A few days ago I got an email from a friend, and reader of this blog, asking me how we knew that it was time for us to return to the US. We had been overseas for twenty-four years and have been on American soil for less than two weeks. It is a great question and I felt it could be helpful if I shared my answer with all readers.
I came to Christ forty-five years ago and, in the beginning, was like most America Christians. I went to church, prayed, read my Bible and gave my tithe. I hadn’t been raised in a Christian family, although we all became very active in the church later, and the Bible stories about Jesus were fresh and exciting. I read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John over and over. From time to time I would try Galatians or Romans, but I just couldn’t get into them. I liked the stories–the history of what had happened 2000 years ago.
On one day I stumbled into the book of Acts and was blown away. I had no idea that these stories of the early church existed. About half way through the book, though, I began to ask a question that I am still asking: “Why don’t disciples these days, act like the disciples in the book of Acts?” That is the kind of disciple, I determined, that I wanted to be.
It was easy for me to see that the Acts-disciples were driven forward, in every aspect of their lives, by the Spirit of God. They didn’t plan out where they would go, or what they would do, but let the Spirit flow through them. So, I began asking myself: “What does the Spirit want me to do with my life?”
Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. Romans 8:5
I was sixteen years old and, every time that I prayed, I expressed to God my desire to know his will for my life on a daily basis, for my future wife, and for him to choose my vocation. I just told him that I wanted him to make all decisions for me.
I can’t say that it wasn’t scary at first. Our flesh is used to being in charge and I kept having this strong thought that, if I give God unlimited permission to direct my life, he might tell me to do something crazy, like go be a missionary in a mud hut in Africa. So, in the beginning, I said the right words, that I wanted God to have complete control, but I wasn’t sure that I was believing it.
Over time I began to understand other books of the Bible much more and verses like the one above helped me better see the dichotomy between flesh-walkers and Spirit-walkers. It was also very apparent that many people labeling themselves as “Christians,” still made their decisions according to what their flesh wanted. And that question from my constant reading of Acts was always haunting me: “Why don’t disciples these days, act like the disciples in the book of Acts?”
Throughout my late teens, and all of the way through college, I kept praying the same prayer, sometimes five or ten times each day, practically begging God to direct my life. And then he started to do so.
Through very powerful and supernatural encounters God told me to go to medical school so that I could get into countries where missionaries can’t go. He directed me to Michelle and made it clear that she was the girl he wanted me to marry. He directed us to Pakistan and then, when we were kicked out, he made it clear that that was a part of his plan to get us into Kashmir, something of a war zone that we never would have gone to initially.
It was obvious that we were in the right place because there were such great physical and spiritual needs and because Muslims were coming to Jesus and were hungry to be taught the basics of being a disciple and forming churches.
Over the next fifteen years we lived in many different countries, usually because our missions leadership asked us to move to a new place, and sometimes because it just seemed to be the right thing to do when our skillset was needed somewhere. In those days, God didn’t speak to us as much with a direct word, but we made our best guess trying as hard as we could to put our selfish nature behind and looking at the big picture of what God was doing. In retrospect, I would say that we were being blown along by the Spirit, even when we didn’t have some mystical experience or feel like we had a calling to a new place.
In the past year, it was obvious to me that I wasn’t healthy enough to do my job overseas, and we saw many people that we had counseled with moving to the mission field. That encouraged us that there would be a place for us to do whatever was needed to mobilize disciples from the US to the nations.
My conclusion is that the most important factor in finding the will of God is to desire that will, which will be opposite of what your flesh wants, more than anything in life–because doing the will of God, making changes that will last forever, is more important than life. This is how the disciples and apostles acted in the book of Acts, it isn’t common among most American Christians, but is right there if only you will pray, pray, pray and strive for it.
The verse that sums it all up is: . . .present your body as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, for this is the spiritual act of worship. Don’t conform to the pattern of this world, rather be transformed, by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what is God’s good and perfect will. Romans 12
Main point reiterated: Doing God’s will, as we see from the book of Acts, doesn’t look anything like what other American people are doing.
So what: If your life looks normal, regular and American, and you call yourself a disciple, then go back to the drawing board. You are doing it wrong.