I’m spending this week in the hospital with my Dad through his open-heart surgery to replace a valve and do a double bypass and his recovery. I appreciate deeply those of you who have held my family in prayer during this time. His recovery is progressing well. As I’ve sat with my father I’ve been reading an out-of-print book by John Beaumont, entitled God in my Dreams. In it he tells a story of God telling him to lead out in singing in the Spirit among a congregation of people of which he was a co-pastor. He didn’t do it, concerned that they had never done it before and that the elders wouldn’t approve.
The next day he told his co-pastor and his wife what he’d been through that night. His co-pastor responded:
(John’s comment:) How we need to learn that if obeying God splits the church, then it is already split even though the cracks may have been masterfully and beautifully papered over. It is already split between those who are willing to obey God unconditionally and unreservedly and those who for their own ends have imposed a limit on the recognition of the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
I hesitate to retell the story because we all know people who are so self-focused that they would use such encouragement to be over their pet theologies and agendas, and swear God had told them to do so. But that danger notwithstanding, I am convinced that it is more important to encourage people who do listen to Jesus to follow him, even if the consequences might be painful for them. It also points out that our religious systems have created environments where obeying God is far less important than having the approval of others by fitting into their expectations. How quickly we blame the person whose actions expose our division than deal honestly and compassionately with the division among us. We love the security of fitting in more than we do following the Lamb wherever he goes. I think that’s why our systems continue to harden over time and why people caught in them end up spiritually stagnant even though they are hungry for him.
We experience the life of God, however, by following him wherever he might lead us. John continues his comments in the book:
Amen! Follow him wherever he leads you and don’t talk yourself out of it just because other brothers and sisters won’t understand. A few hours after reading this story, one of the people who came to visit my dad in the hospital surprised me by telling me she had left a congregation three years ago that she had been a part of over 25 years. She loved it and had always been one of the most committed people there. But God told her that her allegiance to the group was becoming a substitute for her life in him. Few folks in that congregation have understood or affirmed her choice, and she hasn’t tried to explain it to them beyond, “This is something God asked me to do.” She also said she has never found such freedom in God’s life and such incredible connections with her family and friends. And she would be just as ready to go back or go anywhere else God would ask her to do.
Sometimes it is easy to forget that we are called to live by “every word that comes from God,” not by pleasing even well-meaning brothers and sisters.