Toward the end of 2012, I was asking God all sorts of questions about where we had been. I thought that I had listened to him. I thought that I had been following him. But at the end of the year, nothing looked the way I thought it should. Is this really going to be worth it? Have I missed You? Did I take a wrong turn? Have I ruined it? Maybe I should have… I was so discouraged and began to believe that everything I had been doing was foolish and that nothing was going to change. One dark day I consider stopping everything, including taking down this blog.
In late November I signed up for Melissa Taylor’s online Bible study of Greater by Steven Furtick. In this book, God gave me sign posts to show where I had been. He reminded me that I was not on a fool’s errand, but that everything that had happened had been intentional. The book used the story of Elisha to illustrate John 14:12 where Jesus that that anyone who has faith in me will do even greater things. I wanted to share some of those signposts…mainly so that I won’t forget.
Burning the plows – Elisha was doing life behind a bunch of cows when Elijah chose him to be his apprentice. Before Elisha left, he used his plows to build an alter on which he sacrificed the cows who had been pulling the plow. Furtick talks about how this made it impossible for Elisha to go back to the former, lesser life he had been used to.
For the last six years I had been serving in women’s ministry at our church. But this year I have stepped back. I’m not teaching a study; I’m not leading a ministry. This is a very strange place for me and doesn’t make sense for someone who feels called to minister to women and is trying to publish a Bible study for women. As I have stepped back, I realized that far too much of my identity was wrapped up in what I was doing as a women’s Bible study teacher. I have also felt a lot of freedom to just go where He asks me to go, to love and serve the women that he has put in front of me. It has made me much more dependent on his plan than trying to forge my own.
Digging Ditches – An enemy army was pressing in on Israel and the king goes to Elisha for advice. Elisha tells them to dig ditches because it is going to rain. Even though there had been a famine in the land and no rain for a very long time, the army did what they were told. Digging ditches didn’t seem like a good battle plan, but it was exactly the plan they needed. The next day it rained and the battle was won.
Last year I had to dig some ditches. I took a break from teaching a women’s Bible study at church. I realized that I didn’t have time to write when I was teaching. So I took a year off to write a Bible study of the book of Galatians. God was asking me to write instead of speak. It didn’t make sense on paper at all. But by faith, I did what God was asking me to do. In that year, I finished the book, took a pilot group and two other groups through the study and offered it online last fall. None of that was possible without a finished book. I dug the ditches, and God sent the rain…another signpost.
A Little Oil – Furtick recounts the story of the widow who had nothing left but a little oil. God used that little bit of oil to save her family from starvation. But the widow had to use what she already had in her house.
Last year finding the time to write a book was an overwhelming task with four children ranging from middle school down to preschool. But God reminded me that I had all the time I needed. Instead of using my kid-free time for grocery shopping and house keeping, I used the time to write. I could take kids to the grocery store and pick up the house when they were home, but I needed my kid-free time to write without being interrupted. I also realized that I could get my book to people in an electronic form without a big publishing deal or spending money on self-publishing. God could use the material in any form. It didn’t have to look the way I thought it should. Last year I started using what I had in my house to do what God was calling me to do…another signpost for me.
Wasted Faith – The Shunammite women was miraculously blessed with a son. When Elisha told her she was to have a son, she said, “No, my lord, do not mislead your servant!” It’s a strange response to good news. Years later when her young son dies, she falls at the feet of Elisha and says, “Did I ask for a son? Didn’t I tell you, ‘Don’t raise my hopes’?” Elisha comes to her house and raises the son from the dead.
I have felt like that this year. I thought we were going in a certain direction in women’s ministry and now I’m nowhere. I remember telling a friend this summer that every dream I had was dead. I was going to put my book on the shelf and go crawl in a hole and never teach again. I felt like God had raised my hopes in meetings with publishers and agents only to have every door closed. Not only were doors closed, but difficult things were happening for me personally. A close friendship fell apart, I was not parenting my teenage well, and I felt rejected and misunderstood in other relationships. This made for a difficult year with counseling sessions, many sobbing tears and gut-wrenching introspection.
Furtick said, “The faith of all the saints through the ages is not enough to eliminate the reality of suffering. Because suffering is not a detour on the road to greater. It’s a landmark. Discouragement is often a marker, not of being on the wrong path but of being on the right one.” This reminded me that all the closed doors, the death of dreams, the tears and the pain were part of the plan, not a detour from the plan.
Trust Fund Baby – Furtick argues that God doesn’t waste our faith. We may not see the outcome we hoped for in a situation, but that doesn’t mean that believing for a job, for healing, for reconciliation is wasted. It means that God is storing it up in a “trust fund.” He’s teaching me how to trust him more.
Saving Captain Awesomesauce – Naman came to Elisha to be healed of leprosy. Elisha told him to go wash in the river Jordan seven times. Naman didn’t want to humiliate himself by washing in that dirty river. He wanted to go back home where the rivers were much cleaner. But his servant said to him, “If the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it?” Furtick says, “Pride is the most difficult part of the lesser life to leave behind. It’s the most intrinsic to us. We have a curious habit of posturing ourselves higher than the people around us.”
Guilty as charged. This past year has been very humbling as I have had to take a hard look at my own pride and see my own sin. I look back and see how my Orphan and Ice Queen patterns tripped me up once again. Furtick talked about the importance of immediate obedience in learning humility. God reminded me of small obedient steps I had made. This fall I offered my study online, even though I was doubtful about whether or not it would work. I saw God bless it and multiply it in ways I could not foresee. I also signed up and started attending a study on Ezkiel, one of my favorite books of the Bible, but I had to drop out because God told me he wanted me to study John instead. I hate backing out of things, but I had to obey.
Furtick also recommends keeping yourself small through your daily interactions with people around you. This one is really hard for me and I’m still trying to figure out what that looks like in my life. Jesus was so secure in his identity as the Son of God that taking the lowest position in the room took nothing from him. His status, his value, his identity remained secure. As a Princess, I long for that kind of security.
Where did it fall? – In this chapter he talks about the story of Elisha making an ax head float in the river. A young prophet lost it and cried out to Elisha for help. Elisha asked the simple question, “Where did it fall?” Furtick talks about losing your edge and going back to the place you lost it. He reminded me that when I get to that place, it’s not up to me to fix it or try harder. I simply cry out to God and ask for help. With God’s help, I traced the seed of some of the struggles of this year back to a meeting where I did not honor my heart. I was not in a good place going into the meeting and in the process hurt those around me. People missed me because I missed myself. I was not careful with my heart. God has been teaching me this year how to honor my heart and how to be true.
Open My Eyes – Elisha stands with a young prophet on the wall of the city looking out at an approaching army. The army was much greater than the army of the Israelites and the young man was afraid. Elisha prayed that God would open his eyes and the young man saw chariots of fire from God’s army that far outnumbered the enemy. Furtick challenges us to open our eyes and see who is sitting at our table. Sometimes we let people in who hold us back from the greater things God is calling us to.
My circle of friends has been small this year and that is strange for me. I haven’t been in a community group or a small group study. I really don’t like it, but I know this is exactly where he has me. My close friends have been there with me and have not let me put my book on the shelf or crawl in a hole and never come out. They have kept me going when I couldn’t put one foot in front of the other. My friend prayed the perfect prayer for me last night. She asked that God would open my eyes and that I would see the places and the people that I am teaching. When I get discouraged, my eyes are closed to all the things that God has done this past year. My husband especially won’t let me lie to myself and deny that any progress has been made on this journey. This book was full of sign posts for me that I’m right where I need to be.
In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I would highly recommend this book. I’m sneaking it into my husband’s reading pile tonight!