As a teenager, growing up in youth group, there was a lot of angst about God’s purpose for your life. It seemed like every message that wasn’t about the evils of sex and drugs was about this. I was left with the impression that if I didn’t figure out what gifts God had given me and how I was supposed to use them within His purpose, my life would be a waste.
There was immense pressure to get it right, but not too many people coming along to speak into those gifts and offer mentorship. So I tried to find the answers for myself. There were many hours and tearful prayers spent trying to figure it out and make sure my life counted for something.
I did not find the answers I was looking for as a teen. I decided to carry on with life and hoped it counted anyway. I shifted from striving for answers and purpose, to waiting for direction. Still praying, still learning all I could about and from the bible, just doing so in a posture of waiting. I now realize that was the biblical way to handle the question.
In Acts 1 we hear the account of what Jesus did in the days leading up to His ascension. Just before He left He gathered them together and, “He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, ‘Which,’ He said, ‘you heard from Me; for John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’” (Acts 1:4-5 NASV) All the disciples had to do was wait. They came together before God and stayed in that place until the Holy Spirit touched them. They must’ve had so many questions about the future and the gospel. God was going to answer those questions. He was going to do it, and so much more, through His Holy Spirit in them.
The disciples waited.
That’s how they went from being the fumbling disciples we read about in the gospels to the rock star apostles in Acts. The difference was knowing and living out their gifts and purposes in God, yes; but more importantly, the difference was the Holy Spirit. They might’ve been able to figure out some or all of their gifts, they might’ve even been able to sort out a purpose based on what Jesus told them while He was with them. But would they have had peace in that knowledge? Would they have been as effective? I don’t know. In my opinion, probably not.
Because the striving doesn’t end with figuring things out. It continues because the work is being done out of personal strength. It’s like trying to move a God sized rock with human sized strength. That purpose becomes overwhelming, exhausting, and likely impossible. God means to move the God sized rocks in our life of purpose. In reality, the purpose is His, so the rock is His too. We’re invited into what God’s doing. What He’s been doing all along, what He will continue to do until it is accomplished.
I wonder if the waiting is another reminder that it is not by our strength that the purposes of God are worked out, but His strength. It is not our will, but His. Not our power, but His. If we could sort out our gifts and work them into a purpose and carry them out, all without God, then it would be our will and our work. We have to wait because it is His purpose.
Not to mention the fact that God wants to be in relationship with us. If we could go about our purposes without God, we’re less likely to do it with Him, together in relationship. I think it was Corey Russell that said that if God has to choose between your ministry and your heart, He’ll choose your heart every time. In other words, If He has to choose a high functioning ministry that’s humming along, or relationship – He’ll let the ministry peter out and build up the relationship.
Sometimes I look back on all the striving I went through in my youth, trying to prove to God and everyone that I mattered, and think, “What a waste.” Other times I realize I was doing the best I could with what I had. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I didn’t understand that I could stop and wait. I learned that lesson much later. When I finally did stop and wait, I waited a lot longer than I thought I would have to at the start. But in all that waiting God rebuilt the places in our relationship that had fallen down during the years of striving. I’m grateful for that time of restoration.
It makes me wonder though. What if we stopped striving? What if we stopped looking for purpose and started waiting? Stayed in that posture until God spoke His words of identity and purpose into our lives, and fill us with His Holy Spirit to enable us to live out those words? What if we taught our youth to wait for the revelation of their gifts and purposes? What if we made a point to wait with them, and walk alongside them as spiritual fathers and mothers; and speak encouragement into the revelation they receive from the Father, like Paul did with Timothy? It seems to me that a lot of grief, individually and as a church, could be spared if we would only start with waiting before the LORD.
So when a new season starts in my life, I will wait. When I need understanding from the LORD, I will wait. As my children grow and mature, I will wait with them. Every time anxiety bubbles up with the impulse to strive my way out of it, I will wait. I will wait before the LORD, and I have confidence that He will meet me in the waiting.