Transitioning Well

FAQ’s are pretty normal these days. What’s interesting in this is that you can sometimes figure out what God is doing in a group of people by paying attention to their FAQ’s. Their (or our) questions will change from season to season, but that’s because God is doing new things in our lives that cause us to ask new questions.

Recently, I have heard a lot of people talking about transition. In fact, I think I’ve had three conversations in the past month or less that have all revolved around this topic and have ended in the same question: How do you transition well?

Well, fortunately (or unfortunately, I’m not sure), I might be somewhat of an expert on transitions. I graduated college seven years ago, got married six years ago, have had four children, moved six times, have had two internships and six different jobs, started two businesses, closed a business, helped start two non-profit organizations and plant a church, and in the midst of all that, have experienced the most radical changes in my belief system and rapid learning curve of any period in my life (whew!).

What has kept me sane and somehow productive in all that? It’s that God, in His mercy, taught me something very important near the beginning of these transitions that has become a foundational value for me, especially during times of transition. This value comes from Psalm 37:3-4, which says, “Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

Many people quote the second verse here, as I have myself, without understanding the context it comes from. It’s true that God intends to give us the desires of our heart when we delight in Him, and this is what that looks like in many of our lives: We seek the Lord and internally commit our lives to Him. Then, we ask for things we desire, whether a spouse, job, career, children, or any other thing that’s dear to our hearts. He sees our heart to follow Him, so He begins to lead us. Following His lead means that we enter a season of transition—we are going from one thing into another.

Here’s the next logical step that most of us take: We leave our current place and find someplace new that makes more sense to us according to how we believe God is leading us. This transition now has made us cut relationships, or at least put unintentional strain on them, which means starting over with new ones. It has meant some degree of uprooting and a need to put down roots in a new place. And, invariably, this new place is one of hope, because we are certain that we are closer to the desires of our heart. Sometimes this may be the case, but I think that most of the time, if we’ve done this, we’ve actually missed an important key.

The key is found in the context, where we find that David tells us to trust God, do good, dwell in the land, and befriend faithfulness. Looking even broader at verses 1-9, we find other instructions like, “Commit,” “Be still,” “Wait patiently,” and “Wait for the Lord.” We see that David is talking about when circumstances are evil, when we are surrounded by things or people we don’t like (or who don’t like us), when we would like to do nothing more than ditch and run, that this is the answer: Be faithful. Stay put. Let your roots grow deeper. Fix your trust in the Lord and wait patiently for Him. Delight yourself in Him and He will give you the desires of your heart.

So, really, the question of how to transition well has an oxymoronic answer. To transition well you almost always stay put. But don’t miss the point—you are cultivating faithfulness. Those relationships you have might be shallow now, but befriend faithfulness and watch them grow. And remember that you’re not just standing pat on your circumstances; while you wait for the Lord, you are doing good.

Doing good cannot be done in a vacuum; you have to interact with people to do good. Doing good will win you favor in your relationships and lead you to embrace the character you will need once God gives you the desires of your heart.

Are you in a time of transition right now? Welcome to the club. What that means for most of us is that we need to befriend faithfulness and intentionally do good to one another, all the while trusting God, delighting in Him, and waiting patiently for Him to give us the desires of our hearts.

Remembering Goodness

The value of something is in what it costs you to get it, but the trick is to guard your heart so that you do not despise what you have purchased for the sacrifice it cost.

I once read a story* of a boy who was drawn into a jewelry store by curiosity. Once inside, he perused the engagement rings, marveling at their beauty. One ring above all others caught his eye, for when he saw it, it was as though he saw in a vision the image of his future wife.

Immediately, he spoke with the doubtful owner to arrange layaway payments until the ring was paid for in full. The owner hesitantly agreed—but only with the understanding that one missed payment would forfeit all previous payments and break the deal.

This boy then tirelessly worked, sometimes taking more than one job, forsaking time with friends, all for the sake of this ring and what it meant to him. No matter how weary he became, the vision of his future wife carried him on.

Years later, the day came when the boy made his last payment, and the owner threw him a party to celebrate the accomplishment. Not long after, he met the woman he had seen in that vision so many times throughout those years. At the right time, he gave her this precious ring—bought with  money, yes, but also with patience, tears, and sacrifice.

He could have become discouraged during the long years of making payments, even growing to despise the ring for what it cost him, but he didn’t.

God teaches us this lesson through Israel in the wilderness, in that He commanded that a jar of manna be kept in the Ark of the Covenant. The manna was a testimony of God’s provision and faithfulness, even though the testimony was bought with toilsome monotony.

The point is that Israel could look at the manna and have two responses—they could either be repulsed by the memory of the wilderness and the difficulty of those years, or they could remember it as the testimony it truly was.

What are you facing right now? Is there a journey on which God has been taking you? What is the dream God has placed in your heart and what have you sacrificed to accomplish it?

God wants to help you fulfill your dreams and lead you into your Promised Land. And if we will choose to guard our hearts, then the testimonies of His faithfulness will deeply knit our hearts to His and our memories will be of His goodness, rather than of the difficulties of life.

*story adapted from Purity: The New Moral Revolution by Kris Vallotton.

 

My Hope

Recently I was asked, “Twenty years from now, what do you hope you’ll think about your life now?”

I thought for a moment and answered, “Hopefully, twenty years from now I will see that I was faithful with the my seeds. Because I know that what I have now is a little, but that when I’ve been faithful with it, God will make it become much.”

As I thought about my answer in the days following this exchange, I realized that the biggest reason I gave this as my answer is because of how I think about eternity. I know that while my place in heaven is based on the grace of Jesus, my reward in heaven is based on my faithfulness on earth. For that reason, I am highly motivated to be a wise steward of all my little things on earth that they might become much, so that one day I will hear, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”

But I realized that this also led to a fear about heaven because eventually in leaving earth I will leave things undone. This feels like a measure of unfaithfulness for which I would be unable to account before God, and my reward might suffer simply because I had died with things unfinished.

The first alternative to this is to try to pace yourself as you see the end coming (assuming you do see it coming), so that you can leave earth with no loose ends. The problem here is that you might end up accomplishing less because you’re sort of coasting to the finish line and be counted as less faithful because of it.

Finally, I realized the solution, and it’s as simple as fatherhood. If I do my job as a father, then my work will be passed on to others who will carry on after I’m gone, tying up my loose ends for me without me needing to coast to the end.

While this is a wonderful solution to my fears about the everlasting implications of my earthly faithfulness, there’s something deeper that I see here, and that’s that the real measure of my faithfulness is not in my ability to accomplish much, but in my ability to father well.

I think maybe this is part of what Jesus meant when He said, “Well done my good and faithful servant.” The servant wasn’t rewarded just because he was faithful, but also because he was good.

My hope, twenty years from now and in eternity, is that I will have been faithful with my first charge – my family – and that beyond that, I will have grown much from what God has entrusted to me, so that through me He may entrust it to my children for them to continue in a legacy of being both faithful and good.

Reactionary Theology

They say you can always learn from history, and recently, I learned something new.

In the process of studying for a class on Church history, it’s interesting to see how many times movements have been shaped as people react to one another. In the vacuum of fathers in the faith who can say, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ,”  it left theological orphans to establish themselves according to whatever made the most sense to them.

And oftentimes, what made the most sense to people was an overreaction (or underreaction) to something someone else was doing.

For example, not meaning to step on any toes here, but in reaction to the Roman Catholic Church’s overemphasis on works, as seen through  a series of requirements by which a believer could obtain grace, John Calvin formulated the various doctrines of predestination. The pendulum swung from many works that merited grace to grace belonging only in the hand of a sovereign God.

In reality, scripture requires both of these to exist in tension. Our faith moves the grace of Christ into our lives, yet our faith also is proved through genuine works.

That example is interesting to me, but it doesn’t move me. What grabs at my heart are several examples from the 1800s, during which time several revivals flourished. The first Great Awakening was past and a new Great Awakening had come, leading to famous names of revival like Andrew Murray, Otto Stockmayer, D.L. Moody, John Alexander Dowie, and many others.

What truly hit home is the testimony of D.L. Moody and R.A. Torrey, two of the founders of what is now Moody Church and Moody Bible Institute, my beloved Alma Mater. These two men both experienced and practiced the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and in particular believed for miraculous healing, in their personal ministry. Torry even preached on the subject in his earlier years, or at least he did until something happened.

That something was John Alexander Dowie, who was flamboyant in his ministry style. He created some measure of controversy in Chicago and, in order to avoid the controversy, Moody and Torrey distanced themselves from Dowie by neglecting to preach about God’s power to heal.*

Now, the point of my writing here is not to provide commentary on either side of this theological debate, but rather make us question how we came up with our theology. If Dowie was unscriptural in his teachings or practice, that is one thing. However, it is equally erroneous to react the other direction and leave out important biblical truth simply because someone else is making it controversial.

In other words, if Moody and Torrey believed and practiced healing by the power of God in their personal ministry, then they should have preached it from the pulpit and lectern without regard to the controversy Dowie created. Or, if healing ministry is unscriptural, then they shouldn’t have believed or practiced it personally.

The point is that what we believe about God should be established by scripture alone and not in reaction to another person (or in reaction to society’s general opinion about a person).

God reveals Himself through people, yet people are still fallible. That’s why scripture is our constant. If a person errs, don’t overreact, but rather let the magnet of scripture pull your pendulum back to center, back to the balance where truths must be held in tension and mysteries cannot be explained by reason, but only by the person of God.

Only then will theology become deeper than intellect, for then we will cease to see mere people. Instead, we will see the Spirit of God at work within people and be able to honor them for what He has done in them, receiving the grace He has given them, and become a body united in Christ rather than divided by doctrine.

 

* Biographical details taken from Heritage of Healing, Kevin Dedmon, copyright 2009