(This is the first in a series of planned posts concerning my spiritual journey)
Whether we realize it or not, all of us are on a spiritual journey. Some are keenly aware of the path they are on and every step is calculated to insure that the final destination is reached. Others deny that there is a spiritual aspect to their lives. Life is nothing more than a series of random events that have no eternal value or outcome. We live, we die, and that is it. Not surprisingly, there are those who fall in between those two extremes. I am one of those people.
I wish I could say that I fall into that first group but the truth is that I have spent a great deal of my life just winging it. It’s not that I don’t believe in the spiritual side of things. My earliest memories are of being in church and learning about the Bible. There has never been a time in my life where I didn’t believe it. In fact, I have spent the majority of my life searching for something that goes beyond the Sunday School answers that I have known all my life.
I honestly believed that I would eventually find the answer and all of life would fall into place exactly the way I had planned it. Perhaps that is why I was so stunned when things did not pan out according to my wishes. Even when I truly felt like I was doing what God wanted me to do, there were times when it seemed like He was letting others pull the rug out from under me. If I am going to be brutally honest, I often believed that He was the one knocking me down. Although my heart told me it wasn’t true, I sometimes felt as if He was dangling a carrot out in front of me, only to snatch it away just as it was in my reach.
It didn’t help that I had been hearing certain Bible verses for years and had come to believe that they either were wrong or did not apply to me. Proverbs 16:3 says, “Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.” In 16:9 it goes on to say, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.” In my mind I had given up things and devoted myself to doing what God wanted me to do. This was especially true when my wife and I packed up and went back to Bible college in 2005, with three children in tow. We were certain that we were following the plan God had placed before us. There was no question in our minds…until the bottom fell out.
It is difficult to experience doubt and fear when those around you assume that you have got it all figured out. Imagine how I felt when people would come up and tell me how proud they were. I had to listen to folks assure me that God was using me and that He was going to do great things through me. Meanwhile, on the inside, I was struggling to understand exactly what it was that I was supposed to be doing.
I don’t want it to sound as if the entire three years we were in school was bad. The truth is that we saw God provide for us in ways that we still don’t understand. His people were good to us and without them we would have never made it. I spent a year working with a wonderful group of people up in Smithfield, Virginia. They were amazing and they continually showed us the love of Christ. They helped to erase a lot of the negative feelings I had developed over the years. They, along with my home congregation in Wilson, showed me that some people actually did get it.
Unfortunately, my experiences were not limited to those two groups. I stopped working with the Smithfield church because the distance was just too great to keep making the drive two or three times a week. I started working with a church near the coast of North Carolina and believed that I was doing what God wanted me to be doing. I had people back home telling me that they were excited for me and I had people at the college telling me that they could not wait to see what God was going to do through me.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that my time at the new church would be short. Although I got along with the majority of the people there I began to see some of the same sort of issues that continually frustrated me. I saw leaders who were too timid (or afraid) to lead. Instead, they were willing to sit back and let a handful of people steer the church in the direction that they wanted. I ended up leaving after a disagreement over something petty. After assuring me that they supported me, they caved when someone got angry. I resigned quietly and began to doubt why I had gone back to school.
By the time my senior year rolled around, I was serving as the interim minister for a congregation in the county that my father had been born in. I went there to fill the pulpit one Sunday, at the suggestion of a professor, and I hit it off with them almost immediately. They asked me to come back and by the end of 2007, which was about half-way through my last year of school, the plan was for me to become the minister upon my graduation. A congregational vote was set for January of 2008 and the entire board of elders and deacons assured me that me and my family would soon be joining them full time.
There’s an old saying that goes something like this: the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. In my next post I’ll tell you just how awry they can go.