Thursday, July 3, 2008

I'm Not Unemployed, I Work For God.

(This is a long post. And I'm saying it's long. I thought about breaking it up into two parts, but I don't think that would do much good. Most of you should read more anyway.)

People naturally ask me what I do for a living. I can't blame them. I only very recently graduated from sleeping on the floor to a camping cot. In the past, I would answer their questions by telling them that I get money from book sales and then sometimes play guitar for a certain gospel singer. While this is true, I do make money that way, it's not what I really do. I mean, that's not my primary occupation or what sustains me.

Here's the real answer. Every day, I ask God what he wants me to do. Then I do it. Because I live in obedience to Him, God sustains me both supernaturally and through my creativity. This answer doesn't satisfy everyone, but it's the truth. So I'm not unemployed, I work for God.

To illustrate this point, I'm including a story from a friend of mine. We both felt weird about using his real name, so instead of making you wade through the boggy mess of endless pronouns, I've changed his name to "Abe". Abe, if you read this, there's a reason I chose this name. Sorry if you hate it.

Abe needs God to bless him. He’s waiting on a deal to come through and is short on cash. Instead of simply blessing Abe and leaving it at that, God sent Abe on a road trip to help people.

Abe left his temporary home in North Carolina to help his dad with some things in central Ohio. At ten minutes to five in the afternoon, he blew a tire out on a busy highway. He towed the car to a tire shop just before they closed. On the way back to his father’s house the next day, God tells Abe, “Stay in Columbus another day or two.”

At three in the afternoon, Abe’s father handed over one hundred forty dollars and said, “Get the other tire replaced.” At the tire shop, the same man was behind the counter from the night before. He gave Abe a forty-five dollar discount on the second tire. When they tried to remove the old tire from the rim the sidewalls disintegrated.

The tire shop is near a cafe. Abe headed over there to do some work on his computer. About two hours later his computer ran out of battery power despite the fact that it’s plugged in. Abe saw a flyer in the coffee shop advertising a local hotel with a low rate. Remembering the hotel is between the tire shop and Coffee Shop, Abe asked God if he should stay there. God said, “Stop in,” so he checked the rates at the hotel. The only room available was very expensive.

There was another man in the hotel lobby. He dressed in motorcycle gear and appeared exhausted. The man looked familiar, and Abe asked, “Can I help you?”

The man shook his head. “I just drove 8 hours by motorcycle from Kansas City."

Abe then remembered him from the International House of Prayer in KC, which surprised the motorcycle man. Abe asked, “Where are you going?”

“I’m headed to Cleveland, but right now I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to do for dinner and a room.”

Abe recommended a restaurant across the road. “When you leave, head toward Cleveland, take the next exit and stay in the Hampton Inn. It’ll be about twenty dollars more than a normal room would cost here."

As Abe walked to his car, the man called out, “Why are you leaving me?” He asked this question three times.

Abe replied each times, “Because I’ve answered all of your questions and told you what you need to know. You will be alright!”

Eventually, the man said, “How did you know that I had just asked God, ‘what am going to do Lord? What do I need to do?’”

Abe laughed when he told me this story and then asked me, “So how useful was this ‘day of unemployment’ to God?”

Instead of answering this question for you, I'm going to jump into the story of Elijah. I heard a man named Terry Virgo give a message on this passage a few weeks ago at a conference in Western Missouri. The passage is from 1 Kings 17:1-16.

The prophet Elijah told the king of Israel, "As the LORD, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word."

Then God tells Elijah, "Go away from here and turn eastward, and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. It shall be that you will drink of the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to provide for you there." Elijah goes to Cherith and the birds meet him there with food morning and night.

After some time, the brook dries up (because, hey, there's no rain) and God tells Elijah to move on. "Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and stay there; behold, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you."

Again, Elijah goes where God leads him. He sees a widow in Zarephath and asks her for food. The woman replied, "As the LORD your God lives, I have no bread, only a handful of flour in the bowl and a little oil in the jar; and behold, I am gathering a few sticks that I may go in and prepare for me and my son, that we may eat it and die."

Elijah tells her, "Do not fear; go, do as you have said, but make me a little bread cake from it first and bring it out to me, and afterward you may make one for yourself and for your son. For thus says the LORD God of Israel, 'The bowl of flour shall not be exhausted, nor shall the jar of oil be empty, until the day that the LORD sends rain on the face of the earth.'" So she went and did what Elijah said, and they had food every day. The bowl always had some flour in it and the oil jar never ran dry.

Let me retell this story another way. Imagine God wanted you to have a meeting with the president. At the White House, you say, “Our economy is going to crash until I give the word. Then we’ll prosper again.” Soon massive flooding, early frost, and other natural disasters destroy the nation’s farms. Food prices skyrocket. Oil becomes so expensive that we see the Conestoga Wagon make a comeback. Dominos fall all over the place and crush everyone. The president remembers your crazy prophecy and adds you to the FBI’s Most Wanted list. Now you’re on the run, and all because you did what God told you to do.

God tells you, “Go to this one river in Montana. I’ve told an army of ants to carry food over to your campsite every day.” When you set up camp in Montana, sure enough, ants carry bread and meat and drop it off in front of your tent flap. Meanwhile, in a fit of panic, the government decides to build a dam on that river to form a reservoir for struggling farms. This simultaneously creates several jobs for the recently unemployed, which worked for FDR, right? Of course, your ants live in that valley and can’t swim. Now you don’t have a river or little ant servants and you’re starving in the middle of Montana.

Then God says, “Make your way to New Orleans. I’ve commanded a homeless man to take care of you.” You run into a homeless guy who insists that he’s Steve Guttenberg. He smells like the inside of a shoe, but he’s got a nearly empty jar of Skippy peanut butter and four slices of Wonder Bread. You ask him to make you a sandwich. When he agrees to feed you, the two of you somehow manage to make peanut butter sandwiches for months.

It’s crazy, right? But that’s what Elijah did. God took care of him because he obeyed. What if Elijah didn’t go to Cherith? He would never have met up with the birds God sent to feed him. And what about going to Sidon, a characteristically pagan region, to meet with the widow? Two people had to obey that one. First, Elijah had to go there even though hardly anybody followed God’s voice in that area. Second, the widow had to make Elijah's food first, trusting that God would provide for her family as well.

Now I’m going to tell my story. My car has been at an auto shop since mid May. God blessed me with such a rare car that I’ve had trouble locating a replacement part. Last week, a friend drove me to the auto shop in Franklin so I could get some things out of my car. She works at my church, which is about seven miles from the mechanic. Among the items I pulled out of my trunk, I felt compelled to put a few copies of my book into my backpack. I walked about three miles toward my church before I asked God if I could hitchhike. I figure, it’s Franklin. There are not a whole lot of ax-murdering ne’er-do-wells. But God said, “No, I’m sending someone to pick you up.”

Ten minutes later, a pickup truck pulled over. “Where are you headed? I can take you most of the way, hop in.” Of course, one of the first things he asked me was, “What do you do?” I told him that I follow God’s voice in obedience and I also write. I told him about my book. He said, “That’s interesting. I saw you walking earlier and something told me to pull over for you.”

I said, “Really? Because I asked God if I should hitchhike. He said, ‘No, I’m sending someone to pick you up.’ I think that’s you, mister.”

“Where can I get this book of yours?”

“I have some copies in my backpack.”

He pulled out cash and bought one. It paid for my lunch. He drove me the whole way to church so we could continue our conversation. This story is an example of how God blessed me obviously and immediately. There are other times, however, that are not so obvious or immediate.

One of my roommates moved back to Michigan yesterday. After I helped his parents pack their trailer, God wanted me to walk a mile and a half to a cafĂ©. He said, “Work on the new book there. Don’t wear headphones.” I usually listen to music while I write, so I wondered what God had in mind. A little while later, my roommate came in and repaid me for a bill I had covered. I gave him a hug goodbye and he said, “Keep writing. Keep making the world a better place. You know that’s what you’re doing.” I thanked him and went back to work when he left.

An hour later, I asked God, “So... why did you want me here? Did I miss something?”

God pointed out that a man had been sitting in the chair next to me most of the afternoon. “He has been asking me a question and I put you in place to give him an answer. He heard what Dustin said to you. That was his cue and he didn’t take advantage of it. If you had put headphones on, you would have blocked him out. But now he has no excuse.” He was no motorcyclist from Kansas City, but my mission resembled Abe’s. God put us in place to do His work. I wonder if God had a backup guy in the cafe…

Now, this may seem silly. You might say, “Of course we should all obey God, but there comes a point in time when a man has to stand up and take responsibility, work the soil, earn his bread with the sweat of his brow.” If so, I would ask you to consider Matthew 6:31-34. Jesus said, “Do not worry then, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear for clothing?' For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

When I seek God’s direction in my life and obey what He asks of me, I am actively seeking Him and doing the work of His kingdom. This is not passive. I have to do something in order to obey. God routinely tells me to write, or sing, or arrange meetings with people. It’s not all divine appointments and money falling from the sky, but my provision still comes as a result of obedience to God. Because I’ve learned to trust His provision, I have peace in my heart as I sleep soundly on my cot.

I have the best job ever.


Annie Parsons said...

You have some amazing stories - thank you for reminding me that I don't need to have everything planned out, and that I should be looking FIRST to God for what I should be doing with my time/life/money.

By the way - got your CD - THANK YOU! I love the songs.

Jamal said...

This article could set millions of people free from the world's system of bondage! Thnaks for writing this!!!!!! PRAISE GOD!