I don’t know how many times I have looked for a way out. When I am in a tough situation, I am always looking for the proverbial “corner” that I can turn. I am always looking for relief. My first tendency, always, is to look for an escape and here is the problem: in those times God is asking for me to become more rooted, not less. God is asking me to stay still right in the middle of the heat so that He can do something in me that can’t be done anywhere else.
In this chapter the author goes after, in particular, the tendency for people to run from relationship to relationship and from one church community to another when things get rocky. The Bible says,
“God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as he pleased” (I Cor. 12:18)
I have never looked at that verse quite like that. I have usually looked at that verse in terms of “gifting” but in this context it really takes on another meaning. He has placed us somewhere, in a particular body, for a purpose. He did this. This gave God pleasure to do this. If God is pleased to place people where He wants them to be, then what happens when we choose to “displace”?
People don’t tend to think a lot about that. When things are hard in a community, when we disagree with decisions being made, when we have an argument with someone, when we have been hurt or are bored, people commonly say “it is time to move on.” We find reasons, seemingly good reasons, to leave and can find more than enough support to do so. We can even pray about it and “feel peace” about it. But who is giving us permission?
We can know exactly what God’s will is. We hardly even need to ask. God is always, always about reconciliation. God is always about finding solutions and peace. When brothers and sisters are still willing to meet at a table, there is always hope and never an option to wipe our hands of the process.
The author says that when we are in the place God wants us, “the devil will try to offend you to get you out. He wants to uproot men and women from the place where God plants them. If he can get you out, he has been successful” (51). There is no better way to uproot someone then to prod and poke at an offense. If Satan can irritate us, we already have one foot out the door. In the parable of the sower you will remember the farmer who sows seed on the rocky soil. In the KJV it identifies people who receive God’s Word and live God’s way for the most part, but when conflict arises “immediately they are offended” (Mark 4:16-17). Oh the mistakes that are made when we internalize an offense and live in an offended state!
The author says that when we leave the place God has chosen for us, our root system begins to “dwarf.” The more we wander, uprooting as we go, the less able we are to deal with conflict when it comes. We become spiritual vagabonds,
“Wandering from place to place, suspicious and afraid that others will mistreat you. Crippled and hindered in your ability to produce true spiritual fruit, you struggle in a self-centered life, eating the remains of the fruit of others.” (55)
Spiritual vagabonds may feel beat up and persecuted. They become unteachable. They get what the author calls a “persecution complex,” cynical and mistrustful, suspicious, offended, believing that everyone is out to get them and “with this attitude it is difficult for them to see areas in their own lives that need change” (57). They begin to hand-pick relationships, creating a self-controlled environment; seeking the safety, quiet, order, and contentment that comes from walking away from where they were, where “iron sharpens iron.”
The author says, “Rather than facing the difficulties, they try to escape the test. The character development that comes only as they work through conflicts with others is lost as the cycle of offense begins again” (58).
In the place of conflict, we are provided with the unique opportunity to stare at our own character flaws; God is able to refine and mature us while we are under pressure. As the author says, He is trying to strengthen us, not destroy us (53):
“…a believer who chooses to delight in the Word of God in the midst of adversity will avoid being offended. That person will be like a tree whose roots search deep to where the Spirit provides strength and nourishment. He will draw from the well of God deep within his spirit. This will mature him to the point where adversity will now be a catalyst for fruit.” (55)
Where am I at with this? Rather than trusting God in the place that I am, I can feel stuck with it. I can endure it with a scowl. Even if I don’t walk away from my circumstances, becoming a full-on vagabond, I can try on the clothes. I have wrestling matches with God when I am uncomfortable in the place that I am and sometimes I think I must make God sad in the middle of it; why do I fight Him? Why is my obedience so begrudging at times? Why do I resent His refining?
I have consciously entertained building walls of safety around me. I actually have the bricks in my hand and then I hear the Spirit say, “That’s not the answer.” I know. I know it’s not. Sigh. I hate when things are messy. I keep wanting to smooth the church out, you know: do everything right; have everything go right for everybody. It is so, so painful to see people uproot, because, as it should be, we are all interconnected and there are tendrils attached to me too.
Am I drinking deep from the well offered to me right at this point? Right when I need it the most? I can rage around, resenting, and then I catch a glimpse of myself. Look in the mirror Teresa: are your bags packed or are your hands open?
– Teresa Klassen