When you read the Bible, you soon realize the methodology of God is counter-intuitive to that of people. In other words, the way He does things is often opposite of how we would do things if given the choice. This “phenomenon” comes from the simple fact that the outcome God desires for any given situation is usually not even on our radar. You and I can be ridiculously short-sighted - a virtue that is nonexistent within God. As I continue to study both people and God, I’ve noticed that these polarizing attributes translate into the following: people over-complicate life’s simple pleasures until they are unrecognizable as a gift from God; God, on the other hand, takes life’s complexities and winnows them down to one simple pleasure – loving Him. If we can get out of our own way and embrace this truth, life will begin to resemble that which God intended.
I’m giving this message out of firsthand experience, both from my past and just a few days ago as well. Every month, all of the group leaders from Mended get together for a time of prayer and discussion about what’s happening within each church group. As many of you know, Mended was also birthed out of a desire to honor God with creativity. Therefore, we wanted to do something a little different this month and just have a two-hour block of time where we all got together with no agenda. It was a time to quiet ourselves, spend in God’s presence, and create whatever we were impressed to. Sounds simple right? Remember what I said about over complicating things?
I haven’t sketched or drawn for quite some time, and it’s something that I really used to enjoy. I figured this would be a great opportunity to give it a go once more. Everything starting out perfect; we had some music playing, the atmosphere was conducive for creativity, and there was an image in my head that was intriguing to me, so I began to draw. All was going well until I got to a crossroads in the development of my picture. It seemed nearly complete, just needing a little extra touch, but I wasn’t sure exactly what that should be. I began to add a little color here and there, but I didn’t like it. I tried erasing, but the colored pencils wouldn’t erase. At this point the only thing I could think of was to add more dark color to cover the original color I didn’t like. Can you see where this is heading? As I tried to add more, the worse it got in my eyes. The more I looked at it, the more I felt it was unrecognizable from the original picture in my head. By the end of the evening, my frustration level was so elevated; all I wanted to do was throw it away. Wait! What? Where did I get derailed? Let’s start with what I said in the beginning – there was a conflict between God’s desired outcome and mine.
In the moment that I felt I made the “wrong stroke” of color, my thoughts instantly shifted from “Wow, this is great! I’m enjoying spending this time with God!” to “What will others think when they see this? Now I’m going to have to explain what it is, because you can’t even tell!” I had lost sight of the entire purpose of the evening. God wanted to take the complexities of my day-to-day life and boil them down to a moment with Him, one in which I could express my love for Him and enjoy the creativity He’s placed inside me. I, on the other hand, brought in other people’s opinions which hadn’t even been given yet! I was so concerned with the short-sighted “problem” of having to explain my creation, that what God was reawakening in me for the future was completely overshadowed. There was nothing inherently complicated about what that evening was suppose to be about, but I had done a good job of making it that way.
Strangely enough, our tendency to “muddy the waters” comes from a good place. It’s misguided, but at its core it’s pure: responsibility. Inherently, responsibility steers us towards productive things. In fact, I believe this is a core value for anyone looking to build a solid foundation for themselves and their family. Where we go wrong is when we take personal responsibility for a desired outcome that God has already promised He will take care of. In other words, if God has promised something for your life, He will see it through.
Pharisees weren’t always spoken highly of in the Bible, but one named Gamaliel was ahead of his time when he spoke to his constituents regarding the early church and the apostles:
“Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” Acts 5:38-39
When we step into the arena of trying to fulfilling God-given promises on our own - an arena that only He rightfully belongs in - our activity and purpose cross the line into “human origin”, just like Gamaliel warned against. Indeed, we must take responsibility for our actions, and we have a part to play in God’s story, but it can’t come at the cost of taking the reins into our own hands.
Over a year ago God spoke to me very clearly that He would be starting a new church called Mended, calling me to the helm. It’s important to distinguish here that it is His church that He promised would be placed in our community, with me and my team playing an active role. Once that ball was set in motion, my only responsibility would be to follow His leading and be obedient to His voice; if I do those things, it is not my responsibility for the rise or growth of Mended. However, if I step outside the bounds of what He asks or instructs me, I can expect to reap the consequences of my actions.
Let’s look at my drawing experience once again. The moment I believed that my art was ruined by my extra strokes of color, and my thoughts started to drift to what others might think, I began the first dangerous step in taking responsibility for the success of Mended from God. I falsely believed that I need others to embrace and love what I produce, whether it is my art or my messages, in order for the church to flourish. It’s an association that says - something God spoke is somehow dependent on what I do. What God wanted for me that night was to enjoy time with Him, love Him, and find pleasure in the process of creating. I missed out because I defaulted to what we all often do: fail to enjoy the ride because we’re too busy trying to drive. We have to remember, riding shotgun for a trip where the destination is set, is a whole lot easier than trying to drive when you don’t necessarily know the route.
A classic example of this in the Bible, and one I can easily relate to, is the life of Gideon. At a time in Israel’s history when they were suffering the consequences of doing evil, the people finally cried out to God for help. Their suffering came from intense oppression on all sides from the people of Midian. Being the gracious God that He is, He sent an angel to summon a mighty warrior named Gideon to lead an army to defeat the Midianites. There was only one problem: Gideon didn’t think of himself as a warrior. In fact, his exact words in response to the angel of the Lord who told him he would save Israel were, “But Lord, how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” Judges 6:15
The better part of Judges 6 is spent describing how Gideon began to gain more courage. He listened to God and did what He said, but he also tested God and watched as God proved Himself time and time again. In the midst of this, Gideon had amassed a large army to begin the fight against the Midianites. At this point, I don’t fault Gideon at all, and I think he did what any of us would have done - get as many people on our side as possible. However, as noble as this effort may have been, God had other plans – simplify.
It was time for God’s curveball, and Gideon was about to experience the importance of trusting in the promise God had spoken to him earlier about being the one chosen to save Israel. This is the point in the story when Gideon’s picture gets “messed up;” when it would be easy for him to begin to think of all the ways he needed to defeat the army instead of reminding himself God already spoke that it would happen. Over the course of a morning, God instructed Gideon to reduce the size of his army from 32,000 men down to just 300! That’s 300, against an enemy army the Bible describes as “thick as locust…their camels too many to count!” God’s simple explanation was so that Israel could not boast against Him, believing that their own strength had saved them (see Judges 7:1-8). God went on to remind Gideon that his victory in the upcoming battle was as good as done. Once again, we see God’s grace at work, reassuring His human servant until it finally settled into his heart. Moments before the 300 men were to raid the enemy’s camp, Gideon cried out, “Get up! The Lord has given the Midianite camp into your hands.” Judges 7:15
Gideon finally learned the lesson that God wants us all to learn, the one Gamaliel spoke of – if God is in it, it can’t be stopped. The only thing left for Gideon was to move forward into what God had already promised.
Interestingly enough, the simplification continued even farther, because the Midianites were defeated with only trumpets and torches, wielding their own swords on one another out of fear! I can’t help but think of the enemies God is waiting to help us defeat if we’d just step aside and begin to realize He already has the outcome secured before we even start.
Could part of the reason we toil so much in this life be because we haven’t realized we are overcomplicating things? Does God have to reduce our army to 300 before we start to understand His ways are better? Are we failing to enjoy the participation in God’s promises because we feel the weight and responsibility of the outcome on our own shoulders? I’m not sure what promises God has spoken over your life, but the Bible is full of those He’s spoke over us all, just like Gideon. Whether it’s picking up a pencil for the first time in years, working on a car for your elderly neighbor, starting a new job as a bank teller, or getting ready to slay an “enemy” that is standing in the way of your future; if God has called you to it, just know He will see you through it. I know firsthand the grip of responsibility can be tight, but if God has set something in motion for your life, the only thing you need to do is follow His lead. If you can do that, “complicated” will get a whole lot simpler.