The mind of man plans his way,
But the LORD directs his steps. (Proverbs 16:9)
There are times in life when we are at a fork in the road, when the decisions we make determine the course of our life. At many points our character determines which set of choices are available to us (many would call this compatibilism); at crucial times our choices determine what our character will be. (some call that concurrence; more in a post another time)
Imagine it like this: a young man finds a wallet on the street filled with cash and with a person’s ID. He has a major choice to make at this point, one that will set a lot of character traits within him. He can find the owner of the wallet and return their money, which will set him on a path of caring for others and self-sacrifice in the name of what is right. Alternately he can keep the cash and throw the wallet away, becoming more self-focused and caring less for the needs of others. Who he becomes in the future is determined by how he handles the choice he has before him.
We are all confronted by these kinds of choices at points in our life. At crucial moments they determine our path; at the same time we rest as Christians in the knowledge of Proverbs 16:9 that God directs our steps as we plan our way and that we do not make decisions all on our own. If we will listen to His voice and will ask for His view, He will direct us where He wants us.
I had such a moment yesterday. The head of the Bible department at the school I teach at told me yesterday that he is officially beginning the process of hiring a full-time faculty member. He asked me for a résumé and to consider the job, because he was sure I would do an excellent job and would be a good fit. From the time I left the Navy to attend seminary I have walked the path of wanting to be in an academic setting. I love teaching, love the classroom, and love helping eager students grasp the Word of God. It’s been a desire of mine for the last decade, the majority of my adult life.
And yesterday I asked him to remove my name from consideration for the position.
Am I a fool? Maybe I am, but my desire and my calling are maybe not the same. God has made me to be a shepherd, not an academic. I love the classroom but dislike the administrative side of professoring. (is that a word?) I am not one for committee meetings or writing assessment reports or planning classroom assignments. I love to help people see God in their life and apply His word to their unique situation, to have freedom from the past and intimacy with their Creator. I don’t love grading, though I do it as a necessary “evil.” (it’s not evil, but it is not my favorite task either…)
More than that, I see God at work in our church in major ways, both big and small. I could not take a full-time professorship and stay the pastor of our church simply for time constraints, if not for focus and responsibility. If I resigned my pastorate I would have to leave the church out of respect for the new pastor, and my church is my family. I guess that’s the shepherd in me, that I love my church. I love preaching, love praying with people, and even love the messiness of life that comes from pastoring a small(er) congregation. I love being there for the weddings, the birth of their children, the hospital stays and the new jobs and the tough times too. We’ve been where we are for almost 4 years, and I feel like in God’s eyes we are just getting started there. I can’t remotely fathom leaving our church, so I told my boss no thanks. (fear not, I am staying on as an adjunct!)
That’s been harder for me emotionally than I thought it would be. Laying a career in academia on the altar has not been easy, though I know it is absolutely, 100% what God wants and where I will be blessed by Him and joyful. Still, it was hard to turn away from the path I had thought I would walk in life; maybe it wasn’t as hard as declining my commission in the Navy, but hard nonetheless. I am joyful, but maybe a bit melancholy at realizing the death of my dream of being an egghead professor.
God, in these moments, makes us who we will be and confirms in us who He calls us to be if we will listen. He has confirmed to me that I am a shepherd and I will stay a pastor; I get joy in the classroom, but it’s because I get to help students understand and live for God there. So in reality that is pastoring as well. This decision has confirmed that within my heart.
How about you? What have been the hard decisions in your life, and how have they molded you into the person you’ve become? Were they difficult to make because you weren’t sure or for some other reason?