Yes, I suppose it is hard to just set aside your feeling that hearing God’s call is kind of scary. You’ve come to a fork in the road. You must choose. You might get it wrong.
What is the worst thing that could happen?
Yes, sometimes there are serious consequences.
In my first computer programming class the prof gave us a list of all the possible error messages. The one we didn’t want to see was
Program lost, sorry.
This was categorized, I think, as a
I’ll say. If you got it after staying up all night writing that program you would too.
It sounds like you fear something like this as you attempt to hear and follow God’s call. If you get it wrong at the fork in the road, if you stray from that mysterious path, it feels like you’ll be lost in the woods forever.
What if I told you that you actually can’t get it wrong?
What if you could be absolutely sure that, no matter what you chose, you would not make a fatal error?
Let’s take a worst-case scenario. I’m thinking about some people who clearly made a very bad choice.
It is even a biblical example, so it comes with some spiritual oomph and authority. The actions the characters took were not the kid of thing God advises: they actually broke several of the Ten Commandments.
But I’m getting ahead of myself: when the story took place the Commandments hadn’t even been given yet.
Consider Joseph and his brothers.
The story is back in the early generations of God’s chosen people. Jacob, aka “Israel,” had twelve sons. Little Joseph was Daddy’s obvious favorite.
The other eleven were steamed about that.
Here’s what they did. They attacked Joseph, their own brother, and sold him to slave traders. Then they staged an elaborate cover-up to convince their parents that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal.
Commandments or no commandments, this is very bad behavior. Agreed?
So Joseph ended up in Egypt, got falsely accused of sexual assault, and was thrown in prison.
This is not getting better.
So far it is looking pretty grim, actually. God’s will wasn’t followed, and everything went down the tube.
Eventually, Joseph was able to do something that helped the King of Egypt. Pharaoh got Joseph out of prison, and gave him a position of power and authority. Joseph ended up in charge of Egypt’s massive stockpile of grain in a time of great famine.
Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt to beg for permission to buy food.
Little did they know they would be begging it from long lost Little Joe.
Joseph strung them along for a while, having some private laughs. But when he couldn’t hide it any longer, Joseph, chief steward of Pharaoh’s riches, revealed his identity.
Eleven brothers figured they were toast. They had another surprise coming.
Joseph knew the God he served was the great Redeemer.
Getting out of prison had taught Joseph some excellent theology. Joseph knew that God takes really rotten stuff and brings amazing outcomes.
So when his brothers were terrified that Joseph was going to take his revenge, he turned the tables:
Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. (Genesis 50:20, NRSV)
Joseph knew that even though his brothers had made truly rotten choices, the God they served had bigger plans at work.
It is true for you too. God brings his intentions to full flower out of the most unlikely circumstances.
So assume you can’t make a truly fatal blunder.
Go to seminary? God will be at work. God will use you.
Take that job with the internet startup? God will be at work. God will use you.
You might make a bad choice. Chances are you’ll make quite a few of them along the way. Sometimes the consequence is suffering. Sometimes you may need to apologize and seek forgiveness.
Thankfully, with no perfect plan unfolding before you, there are still ways to make better choices. It is possible to choose “righter” paths and avoid “wronger” ones.
More on that next time.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments. What is a “bad” choice that you’ve seen God make “good” come out of?
This post is part of a series. To go to the beginning, click here. To go to the next installment, click here.
Thank you, Gary, for this modern day parable and your words of encouragement! I will have to get back to you about bad decisions made good… definitely something to think about!
Gary Neal Hansen says
Thanks so much, Deb! Really great to hear from you.
Susan Honeycutt says
I’m not sure if you would consider this a bad decision God made good come out of. When I look back, I think it was the right decision, but the wrong time, and therefore wasn’t the best choice. MI was in a recession, people were being laid off left and right, early 80’s. We had just bought a house the year before, when of course, prices were higher. My husband had to take at least a year off of school earning his bachelor’s so we could get back on our feet after a long bout of mono. We couldn’t sell the house. He was convinced that God wanted him to go back to school full time, and not in MI, but back to KY where he had started his music education degree. He was close to finishing and wanted the degree from his chosen college. I’m trying to be fair here in the facts. I wasn’t as convinced, but as a fairly new wife, I did burst out laughing when my mother-in-law said she’d “Put her foot down, if she were me, and not “allow” him to do that.” She didn’t know he was laid off that week. I simply could not imagine what life would look life as I quite my job, we rented the house, and entered an unknown chapter. EVERYTHING went wrong. Too much to list. It would have been easy to get resentful, but what I felt most dearly was isolated alone and scared. I imagine Joseph could empathize. The good that came out of it was that God used our unsold house to provide for an unexpected family housing need for his uncle when his health was collapsing. The degree did get finished and he was able to find his first teaching job through the school placement office. The atmosphere and very rules of the college (now a University) were changed as the Administration realized that you can’t treat a 27 year old married man with a pregnant wife the same way you treat a 17-18 year old still under the care and financial support of their parents. I would say it was enlightening to them to realize that some of their demerit system had to change for audacious callings to be completed in a God honoring way. Their financial forms had to change to recognize our parents income had absolutely zero bearing on our requirements for needing aid with tuition. There is now a “Married Student Union” organization to support those that do not fit the traditional college model. I’d say all that was a good and necessary thing to further the outreach of God’s kingdom and expand the vision of the University to include those who would be earning a Bachelor’s already intending to attend Seminary across the street.
Is that the type of real life example you were looking for? So much out of control, a couple decisions we could control and Booya, God moved in a big way.
Gary Neal Hansen says
That’s an amazing story! Thank you for sharing it, Susan.
I wonder whether there may have also been deep work within you and your family through the process, as well as helpful changes at the college? But such hard struggles. My Oh my.
Susan Honeycutt says
There was a deep work in both of us. We experienced several trials and tests. I learned that even if you don’t have ten grand in the bank, God is faithful to meet our needs. Bill 52.54 for electricity, resources zero. Next day, check appears in mail from friend at MI church for – you guessed it – exactly 52.54.
There was pain and deep growth from the loss of our first child. We learned to depend more deeply on God as we each experienced the excruciating pain of child loss without a support network. We learned to lean on God more completely, and we truly set ourselves to cling to each other and not to hide emotions for the other person’s sake.
There was joy in learning about the church at large and that when Christ is the focus, the denomination title isn’t as big a barrier as we once thought.
I learned my parents were much smarter than I had previously given them credit for being.
And I experienced the first hug from my dad where he didn’t quit hugging sooner than I did. A memory I cherish now that he has passed.
Those were formative years for us. Those were years where God took a scared wife and allowed her to experience the holding of my heart in his hand ever so gently encouraging me to trust him with anything. A lesson which once learned, comes often back into practice.
Gary Neal Hansen says
So beautiful. Thank you for sharing this with me.