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Autobiographical Sermon Excerpt

August 19, 2006

I don’t like to put much autobiography in my sermons, because as Paul says in this very epistle to the Corinthians, we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord.   But I hope you will bear with me for just a few minutes as I have to tell you the story of how God used this text in my life just about twelve years ago.

When Katie and I were first married we both believed that we were called to be missionaries.  I had spent a summer in India, she had spent a summer in China, and we both came back from those experiences with a strong desire to be career missionaries.  And so, after we were married, we quickly became missionary candidates with the EFCM and began raising support to go toIndia. 

But in the next year, Amy was born.  And, as the Scripture says, children are a blessing (Ps 127) but pregnancy is accursed (Gen 3)  and Katie had a very difficult pregnancy, which made us feel some fear and apprehension about whether we had the strength to move to and live in India.  Katie, of course, felt this much more strongly than I did, and she began to seriously question whether we should be going to India.

But I unwisely reasoned this way:  I figured that we would keep moving forward, and God would either close the door to India, or give Katie peace about going to India.  But in fact, God did neither of those things.  He didn’t close the door, and He didn’t give Katie peace.  We got to within 85% of our budget raised and within three months of our departure date, and Katie increasingly had no rest in her spirit.  These were very difficult months in our marriage, as you can imagine.

But relief came in October of 1993 when I was having my devotions in 2 Corinthians and I read these two verses (read 12-13)

2 Corinthians 2:12-13 When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though a door was opened for me in the Lord, my spirit was not at rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I took leave of them and went on to Macedonia.

Now that is remarkable.  Paul walked away from an open door, a door that was opened for him in the Lord. And yet he walked away from it, because his spirit was not at rest, or as the NIV says it, he had no peace of mind. 

Evidently Paul did not think of the will of God as a narrow tunnel that if you miss it, that’s it you’re off track until you go back and go through that tunnel.  Paul didn’t think that he had to walk through every door God opened, as though God would never open another door for him again.  Where did we get this depressing view of a God who is only with us if we read all the signs just right and make all the right decisions to get into “the center of his will”  The Scripture says that God’s will for us is to be holy, to rejoice always, to pray continually, to give thanks in all circumstances, to meditate on his word day and night.  If you do that, then the Scripture promises that “whatever you do will prosper”  We need to discover the freedom in that word “whatever”.

So when I read this passage in 2 Cor in 1993, I realized that just because this door was open, didn’t mean I had to walk through it.   And so instead of praying for God to close this door if he didn’t want me to walk through it, I prayed “Lord, if you really want me to go through this door, then I need you to give both Katie and I rest in our spirits”
We also went back to our two main sending churches and laid the situation out before them and asked them to reaffirm our calling or readjust their affirmation of our calling, and they all agreed that going ahead to India would not be a wise decision.   The final decision not to go was made at a meeting with the elders of my Mom’s church in Arkansas.  I drove home from that meeting to my parent’s house, and there was waiting for me a message from the pastoral search committee of the church where I now pastor.   I hadn’t told anybody that we were considering not going to India.  It was a divinely orchestrated coincidence.  As soon as we walked away from one open door, another one opened up right in front of us.  What a merciful and good God! 

6 Comments leave one →
  1. August 20, 2006 1:15 am

    Amen! This affirms my thoughts for a followup post to my one on “Perspective”. I’ve been thinking about it for a couple of weeks now, but the ideas still aren’t quite firm. It’s like God is teaching me patience and (diligence in searching his word) by initially giving me only an inkling and then slowly trickling the rest to me. I must work, I must listen, I must wait.

  2. egana permalink
    August 20, 2006 10:07 pm

    I hate how afraid we are to make any mistakes. It paralizes us from doing anything at all, and then we sit around second-guessing our inactivity, berating ourselves with guilt, and then in the nexty breath justifying ourselves and the reasonableness of our fear. It is as though we are afriad God will punish us if we don’t get his coded messages exactly right.

    but there is NO CODED MESSAGE! Just light and life and truth! Read it, trust it, rest in it, and work hard in it! Then we will be strong enough and weak enough to enjoy the work and the dependence and the glory.

  3. August 21, 2006 9:37 am

    thank you for sharing this. His grace is freeing.

  4. ramona permalink
    August 21, 2006 11:13 am

    i was very encouraged/challenged by this post. i never really had the same wide view of God’s will as paul did; my view has been the tunnel view. but your experiences coupled with the scriptural references is freeing, as mark_5 said. :)

    on another note, i’m have greatly benefited from you taking the other open door to be a pastor. :)

  5. August 21, 2006 12:33 pm

    Time to apply.

  6. August 28, 2006 2:45 pm

    It was a good thing mathuaerknedam pointed me in the direction of this post today! I’d read it already, but things always seem better the second time around (particularly when you’re in a similar situation).

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