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Benediction

Benediction

          The day before she died, my 90 year-old mother confronted me with a question that startled me.

She asked, “Have you become the person in life you wanted to become?”

We had been carrying on lighthearted conversation in the lobby of her assisted living center and exchanging good-natured barbs.  Then, out of the blue, she fired at point blank range this probing question at me.

As I now reflect back on that moment, her question seems to relate more to her life than to mine, as if she was asking the question of herself.  It is evident she was thinking back over her life in sweet reflection.  She was pondering her own long journey, how fulfilling it had been.  And how fortunate she had been to reach so many goals in life which, to her, were sure evidence of how good and faithful God had been through the changing seasons of her life.

There were the stressful college years in the late 1930s when she worked as a café waitress, scrimping and saving every penny, hoping to eke out enough to go just one more semester.  Then she married my father, and together they shared three decades of teaching in public schools, side by side.  My dad’s early death placed my mother in a 32-year widowhood in which she served as an elected county school official, a community volunteer and church worker, and many years as a first-rate grandmother.

She had a huge inventory of cherished memories spanning 45 years that impacted thousands of Oklahoma youngsters going to school.  She could recall those special kids she taught and helped along the way to become in life what they wanted to become.

Now my mother was asking herself the question:  “Have I become the person in life I wanted to become?”  “Am I there?”

The roots of that question can be traced back more than 60 years to a vow she made to God in a very dark hour.

I contracted a life-threatening case of pneumonia in the fall of 1940 when I was less than a month old.  I had great difficulty breathing and the doctors told my mother is was “touch and go” whether I would survive.  Three weeks passed before the crisis subsided and I was finally allowed to go home.

My mother told me several times—always in carefully-guarded, calculated language so as not to put any expectation on me—about her spiritual struggle with God during those desperate hours.  How she pleaded with God to intervene, to spare my life which had barely begun.  How she promised God that, if she could keep me, she would faithfully raise me for His glory.

Through all my growing-up years she was cautious never to communicate any sense of my being obligated to God, or implying any sense of debt I had to pay for my life being spared.  But she did about everything else to raise me in the best possible spiritual environment.  As an irresponsible teenager, there were countless times I was escorted to church under protest.  But, despite all my growling, my mother did her job, and kept that commitment as well as anyone could.

All through college and doctoral studies. . .into marriage. . .through the years of raising my children who now have their own families. . .and  finally as I engage the senior years. . .I have felt her gentle hand of influence.  She never stopped encouraging and exhorting me toward faithfulness in prayer, excellence in Christian service (which was my choice), and trying to raise her grandchildren in the fear of the Lord.  In a soft, relentless, positive kind of way, she set through her personal influence the bar very high to live right and do right.

I think her question to me about whether I had “become the person I wanted to become” was really her way of asking if I thought I could now make it on my own without her help.  This is a 90 year-old asking a 60+ year-old if he still needs help!   She seemed to ask:  “Is my vow fulfilled?  Do I have permission to lay the burden down?  Can I put you down now?”

I paused a moment to think, then answered with confidence, “I have.  I’m not completely there yet, but I’m close.  Just need a little more time.”  And then I had the presence of mind to turn the question on her:  “What about you?”   With no hesitation she replied, “Oh, yes.”

I pursued:  “What does that mean?”

She replied simply, “Well, I wanted to marry Hull (my dad), and I got to do that.  I wanted to have a child, and I got to do that.”   I waited for more.  There was no more.

All the troubles of this life. . .45 years of teaching countless kids. . .loss of friends and independent living and her own vitality. . .all dropped away as effortlessly as a tree sheds its leaves.  She distilled a storied lifetime spanning nine decades down to two people, my father and me.

I kissed her and left.  Our conversation had come to an end.

The next day her life came to an end.

She just slipped away, as quietly and gently as a snowflake falls.  She died in her sleep, with no evidence of struggle, and with the slightest smile left on her lips.  In sublime peace.

Mission accomplished.  Vow fulfilled.  Promise kept.

I think she found in my answer the release and freedom she sought to her question.  Though I had no way of knowing it at the moment, my answer represented closure on a vow she had made a lifetime earlier.  In surpassing beauty, I now see a picture of a tired, worn-out, but victorious old saint gently laying down the task she had carried more than six decades.

When God steps in to lift the weight of the last care and the last burden off the human spirit, what is left for it to do but stretch its wings and fly?

Home.

In some mysterious and precious way I wonder if my mother did not have some premonition about how eminent was her spiritual graduation day.  There had been no hint of foreboding, no dread, no melancholy.  She seemed to sense the final sentences of her storied life were being written.

There were no “loose ends” to tie up.  No fractured relationships to repair.  No longings of any kind to be fulfilled.  No last-minute moralizing, teaching, or exhortation.  No final rush to do or say anything at all.  When it came time to die, all she had to do was die.

The pull of heaven overcame the pull of earth and her spirit took its flight.

My mother’s question now seems like a benediction on her life:  “Have you become the person in life you wanted to become?”  And without actually saying the words, her life message was like a prayer of blessing that concluded with, “I have.”

All we need to do now is say, “Amen.”

 

Don M. Hull     © 2016

God: The 24/7 Caregiver

God: The 24/7 Caregiver

The neurologist broke the unexpected news to me as compassionately as anyone could, but his brutal honesty hit me hard.

“Your mother has Alzheimer’s disease, with advancing dementia.”  I sat thunderstruck as I listened to the diagnosis.

Some of the tests she had been asked to perform were embarrassingly simple.  I gasped in disbelief when I saw her inability to handle basic short-term memory tests, like being told the words cat, door, moon and asked a few moments later to recount them in that order.  But if asked about something that happened 50 to 60 years ago, she could give you a stunningly accurate account.

I cried later when I was alone because I knew that Alzheimer’s means the agonizingly slow death, not of the body, but of the mind.  I felt heartbreak as I knew it would be my task, as her only child, to preside over her descent into oblivion should the disease follow its normal course.

To provide for her needs, we immediately moved her into an apartment in my city, 100 miles from her friends and home.  In a matter of days, another health crisis occurred; and we tried unsuccessfully to have her live in our home.  As her needs increased, we eventually moved her to a nearby assisted-living center.  Three relocations in three months—packing and unpacking, loading and unloading—were like a recurring bad dream.

I Can’t Believe This!

I allowed my heart to believe my mother was untouchable by something like Alzheimer’s.  I never doubted should would die; I just reasoned that life would never treat her this way.  After all, she was a fun-loving, godly woman who had taught thousands of Oklahoma kids over a 45-year period and had taught Sunday school to age 87.  Until he died, she was my dad’s lifelong sweetheart.  Behind the naïve notion that God owes a Christian a better deal was my error of belief we can obligate God by earning his favor. (Ephesians 2:8-9, NIV)

In my head I knew better.  We are all fallen people in a fallen world, trying to live in a broken system in which evil and the wrong choices of men seem to have the upper hand much of the time (Romans 3:23; 6:23).

Looking at life through the eyes of faith, I see that bad things happen to believers and unbelievers alike.  They just do, and God isn’t to blame.  A harsh dose of reality is all that is needed to blow away unrealistic and unbiblical expectations like mine.

Do I Own This?

I was startled by how quickly caregiving was thrust upon me by family necessity.  The “day” that I thought was years away came.  And stayed.  I became one of more than 50 million Americans, many between ages 30 and 50, who provide some level of care for a family member or friend.  Not that statistics matter.   You are the caregiver.  Almost 45 percent of us are men.

After the initial crisis subsides, and you settle into your new role, you begin to take over bits and pieces of the person’s life, and lose a corresponding amount of control over your own life.  It starts in a deceptively simple way:  paying bills, trips to the doctor, and so forth.  But it continues until you are virtually responsible for your loved one’s life.  You weren’t aware you signed on for all this.  And there is no place to resign, not that you would.  But the thought crosses your mind because you didn’t ask for any of this.  Tragically, some shirk the role.

A provider’s role takes many shapes, depending on your relationship to the needy person for whom you assume responsibility.  You may find yourself occupying the parent role with your own parent, as I have, while she becomes increasingly childlike.  Or, you may face a different situation.

I’ll Do It but Not Own It

The caregiving role bullied its way into my already over-committed life.  It’s normal to feel resentment toward such intrusions.  I did, and then felt surprise and guilt that, as a Christian, I was capable of such feelings.   Exhausting, prolonged caregiving has proved an embarrassing way of bring out the worst in me.

I first attempted to provide care by multi-tasking it along with everything else.  It was with a glad heart and no resentment because I loved my mother, honored my father, and wanted to obey the commandment about parents (Exodus 20:12).  But I carefully refused to “own” it.  I would let this new role run parallel with my “real” life but hold it at bay.  I foolishly reasoned that someday the role would end, and I could get back to my so-called “real” life in which I am a serious disciple and want very much to grow and please God.

I’ll Own It and Do It Myself

Because I refused to embrace caregiving, I slipped into handling it myself as a necessary duty.  I acted as if I believe God and discipleship weren’t involved, as if this new role was unrelated to spiritual transformation.

Caregiving made such stressful demands on my time, emotional energy, and state of mind that I felt completely overwhelmed, as if being drowned by the person I was attempting to rescue.  Emotions ricocheted off the walls of my heart like a bullet.

One week I jotted down every erratic emotion I felt as I drove away from each visit with my mother.  I was startled by the crazy moods—almost twenty of them—I was trying to manage:

Grief. . .ongoing sorrow that Alzheimer’s was insidiously stealing her memories one by one, those wonderful souvenirs of yesterday.

Gratitude. . .to be the son of this incredibly gifted woman whose life has meant so much to so many.

Helplessness. . .that, as a lifelong “fixer” of things, I found myself facing something I couldn’t fix.

Anger. . .that there are cruel things like birth defects, cancer, and Alzheimer’s that destroy the people I love.

Intense love. . .resolve. . .depression. . .soaring hope. . .despair. . .loneliness. . .Attempting to provide care in my own strength just about sank me after a few months.  You can already guess this drove me to cry out to God for help.

Okay, God.  I’ll Do It if you’ll Help

Frederick Buechner wrote, “There is no event so commonplace but that God is present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving you room to recognize him or not to recognize him. . .”

The Holy Spirit brought to my mind Scriptures to help me see that refusing to “own” caregiving was also denying God opportunity to be involved.  In my prideful thinking, I was as shortsighted as Peter when he refused having his feet washed by Jesus.  Peter protested, “No.  You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”  Peter repented, “Then, Lord, not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” (John 13:8-9, NIV)

I began to see caregiving, not as an unwanted part of life, but as my life . . . as “real” as every other part, and of as much concern to God.  Where did I get the idea God wouldn’t care about this part?  Like Peter, I repented.

But God wasn’t content to merely “help” me.  I’ve never heard God’s voice, but it was as if he was saying through the Scriptures:  “I don’t want you to own this burden.  I want to own it.  Will you release it and let me be God?  Will you exchange your failing strength for my unfailing strength? (Isaiah 40:31)

Okay, God.  You Own It

Gary Thomas writes, “Life can call us into places where we feel as though we’re being poured out on behalf of others.  If we don’t build a spirit of surrender and sacrifice, we’re liable to grow resentful and bitter during such seasons.”

To receive all the grace God wants to give us, we must surrender to him the “ownership” of burdens we become aware of.  This does not mean we become passive, shirk responsibility, or fail those who depend on us.  It does mean we let God rule and reign over our lives, and we draw the strength we need from him.  Peter advised, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (I Peter 5:7, NIV).

As I care for my mother, one of the most delightful experiences of serendipity is happening.  I am discovering God as my caregiver. . .the 24/7 kind. . .twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.  I sleep with a cell phone near my pillow, on call 24/7.  I do not face this task alone—God is listening for my call, 24/7.

Providing care is becoming more strenuous as the months pass. But every part of this ordeal is an opportunity, a door, through which I can receive massive doses of grace.  The endless trips to the doctor and the twice-daily trips to the care facility are just more ways God demonstrates his wonderful care of me.

Am I grieving?  God has Psalm 23 for my weary heart.

Am I despairing?  He uses my Christian brothers, Jim and John, to encourage me when we meet each week (2 Corinthians 1:4).

The past months have brought two precious truths into my life:

First, with the possible exception of parenting, caregiving is the most spiritually formative experience in my Christian journey thus far.  Character and virtue are not best formed in the calm and ease of life, but rather in life’s great difficulties and struggles in which we must contend.  I have found no better verse to describe this principle than Romans 5:3 (NIV):  “We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

Caregiving became a sacred experience when I realized I needed care from God as much as my mother needed my care.  I finally “got it” that God wants to transform me as I face these difficulties.  If we will cooperate with him, God will use any new role or difficult life situation we face to bring about our spiritual transformation.

The second insight comes from watching my mother become more innocent, childlike, and dependent on me with advancing age.  It’s as if God is whispering in my ear, “Don’t you get it, Don?  That’s exactly how I want you to relate to me.”

“Let the little children come to me. . .the kingdom of God belongs to such as thee” (Luke 18:16, NIV).

Don M. Hull   © 2004, 2015

The Good Samaritan Revisited

The Good Samaritan Revisited

Jesus on Compassion:  Still, “Just Do It!”

Twenty-one centuries after telling the greatly loved story of The Good Samaritan, Jesus’ final word to his followers about showing compassion is still, Just do it! Or, in his words, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:30-37, NIV)

You know the story. The Good Samaritan (hereafter referred to as “Sam”) chooses to stop, show compassion, and rescue a dying traveler after two others have refused.

Would you have stopped? Really?

Some may think the point of the story is no more significant than the simple question, “If I see a woman with children stranded in a disabled car on the Interstate, should I stop and help?”

The story goes much further. It’s about what you do with your feelings when confronted by human need.

Jesus never said Sam was merely a character in a parable. I think somewhere in Jesus’ rich background there really was an incident involving Sam that resurfaces in his teaching. What story ever told surpasses it in warmth and tenderness?

The narrow fifteen mile road from Jerusalem to Jericho was a perfect place for thieves to ambush a traveler in a lightning fast attack, then escape undetected. The unescorted could be easy prey, so many traveled in convoys or alongside a caravan.

Falling behind to help someone could be dangerous. The thieves might reappear or might use the wounded man as a decoy to lure others.

Could the injured man even be saved?   It’s doubtful Sam was carrying the needed tools or medicines, or even possessed the training to give aid. The thought today of a liability suit for negligence still sends chills down your spine, despite our so-called “Good Samaritan” laws.

If the man died and Sam was caught with the body, he could be implicated.

It’s easy for a potential caregiver to get “trapped” in his service. In our present culture, there are many people who can contrive a need for whatever you’re willing to give. Many are perfectly willing for you and me to assume responsibility for them by taking charge of their lives. They want us to eliminate all their exposure and danger, feed, house, and transport them, and make their decisions for them.

There are so many reasons not to help that sound so right. So we leave kindness for others to do.

The officious Levite did just that. After moving in for a closer look, he deserts the gravely wounded man and leaves him to die. This passing worship leader of Israel would be like someone going home after church. He had heard the sermon, sung the songs, and prayed his prayers—yet his heart remained a stone.

The reluctant Priest, who was around God all the time, handled holy things all day long, spoke for men to God, and for God to men. But what this man was inside was very different from what he was outside. If he touched this perishing man it would restrict his duty in the temple for seven days, so he puts ceremonial service above love and concern for a man in pain.

It’s amazing that a pitiful and dying man did not soften the hearts of these two. No level of pain or tragedy can pry compassion out of their hearts.

It took a plain, ordinary man with character to make any difference.

How Did ‘Sam’ Get That Way?

Duty calls and character answers.

Sam did what he did because of who he was, and not for any other reason. What others do or refuse to do is irrelevant. Sam chooses to act in a way consistent with his character. The Scriptures simply don’t provide answers to a hundred questions that tug at our minds about what Sam was like. But it’s my personal feeling there were three elements of Sam’s character tragically missing in the Levite and Priest.

Compassion. The word means to “suffer with. Sam possessed that God-like quality that enables one to empathize with another, to enter into their pain. He didn’t merely observe the man, he identified with him, became part of him.

Sam asked nothing and expected nothing, most of all recognition, thanks, or repayment. There was no hesitation on his part. Nothing to debate or deliberate. There was no attempt to seek counsel or refer the need to someone else passing by. Here was a gravely injured man who doubtless would die if not helped. That was all there was to it.

Courage. Lots of it! There was danger in what Sam chose to do. But he disdained it when another human life was on the line. It took courage to care, and more to act. The others were afraid of anything strange or challenging, fearful of getting involved, and horrified the robbers might come back. Sam pushed those anxieties back and helped a complete stranger, a broken one at that, who would never be able to repay.

There is something strong, noble, and wonderfully uncomplicated about Sam. What a tenderness and gentleness there is in the care he gives, the fruit of great personal strength and depth of character.

Habit. This is no isolated incident in the life of Sam. It is just one more out of many times he had helped. There would be others in the future. Sam didn’t become like that overnight. Over the years, the habit of responding bravely to the needs of others became deeply ingrained. And always at personal cost: money, time, energy. But with great reward.

It’s difficult to conclude who benefits the most: the one helped, or the helper. Some feel compassion is the most healing of all emotions, capable of transforming an entire world.

Compassion, pity, mercy—in the Bible the words are virtually interchangeable and describe the essence of God. Sam has, by choice, taken upon himself the very character of God.

How Do We Get That Way?

If we take Christ seriously, it is through obedience to his words, “Go and do likewise.”

Becoming compassionate will not come through drastic self-discipline, heroic sacrifice, or other well-meaning shortcuts. We should not expect to change quickly. Sam probably didn’t. It will become part of our character through the endless repetition of small efforts as we feel the inward prompting of God’s Holy Spirit and obediently respond when he has providentially placed us in a situation where we can do great good. It is giving a person in trouble a helping hand when it is within our power. Going the “second mile” when there is opportunity. Getting involved in our community and church to make a difference.

What is excellence if not habit? And what is excellence of character if not the predictable habit of behaving every time in a splendid way and expressing the noblest virtues?

Day by day. . .deed by deed. . .the Godly trait of compassion is layered into our lives, and we find our arrogant selfish nature pushed off the throne. We discover new liberty to effortlessly respond to the needs of others. And we become in character, in a larger measure, like the great God we worship.

But, as with Sam, compassion will require of us empathy to feel, courage to care, and a developed habit of responding.

“Just Do It!”

It costs to care, to be compassionate. And it may put us at risk and make us vulnerable as we choose to intervene in the lives of others. Saving the souls of sinful men and women cost God the death of His Son. Compassion always places the highest possible value on the life of another. To be a Good Samaritan is to care as God cares, to be like Him in thought and action.

Feeling sorry for another is not enough. No doubt the Priest and Levite felt a stab of pity as they looked at the man, but they saw him as a nuisance to be avoided. Sam saw him as a neighbor to love, and undertook his care.

Following this incident, Sam probably resumes his life, and never told anyone what he did. But his story is immortal. In every century, think how many across our wide world have been inspired by him to offer a cup of cold water in Christ’s name.

What a high compliment it would be to have the Lord say to others about you and me: “Go, and be just like him.”

Don M. Hull      (©2015)

Forks In The Road

Forks in the Road

  • The Value of Spending a Day With God

Becoming spiritually skilled at making decisions is crucial to every growth-minded Christ-follower. Making right choices is the essence of becoming a mature disciple. Every decision, great or routine, has the potential of moving us toward or away from Christ-likeness.   One can’t simply follow the immortal wisdom of Yogi Berra: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

We call them “forks in the road”—those all too familiar experiences when the path along which we are moving diverges into right and left. These choices impose themselves on every believer, often unanticipated, unwanted, and unwelcomed.

Could you use a little help and encouragement today as you face a troublesome decision?

What’s the dilemma you now face?   A new job or career change? Beginning or ending a relationship. Moving your family? Going back to school?

These aren’t the countless decisions we casually make every day—where to have lunch, what to wear, etc. Rather, they are weighty decisions that may define us, or set new directions and have far-reaching consequences.

We can improve our decision-making by learning from one of the most admired people in the Bible: Paul. Here’s my “take” on a page from his life and how he faced a critically important “fork” in his road.

Try putting yourself into his sandals for a few moments as you read in your Bible the 20th chapter of Acts.

Imagine it is late March, and you have spent the cold winter of 56-57 A.D. in Corinth where you have penned a monumental letter of the New Testament, the one we call Romans. You arrived at Corinth having spent the previous year trying to evangelize the large area north of Greece known to us today as war-shattered Bosnia, Croatia, and Sarajevo.

You are age 57. Twenty years have passed since you became a Christian. Behind are years of arduous labor and hardship, founding and nurturing churches, and missionary treks covering thousands of miles. You’ve had immense evangelistic success in places like Asia and Macedonia, and so little among your own Jewish people. The vast West awaits you: Spain, Europe, and Britain.

When the sailing season of the spring of 56 A.D. opens, your plans to sail to Syria are interrupted by the discovery of a plot to assassinate you on the ship. You decide to travel overland and send your companions on to Troas by ship to wait for you there as you make your journey on foot.

As you travel from city to city—Thessalonica, Phillipi, and Troas—believers with the prophetic gift in every church have sounded warnings about Jerusalem. No one has expressly said, “Don’t go!”, but each has sensed in his spirit a foreboding of great danger and possible harm awaiting you there.

The masterpiece you’ve crafted to the Christians at Rome reveals that your heart aches for your Jewish countrymen who, as a whole, have rejected Christ and the gospel of salvation:

“. . .my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is

that they might be saved.”       Romans 10:1, NIV

But you have another heartache, one for the lands where the gospel of Christ has not been taken. You are resolved to go west, to Spain, Europe, and perhaps Britain:

“It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ

was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s

foundation.”                               Romans 15:20, NIV

You arrive at Troas and rejoin your travelling companions—Timothy and Gaius from Galatia; from Thessalonica, Aristarchus and Secundus; from Berea, Sopater; and from Asia, Trophimus and Tychicus. And, of course, Dr. Luke.

A crisis has surfaced in your life, and the time for decision has come. The choice is agonizingly simple. Should you complete your mission to Jerusalem despite repeated warnings from trustworthy people if you do? Or, should you book passage on the next ship headed for Rome, and send your trusted associates to Jerusalem with the offering, a mission they are perfectly capable of competing with no help from you?

On the one hand, there is the strong pull, the challenge and adventure, to take the message of Christ to people who have never heard. On the other, maybe this time, despite all the disasters of the past, you will be heard in Jerusalem and win large numbers of your countrymen to Christ. Maybe.

Both are worthy choices, reasonable and right. It seems plausible God would be pleased with either. Both involve risk and danger. There have been only warnings about going to Jerusalem, not prohibitions.

Luke records in one terse statement Paul’s next movements from which we can gain much insight:

“We went on ahead to the ship and sailed for Assos, where we were

going to take Paul aboard. He had made this arrangement because he

was going there on foot.”             Acts 20:13, NIV

A ship bound for Syria had been secured. In an unusual move, Paul urged his companions to board it for a one-day voyage around the cape to Assos, a town approximately thirty miles south of Troas, where he would rejoin them toward nightfall. Paul proceeded alone, on foot, for this one-day walk, probably overriding the protests of his well-meaning friends.

No doubt his mind was overwhelmed with conflicting information and feelings about what he should do. He had heeded the warnings about going to Jerusalem, yet he was strangely drawn there. The West and its un-evangelized hordes beckoned to him.

What to do? Simple. Take a step back to gain perspective. Get alone with God and sort things out. And he did.

As Paul faced the future, what he needed more than anything else was time to get focused and understand the mind of God if he could.

At this personal crisis point—at this “fork” in his road—Paul checked in with his Master for the direction he must have. What Paul needed, God had. So there were no “opinion polls” taken among his friends. No counsel sought. No urgent meeting at the church. No all-night prayer vigil or period of fasting. Just a simple one-day walk through the countryside, alone and undisturbed, where he could position himself to be wholly at God’s disposal.

He chose to slow the pace, disconnect from the pressure of busyness, allow his heart to cool down, and his mind to sort out the future. He gave God an unhurried opportunity to speak. He got his heart quiet so God’s whispers to his soul could be heard above the clamor of daily life. If this were me, a major disconnect would be needed. I would need to turn off my cell phone, stop all the incoming inane text messages, and intentionally decide not to be available 24/7 to everyone who wants me.

It was probably a glorious spring day. The road was his, with nothing to distract except maybe a passing caravan, or the bleating of nearby sheep accompanied by the hauntingly beautiful tinkling of their bells. The heavens hailed his heart. The earth was alive with flowers watered by the gentle spring showers. The birds offered their song. He was alone with his thoughts as he walked. His companionable companion was solitude. And God.

Was there a dream? A vision? A personal appearance by the risen Christ? We are told of none. Luke tells us nothing of what Paul said when he rejoined the group, what his decision was, or how he was feeling about things.

In the quietness of this day—as Paul thought, weighed matters, prayed, meditated on the Scriptures, considered God’s leading in the past and His promises for the future, and sang praise songs—God spoke to his heart in an unmistakable way. There was likely no audible voice, but only the calm, unshakeable confidence that sweeps over a person when God presses the rightness of a matter on his heart. A smile breaks across Paul’s face, because now he knows. His pace quickens and he briskly walks down to the bay to the waiting ship where his uneasy companions are anxious to get him on board. The course is set for Jerusalem.

“And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not

knowing what will happen to me there.”   Romans 20:22, NIV

In this simple story are the elements for spiritually facing a significant decision. It’s about spending a day with God to get His mind, and the direction you need to move ahead.

There is nothing mystical, magical, or obtruse about the story. There is no guarantee God will necessarily do again for you what He did for Paul if you duplicate his actions. God is under no obligation to anything we expect or think. But we can take the vital steps to place ourselves under the guiding hand of God exactly as Paul

Here is what Paul did—what you and I can do—to humbly spend time in God’s presence, and see if it is the time when He will graciously reveal His will:

  • Get focused. Pick a specific time, a full day if possible, to intentionally and singularly engage the fellowship and companionship of God
  • Get alone. Separate yourself from normal routines. Get away from work, cell phones and text messaging, family and friends. Take the obvious: water, light food, your Bible, pen and paper.
  • Get quiet. This day is about solitude, reflection, reading your Bible, praying often, and maybe singing. Most of all, it is about listening. To God. And getting in touch with your deepest thoughts and desires.
  • Get a word. Humbly leave it to God how, when, or even if He will speak. Contrive nothing. God’s leading may be the strong impression of a thought. Or a compelling verse from the Bible. Maybe something you’ve heard or read will be quickened by the Holy Spirit. You seek a word from Him.
  • Get going.   Act immediately on what you sense is His way. Pursue it single-mindedly until you are led differently. Frequently our problem is not that we don’t know what to do, but doing what we already know to do.

No wonder so many of us are filled with anxiety when we face a “fork in the road,” especially if we are fearful and face undetermined risks or consequences. Maybe we lack information, have had poor role models from whom to learn in the past, or bear past scars from decisions poorly made.

Next time you face a difficult question and feel intense pressure to make a decision, try following Paul’s practice of spending a day with God and see how He will direct you.

I have done so. Many times, and always with great profit.

Once, as a college senior about one hundred years ago, I faced in very late spring a tough decision that had far-reaching implications. So I set aside a day (one I really didn’t have, or so I thought) to genuinely seek God’s will in the matter.

Now, a lifetime later, I am still following the trajectory set for my life on that day now almost 55 years ago. Wrapped up in that one decision was a vocation, a calling to which I responded. With God’s guidance I happily took the right fork, and never looked back. Half a century later I can give you the report: God’s promise is true, the one found in Psalm 32:8 (KJV):

”I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go. I will guide thee with my eye.”

Don M. Hull (© 2015)

 

 

A Great Quote

“If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters.  Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude.”

Colin Powell,  American Statesman and Retired Four-Star General

A Great Quote

“Sometimes it’s the very people who no one imagines anything of, who do the things no one can imagine.”                                          (From the 2015 movie, The Imitation Game)