“What made you move?” is the provocative question I was asked this afternoon. “I heard you mention that you recently relocated,” he continued. “What made you do it?”
The inquirer did not know me personally. He has heard me preach and teach over the past several days, I presume. At the least, he had just listened to me lecture for an hour and a half, during which I compared my pulpit work in Los Angeles to my new work in Jacksonville several times. And without knowing anything about my story, he was curious. So he asked. He went on to explain where he was going with the question. And he told me a bit of his own story, which made the question relevant to him. And he confessed that he was just curious.
I was only able to give him a sixty-second answer. About a minute into my response, several brothers approached with questions and comments. And we were unable to finish our conversation. But after we parted ways, the question was still on my mind. What made you move? And a larger question emerged. What practical steps should one take in seeking to discern the will of God in an important decision?
My situation is unique. And you should never follow the advice of someone just because it is they way they did it. But there may be some helpful principles you can glean from my experience and process of decision-making, as I was considered a major relocation of my family and ministry.
Admittedly, I was not conscious of most of the things I will mention as they were occurring. It is only now, some months removed from these events, that I can begin to make heads or tails of some of these things. If you didn’t know, I am a retro-prophet. I have no power to foresee or foretell. But I can predict yesterday with great accuracy.
Here is what I would recommend to someone who desires spiritual direction for an important decision.
Pray. James 1:5 says, “If anyone lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (ESV). This is an important and faithful promise that too many believers fail to take advantage of. But I would encourage you to start here as you process important decisions. Do you need wisdom? Ask God for it. Tell the Lord all about the situation. Pray for his guidance, leadership, and direction. Then trust that God will keep his word to give you wisdom with generosity and without chastising you for asking.
Trust the providence of God. I am not one of those persons to whom God reveals what’s coming way down the road. I cannot see what is around the corner. And I don’t have a sense of what is on the other side of the present obstacles. The Lord usually deals with me by simply directing me to the next step I should take. And when I have taken that step, he reveals the next step. And it is only over time that I am able to look back and see where I have come from or look ahead and get a sense of where the path will end. This is how it was for me as I was considering the possibility of relocation. If you would have asked me flat out if I was going anywhere, I would have told you no. But I was pretty clear about the next steps I should take. And at some point, I could tell that things were going in a certain direction.
Likewise, there is a sense in which I was putting God to the test. I do not recommend this. And there have been only rare occasions in my life when I have prayed like this, typically when I did just did not know what to do. I would say to God, “Lord, if you are in this, do this or don’t do that.” And each time, God did it. And it is as if he would say afterward, “Okay. Now what?” And I would find another condition. And every time I came out of the huddle, I would look up and God had moved the ball down the field. Let me be clear. I do not recommend that you deal with God this way. But this is what happened in my situation. I was Peter in a storm, asking the Lord, “If it is you, bid me to come to you on the water.” And he did.
Know your Priorities. I had a lot of voices with many different opinions, as I was considering if and/or how to proceed with the possibility of a call being extending by the Shiloh Church. I would have been absolutely dazed and confused, without a personal anchoring point. And you should be careful of armchair quarterbacks, who know how the game should be played, because they are fantasy football champions. It’s a whole different matter when you are actually on the field and the defensive linemen are charging after you. You need to have a game plan that reflects who and what and where you are.
For me, there were several key priorities for me to factor in as I processed things. But there was one most important personal priority, after the ultimate goal of doing what is pleasing to the Lord. Crystal Reanne Charles. More than any human being, my wife Crystal knows me. We have spent a decade together as husband and wife. And we share three children together. Crystal knows my strengths and my weaknesses. She has great respect for me but is not impressed with by me as the same time. She is honest with me and forces me to be honest with her.
God has entrusted Crystal and my children to my spiritual oversight. My family is my congregation, if I do not pastor anywhere else. So Crystal’s view of things was paramount. If she was not on board, that was the decision. But as we would talk about it, she kept saying, “For some reason, I think you should remain open to this.” After Shiloh voted, I was still not sure what to do. I bought a ticket to go meet with the leaders, looking for an excuse… I mean reason to tell them I was staying in Los Angeles. But I was still not sure. I reached my decision as I was flying to Jacksonville. Crystal’s affirmation was an important element in my being able to reach that decision. We really didn’t say anything to each other on the way to the airport. But as I was getting out of the car at LAX, she kissed me and prayed and told me, “Whatever decision you make, you have my full support.” I cannot tell you how that simple statement cleared away some many clouds that were hanging over my decision.
Get godly counsel. Along with Crystal’s vital input, I was blessed to have a multitude of godly counselors (Prov. 11:14; 15:22). My pastor’s advice was invaluable. (By the way, if you do not have a pastor who’s counsel you respect, I pity you.) I also have several mentors and colleagues whose advice I trust. I talked to family members and friends. I even sought the advise of several people in my life who are not into the things of God, but who care about me. However, I did try to avoid talking to people who would respond to the situation emotionally. For instance, anyone who I felt was going to talk to me about what my dad would think was someone I avoided. That kind of emotional pressure would not have been helpful to me.
Interestingly, most of the people I talked to did not try to tell me what to. They listened. They gave their opinions. And they talked to me about the situation in light of what they know about me. Most encouraging were those who told me they were confident that the Lord would continue to bless my ministry if I decided to stay in Los Angeles or move to Jacksonville. But even those who had a specific opinion of what I should do, one way or the other, thought enough of me to state their viewpoint carefully, rather than acting like they had the final word of what the Lord wanted me to do. What a blessing!
Consider what fits you. I would have never considered the pastoral opening at Shiloh had it not been for several respected friends who told me that they thought it would be a good fit for me. I remember responding to the first three people who told me this by laughing. Long and hard. In fact, I responded to the first person that said this to me by saying (after I stopped laughing), “You would be a better fit than I would!” But after hearing this from so many different people, Crystal and I concluded that it was something we should at least consider and pray about. At this point, I cannot tell you how many people have said to me that they think me and Shiloh are a good fit as pastor and people. When I hear this, I inwardly smile, considering how God has a way of showing others things about you that you cannot see for yourself. This is why you should not make major decisions in a vacuum. You need people who know you well to serve as rear view mirrors for you to help you see the things that your blind spots prevent you from seeing about yourself and your situation.
Follow the sense of divine calling. I had no reason to leave Los Angeles and every reason to stay. Crystal and I had just had our third baby. And MSMBC had just purchased new facilities, something we had been praying for and working toward for several years. As we moved, I was convinced that the Lord was putting my roots deeper in the ground at MSMBC. Looking back, I think it may have been the direct opposite. I think the decision to move would not have been something I would have been able to consider if the church was still at 1800. Too much attachment. But the Lord forced me to deal with that before Shiloh was ever in the picture. I think I was divinely set-up. But only God knows.
Anyway, after we moved, I prayed a prayer that I regularly prayed over my almost eighteen years at MSMBC. I would offer God my resignation, as it were, and give God his church back. It would go something like this: “Lord, I am your servant. You are in charge of my assignment. And this is your church, not mine. Do whatever you want to do with me and this church. But do not let me forget that I am yours and this church is yours.” I am not sure. But I think this effort to be open to God helped me to be ready to discern the call of God when it was time to move.
I remember the day I met with the pulpit committee at Shiloh. I said to the deacon who was escorting me that I thought this was a complete waste of time. He stopped in the hallway and pleaded with me not to play the Jonah. Defiantly, I replied that I could not be Jonah, because the Lord had not told me to go anywhere! But less than three months later, when I was convinced that I was to go to Shiloh, I refused to play the Jonah. Honestly, I felt the Lord was sending me on a suicide mission. I did not want to go. And I could not understand why the Lord was doing this to me. But none of that mattered. I finally knew that it was the will of God that I move. And God already had my “Yes.”
A pre-commitment to say, “Yes.” Throughout this entire process, I had to deal with confusion and uncertainty and doubt. But as I prayed my way through, I regularly began my prayers with a statement of commitment. I would pray, “Lord, before I say or ask anything about this situation, I want you to know that you already have my yes.” Then I would pray about whatever was on my heart and mind. I had my concerns. But I was not trying to negotiate with God. More than anything, I did not was to miss God. I could not afford to miss God. Who cares if I looked foolish to people in any of this? I just wanted to make sure I did what was pleasing to God. God does not reveal his will for entertainment purposes. God reveals his will to those who had a precommitment to obey. So I wanted the Lord to know that whatever way he led me, my answer was yes. And I am so glad I said yes.
What’s your answer?