Thursday, December 17, 2009

Guidance: Do you really want it?

Sometimes in the Christian life, we think we want to hear what God wants us to do, and we want to be quite sure about it. I don't mean what he wants in the sense of should I commit adultery, should I cheat someone, or something else where God has already spoken. I mean about asking this or that person on a date, to go to this vs that college, to study this or that, or in particular to take this job or that.

Here are a couple of stories where people got very clear instruction from God along those lines, but they were not very happy about it. In one case, a missionary family had moved to China, intending to live their lives there. But the husband came down with some illness, and on advice traveled to another city to receive medical care. The treatment had unfortunate side effects, the upshot of which was that they returned to the United States, where he basically had to lie on his back for the next year or so.

He told us some time later that this gave him a chance to reflect upon what was really important in life, so he used that time to some profit. And I remember thinking at that one good thing about the ordeal was that they now had no doubt about whether they should be in China. Not to say they erred in going there in the first place, but it became clear that their future was elsewhere. Heck of a way to find out, though.

Another case, written up by Rich Stearns in his 2009 book The Hole in Our Gospel, describes how the CEO of a luxury tableware outfit became US president of a World Vision. It went something like this: Many years back, when he and his wife were planning their wedding, he didn't want to participate in the gift registry thing as long as children were starving on our planet. So they didn't.

Fast forward a couple of decades or so, and he's worked his way up the management ladder at Parker Brothers (of board games) and then Lenox. He drove a Jaguar to work every day from their 200-year-old 10-bedroom farmhouse, the kids were thriving at expensive private schools, and so on. One of their church friends called him up one day. He was a fund-raiser for a seminary and was moving over to World Vision -- they, in turn, were looking for a new president. His friend said he had a sense that Rich was going to be that next president.

"That's ridiculous," Rich replied. He wasn't interested, he didn't think he was qualified, he liked his job and his company car and the old farmhouse. He didn't want to move the family across the country, etc. His friend pushed on him a little, but Rich wasn't interested.

Then one of his vice presidents sent him a hand-written note. Attached to the note was a clipping from the Wall Street Journal (the daily diary of the American dream). The note basically said, Rich, I saw this job opening and thought you would be a great person for this. But don't take this wrong -- I love having you as a boss and think you're doing a great job. But I thought you'd be terrific at this, if you ever decided to do it.

The job opening was, of course, for the presidency at World Vision. It was from the one day that they ran the ad. Rich tried to ignore it.

Then one day the phone rang. It was a recruiter from World Vision. No, he had not talked with Rich's friend. Rich said he wasn't interested, he brought up one objection after another (which the recruiter knocked down one by one), he tried to get off the phone... and then the recruiter said, "Rich, are you willing to do this if it's God's will for your life?" or something like this.

He couldn't refuse, and over time it became increasingly clear that this is what he was supposed to do. On the day he was going to fly across the country to visit World Vision before making his final decision, a man from a Lenox business partner in England came for a visit. He also offered Rich the chance to run his china business -- a step up in responsibility, prestige, and wealth.

Would Rich abandon his 200-year-old farmhouse, move his family across the country, take a 75% pay cut, and start a job that he felt completely uncomfortable in? Or would he move his family across the Atlantic, give them an exciting experience, take a significant pay increase, and continue working in an industry he was comfortable and capable in?

Reading his account, it seems like he felt like he was being herded somewhere he didn't want to go. Knowing that God is good probably helped, and I think he's glad he followed God's leading. But being herded -- not a fun sensation.

So -- do we really want guidance? I'd have to say: only if God thinks it's really important. And sometimes I'm glad that I'm not supposed to do anything Really Important.

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