I know a man—let’s call him John—who is desperately seeking God for direction.
John is about 55 years old. He manages a division that until a few years ago had 20 people; it now has less than half that number. But—of course—his division is expected to produce as much as the original group. You know, “work smarter not harder.” Right!
In addition, John is actively involved in his local community, running a Boy Scout troop, coaching his kid’s soccer teams, leading the High School Sunday School program, and running a couple youth retreats each year. He has been trying to offload some of this work, but finding people to step up to the plate in the organizations has been disappointing.
John feels at the end of his emotional reserves. He is exhausted; his gas tank is on empty; and he is running on fumes. His attempts to reduce his stress have failed because he can’t find anyone else with his commitment.
John needs to make changes but he doesn’t know what to do. He longs to hear God say, “do this” or “do that.” He recently read a passage in Acts where God tells Paul not to go to Asia and instead to go to Macedonia (Acts 16:6-10), and John said to me, “That’s what I’m talking about! I want that kind of clear direction.” I suspect he’d also appreciate handwriting on the wall.
So far, however, God seems to be silent. So what is John to do? Haven’t we all longed for a specific direction from God at one time or another? Doesn’t God seem silent at times?
John recently met with friends to discuss his situation. It turns out this situation is not new. He is chronically over committed. He frequently takes the project no one else can fix, and he succeeds time and again. Others ask more (and more) of him because he simply gets things done.
Why does John so often become enmeshed in the multitude of management tasks?
- He claimed—and his friends agreed—that it wasn’t for money; much of his busyness he did for free, and he lived fairly simply and was reasonably generous.
- He also claimed—and his friends agreed—it wasn’t really for the prestige of title; John is content to work in the background, getting things done without the title.
- He also claimed—and his friends agreed—it wasn’t mainly for the affirmation; in getting things done, John often made unpopular decisions when he knew what was needed.
I don’t know John’s heart and I don’t know what he should do (though I have some ideas!). But his story reminds me of someone else’s story.
Throughout my life, I’ve been the victim of a “Go-To Guy” syndrome. When a situation at work or church needed someone to get something done, I was their man. I can volunteer faster than a crisis can be created. Before the plea leaves their lips, I’m offering my Go-To Guy services.
There was—and to some extent still is—an inability to see a situation objectively. Despite being overwhelmed with work and family, someone could trump my decision making process by appealing to my Go-To Guy syndrome. A personal bias can color choices. I don’t always weigh all the factors equally; one factor—my Go-To Guy illness—disproportionally outweighs the others.
God has been showing me another way that he gives direction. God sometimes gives specific direction (“Go to Macedonia not Asia”) but when he doesn’t do so, it might be he is doing something more incredible. Most of the time I probably need more than a simple “yes or no,” or “turn right or turn left.” I really need a change in my heart’s motivation.
God’s directional voice is teaching me to become the kind of man who makes good decisions.
If my five year old son asked me if he could go outside and play Frisbee, I’d say, “Dinner will be served in half an hour, so don’t go far.” If my twenty-five year old son asked me if he can go outside and play Frisbee, I’d say, “I’ve trained you to be the kind of man who makes good decisions, so make one.” I want my twenty-five year old son to come to me for wisdom, but I also want him to grow in a personal maturity to make good decisions.
When God seems silent in our prayer for a decision, it is not because God is absent. Very often he is arranging circumstances to bring us to a place where the very motivations of our hearts are changed. He is freeing us from some weight that holds us down.
A Christian thinker once wrote:
Whatever controls you is your lord. If you live for power you are controlled by power. If you live for acceptance you are controlled by the people you are trying to please. No one controls him or herself. You are controlled by the lord of your life. (Becky Pippert, Out of the Saltshaker)
And the lord of my life was being the Go-To Guy.
If God simply answered any one decision question—should I take this job offer or not?—without dealing with a root idol in my life, then I would be stuck again (in a week or a month or a year) with this endless cycle of trying to please the practical lord of his life.
But if instead God roots out a practical lord of my life—an idol of self satisfaction by being the Go-To Guy—then I can become the kind of man who makes good decisions.
God is speaking to me and directing me, but in ways I didn’t expect or imagine.
When we are stuck in a rut, longing to hear direction from God in a decision, might the seeming silence of God be His way of moving us to more deeply examine the practical lords of our lives? Maybe God is going after the “trump cards” in our lives, the things that give us personal validation apart from him: money, prestige, being a Go-To Guy, popularity, being a great parent, comfort, having a great ministry, and the like.
Maybe He is giving us more than we even ask or think.