After our transition plans were announced Lourene and I were overwhelmed with encouragement and loving care from our brothers and sisters. People asked us many questions we couldn’t answer: Where are you moving? Do you have another church? Have you sold your house? Is Lourene leaving her job, too? You will both be looking for work?
Several well-meaning people reacted to our answers to the above question with a statement that went something like this: “Well, we know you are seeking God’s will so it’s all just going to fall into place. You’ll quickly find jobs and sell your house.” As I said, these words were spoken with the good intention of encouraging us. But I have to tell you that I think an underlying flawed understanding of discipleship may have been revealed in these otherwise sweet words of comfort.
Finally a dear friend made a statement similar to the one above. And because it was a good friend, I responded without trying to nuance my words: “You do remember Paul was shipwrecked, don’t you? Wasn’t he following the will of God? And don’t forget, our Jesus was crucified on a cross. He was following the will of God, too.”
Where do we get that idea that if you are doing God’s will, everything will work out with minimal difficulty? Some even judge whether a person is living “in the will of God” by how few challenges or difficulties that person faces. If the person is facing difficulties, some wonder if they have “missed” the will of God.
Such reasoning, popular among some (including Job’s friends), was not accepted by either Job or the apostle Paul.
There’s a verse from Luke’s account of Paul’s mission journey that I have been chewing on for years. Paul is traveling to Rome. The section of the journey that has captured my attention involves Paul’s setting sail from Sidon. Here are two translations of Luke’s account of what happened as recorded in Acts 27:4.
“Putting out to sea from there, we encountered strong headwinds that made it difficult to keep the ship on course, so we sailed north of Cyprus between the island and the mainland” (NLT).
“From there we put out to sea again and passed to the lee of Cyprus because the winds were against us” (NIV).
Very strong headwinds.
The winds were against us.
I find great significance in these words. Paul was serving God with all of his heart, but the winds were against him. Imagine how very different the story would have been if living in God’s will meant an absence of difficulties.
Very strong tailwinds.
The winds were behind us.
And as if these words about the winds were not enough to drive home the point, there is a perfect storm and shipwreck in the later verses of this chapter. And this event is just one of the many difficulties Paul faced as he lived out the will of God. A long list of these trials is recorded in 2 Corinthians 11:16-33. And then there is the whole thing of Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” in 2 Corinthians 12.
There is nothing comfortable about those days when we face “very strong headwinds.” There is nothing comfortable about spending “a night and a day in the open sea” following a shipwreck. But the truth is, those experiences in my life have been the times of greatest growth.
What about your story? Have you ever faced very strong headwinds? How have those experiences strengthened your faith and your character?