he did.” We look at the disciples and say, “Those guys were so spiritual and look how they followed Jesus.” However, we forget the fact that all of these guys were normal people who had major flaws, and God chose to use them. Paul was a murderer and called himself the chief of sinner. Moses was terrified to speak and God had to send him someone to be his “voice.” I won’t even go into all of the disciples’ flaws, and this is a very small sampling of scripture as a whole.
The thing that I’m trying to get at is while we all sit absorbed in the Olympics and we cheer on our country, our walk with the Lord is not just a sit and watch faith. Our walk with the Lord is one where every person competes. I may never be the next apostle Paul. I may not be the next Mark Driscoll, Francis Chan, or Tim Keller. However, God has a very specific plan for me and what he wants for me to accomplish.
The Olympics are great and I am looking forward to the winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014. However, I encourage you to not just sit on the side as people do great things for the cause of Christ. I want you to get out there and compete and I want you to push your students to get our there and compete. There is much too much riding on this race for us to run it half heartedly.