Side streets and back alleys
Jesus was unpredictable. As soon as the disciples thought they had figured it out, He would do something completely opposite leaving them with their mouths wide open. Who was this man that followed no system or sequence? Where did He find the freedom to be fully present and yet completely connected somewhere else all at the same time? Why wasn't He swayed by the power of the people? How did He so radically love and let go?
Following His baptism by John the Baptist, Jesus was led into the wilderness where he would fast for forty days and nights. During this fast, Jesus was tempted by the devil to take future matters into his own hands instead of trusting in the promise and provision of His Father. Jesus stood strong, passing the test and upon exiting the wilderness He found himself along the shores of Galilee. There He called out to Simon and his brother Andrew to become His first disciples. Followed by James son of Zebedee and his brother John.
The men traveled to Capernaum and Jesus began teaching. His listeners were amazed at His teaching because He spoke as one who had authority. Jesus didn't just fancy them with words. His proclamation of the Gospel was followed by a demonstration of the Gospel as He cast out evil spirits and healed those afflicted by disease. News began to spread quickly about the power and presence who had come to proclaim the Good News, heal the sick and set the captives free.
That evening they left the synagogue and headed back to the home of Andrew and Simon. Andrew's mother was sick in bed with a fever. Jesus healed her and immediately she went back to work. All throughout the evening people brought their sick and demon possessed friends to Jesus and Jesus healed them.
Mark 1:35-37, "Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”
After a very successful day of ministry, Jesus got up, snuck away to spend some time with His Father. By the time the disciples found Him everyone in town was asking for more. They wanted more of His powerful words, more of His life changing healings. It was working. The Gospel was spreading. Jesus was growing in popularity. But listen to Jesus' response. Simon finds Jesus, praying to the Father and tells Him He has to come back because everyone wants Him. To which Jesus says, "Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come,”(Mark 1:38, NIV.)
Jesus left. The crowd was demanding Him and Jesus snuck down a side alley, slipped out the back door and moved onto the next town.
This is the story of the Gospel. It's the truth of God making it's way into a town and then holding onto nothing and allowing whatever happens to happen. The only way Jesus, being fully human in these moments, would have been able to do this was to be led by something other than himself. Because think about it; what would we do. We've worked so hard to get so far and finally our ministry, our work, it's working. People are seeing it for what it is; good and they are wanting more of it. We have them right where we want them so we do what? We leave. We slip out the back door in the middle of the night and disappear down a side alley. We would never - that's platform crucifixion. Rather, we get the crowd right where we want them and then we show up and deliver. We work hard, strive, perform and perfect. We perform center stage, right in the middle of the road, before all to see. We get louder, demonstrate more. We definitely don't move on non-chalantly.
It's extremely important we balance our work and our rest with the Father. Because if left up to our own we will travel the wide road of least resistance instead of the narrow path of great invitation. It was a no brainer for Jesus to leave Capernaum even though the townspeople wanted more of Him. Not because it made sense, but because He saw the direction the Father was walking and that's where He wanted to be.
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your path straight."
If we spend our time getting our hearts right before the Lord, He will spend His time getting His path right before us.
We don't have to worry about knowing which way to go. He will make His way known to us. We can't leave it up to outer circumstances because they will inevitably mislead us. We must pay attention to our inner connection. With aligned hearts we will have adjusted feet.
I once met this young man so scared of missing it he had actually rendered himself useless in his fear. He couldn't enjoy where he was because he was terrified about where he was going. He wasn't excited about where he was going because he was convinced he would mess it up and arrive there wrong in some way, shape or form. He was paralyzed. Useless, unable to do anything productive for anyone, including himself.
Here's what being a mom has taught me. My girls are going to get it wrong. They just are. They are going to try and then they are going to fail. Not all the time, but sometimes. I will get an email from a teacher or phone call from a parent or tear-filled breakdown at the end of the day. I just will. Life is hard and they are not perfect. But it's okay. Because I'm here. I've got their backs. I will work with them and for them. We will figure this out together. They will grow because of their mistakes. We will grow because of their mistakes. It will work it's way out.
Jesus didn't ever miss His turn because He was perfectly connected to the Father. He did it perfectly because He knew we never could. He did what we couldn't so we could access what we shouldn't have been able to access. Because of Him we can now walk forward in the same confidence I hope my girls walk in. With hearts to do good, but still imperfect minds still learning and growing. I put my hands on this young mans shoulders. I could feel the weight of his fear. He was frozen.
"God's not worried about you messing this up. He's actually already made a way for you. He sent His son to die for you so that when you messed it up there would be a plan in place. He banked on you not being able to do this. What if you stopped putting all the pressure on yourself and you rested in the relationship He's offered to guide you forward? What if, you let God be God and you accepted your role as son?"
1. You only miss your turn when you fix your eyes on what God's not doing
God is always present and He is always working. That means we don't have to be where He's not. Let me explain. I got a phone call from a young lady we've been helping as a family. At the time she was living away from us and adjusting to life in a place with lots of different personalities. She called one night frantic, "I can't take it anymore. These girls are driving me crazy. All they want to do is talk bad about everyone else. When I correct them or tell them to stop they reject me but when I sit and listen my insides burn with anger. I don't know what to do!"
I could have said a hundred things in that moment. There's something about getting older that defuses the need to be heard in a group of people. Instead of taking the moment to teach her about righteousness and relationship I simply asked her, "what type of room were you sitting in?"
"The family room, why?" she asked.
"Were there other people in the room?"
"What were they doing?"
"I don't know. Some of them were at another table, somebody was reading and others working." she answered, still confused as to where I was going with all the questions.
"Okay," I said, "Here's the thing, Jesus was in that room, guess where He probably wasn't sitting? He probably wasn't sitting in the midst of the girls who were bad mouthing the leaders of this particular organization. That doesn't seem like something He would be doing or anything He would want to be associated with. So I am guessing that's not where He was sitting. Let me ask you this, 'what's your job while you are away from us?"
"To find Jesus and pursue my healing." she confidently answered now a little more aware of where I was headed.
"Okay so we know where He isn't. Maybe you should then get up from that circle of girls and walk around the room until you find Him and then join in when you find Him."
She sighed. She hates it when I'm right. I assure her I'm only right now because I did it wrong at her age and learned the hard way. God is always working and where He is at work there is Good News. That means if the situation you face isn't a place of hope, then you need to find where your Father stands. Once you find Him, the invitation becomes to reposition yourself next to Him. Standing side by side with Him we will begin to see what He sees instead of what we see.
When we only see what’s wrong in our marriage - God often sees what’s right. We partner with the direction we face. Facing the bad news we find ourselves proclaiming and professing it over ourselves, our spouses, our children. But if we will stop for a minute and determine where the Father is working we can readjust our view and face Him. When we face the Good News, Good News comes out of our mouths. We then give life to what we speak to and the circumstances around us begin to change because the Gospel is coming out of our mouth and our lives are adjusting accordingly.
We cannot miss our turn when we turn to face that which He faces.
2. You only miss your turn when you hold onto what God's already let go of
If you live in Cincinnati then you are a fan of seasons. Or you used to be anyways! Winter drug us through the mud this year. I actually like winter, I like the snow, love the boots and I continually look for any excuse to snuggle up under warm blankets drink coffee and read a new book. But six months of it was even a bit much for me to handle. No one complains when the seasons change. If you're like my in-laws - you might move south - but you don't complain. Complaining is useless. Seasons are a part of life. You adjust to them, move because of them, but you don't deny they are happening. No one in their right mind would walk into Christmas morning breakfast in their bathing suit! Not in Ohio anyways. That might be something people in the south can do, but we simply can't do that. The glare from our untanned skin would be too much to handle. Nor would we show up ready to go out on the boat in the middle of July with our North Face on. In Cincinnati we know, in the winter you will be cold and in the summer you will be hot. These are the seasons. We have them and we adjust our lives to them.
Why is it then when the seasons of our faith change we cling tightly to what was and refuse to embrace what is to come? Summer is over and with fall comes the drying out of leaves, the bareness of the trees and the preparation for winter. Things are about to change. Life is about to be tucked in underground. Growth and beauty asleep until next spring breaks forth again.
As a young man, David was anointed the next King of Israel. He would replace King Saul who had allowed his ego to take him away from his dedication to the Lord. David wasn't even invited to the party on the day of his anointing. When God has something for you, He will find you, you don't have to worry. After Samuel had made his way through all of Jesse's sons, he asked if there were anymore who were present. "Well, there's the youngest, he is working in the fields," answered David's dad. "Send for him," Samuel said, "we will not sit till he arrives." I don't know about you, but I am thankful we have a dad who doesn't look at us the way the world looks at us. Our Father looks right past everything and right into the heart.
That day David was anointed King. His future was drastically changed in an instant and do you know what he did afterwards? He went back to work in their fields! What!?!? That's not what I would have done. At the least I would have gone shopping in the market place for some nicer shepherd gear right! I mean, I am the future King. I need to look the part. But David let go. He didn't have to hold on because God had him. He found him from the field when it was time for him to be anointed, He would find him from the field when it was time for him to be king.
How often do we receive a word from the Lord and then we hold onto it so tightly it actually becomes our word instead of his? When He speaks He speaks to move us forward. We have to trust that He is a keeper of His word. David was in the field when God found Him and then he went back to the field till God was ready for him. We can't abruptly turn corners when we are carrying five suitcases worth of expectations.
John 15:7, "If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you."
We are to remain in Him and in His words. To remain means to abide. We will not miss our turn when we allow the words of Jesus to remain on and in us regardless of what's around us. It means we don't just read, meditate or memorize Scripture. We live and breath it. These are not some abstract ideas and sayings; they are life. His words guide us forward. We hold onto them dearly and we let go of anything they don't say and anywhere they don't lead. We trust them into existence. With His word hidden in our hearts we can walk freely and lightly. We can turn, we can twist and we can be hidden and not fear.
3. You only miss your turn when you wait for the big things rather than walk in the basic things.
The simple yes leads to the supernatural. If we follow Him step by step, day by day, then our lives will pan out and one day we will open our eyes having reached the place we never thought we would. Following the Father is about a life dipping in and out of back alleys and maneuvering through side streets. It's just what He does. It's how He lives and it's how He leads.
You might be going to same place, but He doesn't go the way you think He will go. He's not about the arrival. He's about the journey. So when we would program our destination into three different apps to find the fastest route, He's programming it into experience. He will do the one which brings you the most benefit in the long haul. He wants to be with us. He wants to struggle with us, wrestle with us and over the course of time be formed in us. It's a winding, twisting road that forms us - not the wide straight path of least resistance.
When we do what's directly in front of us we don't have to worry about what's down the road. David went back to the field to tend the sheep. Do you know he was running a basic errand when he stumbled upon the opportunity to defeat Goliath? His dad came to him that day and asked him to deliver bread to his brothers who were fighting in the war. David, being the future king could have responded with a laugh, but he didn't. The Bible says, early the next morning he got up to deliver the goods to his brothers. This basic ordinary day was the day his destiny would come into sight. He didn't wake up planning to battle a giant. He woke up with the intentions of delivering some bread. It was simple, it was small, it was a side street for sure. But it landed him exactly where he needed to be to do exactly what he was created to do.
If we come to know Him in those hidden places, then why are those the very places we tend to avoid rather than embrace? If His best ministry is done on a side street out of view of the crowd, then why do we even spend time noticing what everyone else is doing? Some of my favorite moments have happened as my family has been faithful to the small yes in front of us. They weren’t a part of the plan. They weren’t written in my chapter summaries. They were just words He spoke over us, inviting us into something new and unknown. Accepting and abiding in them meant changing directions, it meant letting go of expectations and turning abruptly toward something new. Following them brought a life we didn't know we got to experience and things we would never wanted to have missed.
He has such great invitations for you. The best of them won't be found on the main streets of your life. They will be in the back alleys and side roads. Don't avoid what you don't know. Don't resist what's uncomfortable. Rather, step toward it, observe it, acknowledge it, embrace it. He's there, He's at work and it's good!