For a week or two in college, my buddy Randy and I went on a sign-making spree. We printed nonsensical signs, hung them around campus, and waited to see how people reacted. (Yes, we were both only children, why do you ask?)
We put an “out of order” sign on the men’s room door of the music building telling the guys to use the ladies’ room down the hall. We put “use other door” signs on both doors of the entrance to the guys’ dorm. One day we took a tomato from the cafeteria salad bar and put it on display in the student center with a sign hanging above it that read, in bold letters, “Do NOT Touch the ‘Mater”. People did.
Our weird little social experiment petered out when we found some new activity to capture our attention (like leaving our friend James – disguised as a “delivery” – in an enormous box outside the girls’ dorm). But it did teach me something – people try to make sense of them even when there’s no sense to be made.
More recently, April and I have wrestled with the question of whether our career choices have been the right ones. We’ve gone through some rough patches over the last couple of years that have led us to wonder: is God’s trying to tell us something? After all, what clearer signs could He give us than financial hardship and nagging fears?
The truth, though, is that God is not a fearmonger. He does not use pain, suffering, or uncertainty to scare you. If you’re experiencing those things, it’s not because God wants you to move on from where you are. As a matter of fact, it’s more likely he’s using those things to test your commitment to his plan.
Elijah’s story in 1 Kings is a wonderful illustration of the manner in which God leads his children.
In the opening verses of 1 Kings 17, Elijah tells King Ahab of Samaria to get ready for a drought. A long one. God then tells Elijah to leave town and camp out by a creek near the Jordan River. “You shall drink from the brook,” said God, “and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.”
Can you imagine? At the onset of a drought, Elijah’s told to go live by a small creek (that is sure to dry up) and eat only what’s brought to him by some birds. Sounds ridiculous, but plenty of people are issued similar calls by God today. Maybe not to live in the wilderness where they’ll be attended by wildlife, but instead to take a new job in a distant city where they don’t know anyone. Or to quit a job in the middle of an economic downturn. Or to adopt a child, start a new business or ministry, or even just reach out to someone who’s hurt them in the past.
Sure enough, Elijah’s brook dried up. Yours will, too. Someday you’ll take a new job and immediately discover that your boss is micromanaging, verbally-abusive brute. Or you’ll move somewhere at God’s prompting only to lose your new job a few months later. You’ll discover that you can’t have children. Or you’ll get sick, or have your bank account hacked, or something that, at first glance, seems like a sign from God that you’re in the wrong place.
It’s important to note the sequence of events in 1 Kings 17: 6 -8. Take a look:
6 And the ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook.7 And after a while the brook dried up, because there was no rain in the land. 8 Then the word of the Lord came to him, 9 “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.”
God first provided, just as He said he would (verse 6). Then circumstances changed (verse 7). But Elijah remained in the same place until God gave him a new plan (verses 8 and 9).
Don’t confuse a dry brook for a sign that you’ve made the wrong decision. And don’t panic when your situation changes. God will lead you somewhere else, and he’ll do it through opportunity, not scare tactics.
There’s another implication in Elijah’s story, too: don’t think, because God led you where you are, that He won’t ever lead you somewhere else. Our journey doesn’t end until we’re dead, so expect God to keep you moving until that day.