Do you believe that you are on the right path for your life?
When was the last time you checked your location to make sure you were where you need to be?
11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11New International Version (NIV)
Have you ever set your course in your GPS after determining which way you wanted to go, in order to get there … only to arrive at a very different location than you had planned?
After speaking with a new acquaintance we agreed to meet at a half-way point between my office and hers. The directions that were given sounded easy enough. All I had to do was to type them into my handy-dandy GPS and take off!
The closer I got to our proposed destination, the more unsure I was of my location. The buildings around me were residential houses, not office buildings. The roads were side-roads and not major streets. Nothing was making sense!
Finally, my GPS said, “You have arrived at your destination.” But this was definitely NOT my destination! What was before me, was the driveway to a private home, not the restaurant that was in front of an office building!
Where had I gone wrong? I had typed in the address as given, and now I had no clue where I was and would most likely be late to our appointment. This frustration felt familiar to me.
Notice the familiar patterns and landmarks on the way
When my husband and I had accepted the position of Senior Pastor’s at our church, we “typed into our subconscious “GPS” the description (not the address) of what our destination would look like; a thriving and growing community church with activities, classes, and a healthy academy school for children, ages Pre-School through 6th grade.
Where we found ourselves instead, was enduring years of challenges within our congregation and leadership which eventually led to our ending church as we had known it, or experienced it in the past. We found ourselves at a dead end.
It just didn’t seem possible! We had done everything we knew how to do. We followed what little advice had been given to us and checked our “map” often with leadership. Yet, we still found ourselves in a location that looked NOTHING like where we had intended to go. This is where things start to get interesting … and extremely challenging. The emotions and bewildering responses of congregational members, as well as our own conflicting emotions, prevented us from seeing what was obvious. In spite of our intentions, we were off-course.
It was a default reaction to wonder why GOD (our GPS) had led us to this desolate location that looked nothing like what we had thought it would look like. Attempting to do “ministry” as usual was impossible as members struggled with their own disbelief at where they found themselves spiritually and physically.
Applying spiritual reasons to why we were off-course was our default reaction. “It’s the pastor’s fault.” or “The devil is attacking us.” or “Perhaps God is trying to teach us something.” were often the conclusions various members drew as they tried to make sense of this unexpected ‘ride’.
We are creatures of habit … and stories. It’s more romantic or dramatic, or excusable to tell a story in our minds and hearts about where we were – blaming the ‘driver’ (pastor) or the passengers (those who were traveling with us). But the fact remained that whatever we had typed into our GPS (plans/wishes/hopes) was not actually directions, but generalized cross streets. Not only that … we had not checked our location as to where we were in our ministry walk.
We were two new, unprepared, pastors with a desire to minister and serve others. We had accepted the position of a church in crisis – without any solid support as to how to navigate our way out of the re-construction zone, never mind onto a straight and smooth highway to success. Our walk as Senior Pastors was not going to be “ministry as usual.” We first had to do serious damage control and rehabilitation, then therapeutic steps before we’d even be able to get back on the road again.
Before you can begin, you must know where you are.
Knowing where you are is not enough, either.
Being under the impression or belief that “God is teaching me something.” or “The devil is beating us up.” Prevents us from knowing and understanding an eternal truth. Clinging to our conclusions about what God has in store for us, without knowing what HE has already said, leaves us adrift with conclusions that come from failure and fearful thinking.
Here’s an idea of what that might look like:
STORY: The devil is beating us up. God is teaching us something.
TRUTH: The foundation was broken and shaky, and any supplies, tools, or people with knowledge, that were needed, were not available to help us rebuild our inherited and broken church.
SCRIPTURAL TRUTH: We were reaping what had been sowed! Any decisions, choices, or behaviors that had contributed to the state of our church, was bringing forth a harvest of pain and turmoil. Neglecting to access the situation prevented us from seeing what we needed.
More than that …
We had forgotten that God had GOOD plans for us! Plans to prosper and NOT to harm! If we had remembered that one point, perhaps we wouldn’t have tried so hard to impress men and do what we thought we SHOULD do.
By the way, did you know that doing what you think you SHOULD do is literally bumping yourself off of God’s intended path for your life?
When we say, “I think we should go here … or we should do this … or perhaps we should _______________(fill in the blank)________, you are in a state of guessing. Guessing what someone other than yourself is in control of determining. Should statements are filled with uncertainty – and assumptions. These belief-landmines lead us astray and sow doubt, confusion, and uncertainty in every step.
When we KNOW God’s intentions for us, “to prosper” and “not to harm”, then we have a green light to proceed with HIS direction. Not guessing games, but with clarity and wisdom. That clarity is found when, once again, we locate our position.
The stories I had in my mind as I turned around in front of the house that the GPS had led me to that day went something like this:
- How could I have been so stupid and not followed the GPS right?
- SOLUTION: “Check my facts. Looking at the GPS I saw that the address was indeed typed incorrectly. However, by searching the Internet for the restaurant in question, I discovered that I had been given the wrong address, to begin with. (BUT … I also discovered that the address listed was an old address, the GPS had not been updated, and the residential area I had found myself was all new construction within the past two years.)
- God is trying to teach me something.
- CORRECTION: That’s just plain silly. He’s ALWAYS trying to teach me something! EVERYTHING has a lesson in it. He’s GOD, He CARES (His motivation for guiding me to the right place)
- Maybe my meeting wasn’t supposed to happen.
- IDENTIFICATION: This defaulted, programmed thinking is nothing but an excuse to not follow through or press in. This comes under the same category as “should” thoughts. There is no basis for this kind of a thought, only a story that stops progress right in its tracks without exercising faith that God has in mind to prosper what I do!
Yes, I did find the restaurant in question, and yes, I had a fantastic and prosperous meeting. I gained a new relationship and learned things I would have never learned if I had never left where I was (before and after locating myself!) I call that PROSPERING.
My greatest lesson that day was to not waste my time fussing and complaining over something that didn’t turn out the way I had expected but to learn about what got me there, and how to get out of it. This lesson applies to both my simple trip to meet a new friend AND the horrific experiences I had endured as a Co-Pastor of a church in crisis.
So many wonderful, interesting, and compassionate truths have come from those experiences because after all, God desires to PROSPER me, and NOT to harm me. The harm I experienced during that period of time was from making assumptions and receiving them from others. They came from telling stories in our heads, instead of being realistic about where we were, what we had to work with, who was with us, and understanding what it would take to get back “on the road again.”
If you are on the wrong path and are arriving or have arrived at a place you had not expected to be. STOP and LOCATE yourself. Be truthful. Do you have what you need? Did you know the EXACT address of where you had hoped to be? (TIP: Hope is NOT the same thing as intention.) Are you prospering? If not, then you might be off course, under construction or reconstruction, or lost. Remind yourself that God has good plans for you … to prosper you … not to cause harm. Then start asking yourself better questions.
- What is the story I’m telling myself in my head?
- What are the stories that others are telling me?
- What are the facts?
- Do I have what I need for this journey?
- Do I even know what I need?
- Who is with me?
- Why am I going?
- What does the timing of events look like?
- What is the preferred sequence of events?
Where do you want to go? God has nothing but the best in mind for you …