I think that most of us have had the experience of doing or saying something and almost immediately having a realization of “I shouldn’t have done that”.
For me, it’s almost always accompanied by a heavy sinking feeling in my stomach as I realize that whatever I just did or said was most definitely the wrong thing, and that it has implications and ripples far beyond what I had anticipated, and that it is not being received or understood in the way I had intended. It was just flat-out the wrong thing for me to do.
In conversations with friends, I have sometimes commented that it would be nice if instead of that sinking feeling afterward, if I had some sort of early-warning system instead to PREVENT me from saying or doing the wrong thing.
Well, in God I do.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy. And sometimes I ignore Him and plow ahead and do something dumb anyway. Sometimes I allow logic and good intentions to drown out His voice and end up astonished that things did not work well.
But when I’m quiet, and prayerful, and I listen for His still, small voice, I can save myself (and others) from my own bullheadedness.
God may prompt you to bake some cookies for a neighbor. Or drop a little-used coat off at a charity drive. Or put an extra $5 in the offering plate at church. Those are easy to understand, and in most cases easy to do, and they often come with a human reason as to why they are important. In my own life I have one wonderful story about a time God prompted me to do something, and showed me why. I was going to Ecuador on a sponsor tour/missions trip. We had been told to pack work gloves for a day we would spend working at one of the projects. And somehow to me it felt very important to find exactly the right kind of work gloves. I have hands that are difficult to fit with gloves. My palms are small, and my fingers long. I knew I wanted leather gloves, not stretchy fabric ones, and that made the hunt even harder. I probably spent 16 or more hours looking for just the right gloves. I visited every big box store and hardware/building store in my city. I felt driven to find exactly the right ones. Finally I settled on a pair. Solid leather, with fingers the right length, palms a little wide but that was OK, and a velcro wrap-around on the wrist so they would not slide off. They cost much more than I had wanted to pay, but they were wonderful and worth it.
I arrived in Ecuador, and enjoyed the trip very much. We arrived at our work day and I was shocked. I was not on the work crew at all. I was assigned to the CLEANING crew. A whole day working not with lumber and hammers, but with soap and water and mops. My leather work gloves were useless for working with water. Water would stretch the leather, keeping it from being able to protect my hands. The stretched out leather would rub, and leave me with blisters. I was disappointed, and irritated that I had thought buying those gloves was so important, and I stuck them back in my bag and went to work bare handed with the mop.
Fast forward a couple of days to the day I would meet my sponsored child. I was packing a backpack in my hotel room to give to her, and I came across my leather gloves in my luggage. I could not return them; I had removed all the labeling. So I tossed them into the backpack and hoped my sponsored child’s family would have a use for them. Meeting my sponsored child and her mother was WONDERFUL. Simply wonderful. After lunch we sat down at the park and I gave her the backpack of gifts for her and her family. She dug in to the backpack, exclaiming over the useful and girlish things I had packed – the school supplies, the hair accessories. She quickly handed over the kitchen utensils and leather gloves to her mother and continued exclaiming over the rest. After a moment I noticed that the mother was crying. I asked her why, and learned why I had felt it so important to purchase those leather gloves. Two months before, the family’s house had caught on fire and burned down. The family was OK, and they were staying in a tent on the property, still all together. The extended family had banded together and were slowly buying enough cinder blocks for the mother to rebuild her house, but the mother had been struggling because the work part of the project was up to her – and moving the cinderblocks by hand had been hurting her hands, leaving them abraded and with small cuts. She could not do much work with the cinderblocks at any one time, or she would put her job as washer woman and maid in jeopardy.
I had given her leather work gloves. Gloves that exactly fit her small Ecuadorian hands with exceptionally long fingers.
Sometimes God shows us in no uncertain terms that he knows exactly what he is doing.
I often hear sermons asking “What does God want you to do?” – I believe that it is just as important to ask “What does God NOT want you to do?” Sometimes it entails just listening to that voice that says “no” or “stop”, or “don’t say that” or “stop talking now”.
Just as easily as he can prompt us to do good, he can prompt us to avoid evil. He can prompt us not to share that gossip you heard about a neighbor. Or not to buy that oh-so-beautiful but out-of-budget item. Again, many of these are things that we can see the benefit in. That doesn’t make them always easy to do, but when we listen to God and choose to stop ourselves, we are aware that listening has benefitted us.
But sometimes what He tells us flies in the face of what we believe to be right. But which is ultimately “right” – God, who knows all and sees all, or us humans, who know little and see little? That is so hard to remember and to do in practice.
How experienced are you in listening for God’s voice? Can you discern what He is saying even when it does not align with what you believe is the “right” thing to do?
What if you had a coat in your car you intended to drop off at a charity on your way home from work, and you had a strange moment where you thought maybe God did not want you to do that. Which would win – the logic of dropping off a coat here you knew it could be used for good, or the belief that God wanted you to do something else? How long would you spend arguing in your head between the logic you believed and the voice you thought you heard, before picking one?
I’ve been working on this a lot lately. There are so many “good” things that I can do, but which are the things I am *supposed* to do? Knowing that there are only some that I am supposed to do means that there are some that I am being told not to do. Sometimes God does tell us not to do something we believe to be good. He has something better in mind, but we have to believe Him, and obey Him by not doing that thing we think is good, before we can get to it. If we stay too busy doing things that “we think” are good, we can miss the things that “He KNOWS” are right. In the example of the coat, perhaps if you listen and hold on to it for just a day or two longer, you may have the privilege of handing it directly to a person who needs it. Who knows? Only God.
God is never taken by surprise. He knows all the possibilities, all the implications, and all the ripples. He KNOWS what is best. But are we listening to him?
That still, small voice of God can be hard to hear in our busy world. What do you do to ensure that you can hear Him? What has He told you to do? What has He told you NOT to do? Have you been blessed with knowing the reason for his instructions, like I was in Ecuador? Or are you still just trusting Him, knowing that He knows best?