When God Leads Us Where We Do Not Want To Go

We are currently living in the in between time between Jesus’s resurrection on Easter Sunday and his eventual ascension back to heaven. One of the conversations that Jesus had with Peter during this time is recorded by John at the end of his gospel. Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves Him. Peter seems hurt that Jesus would have to ask the same question three times. Jesus tells Peter three times – if you love Me, feed My sheep. And then in John 21:18-19, Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go. (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this He said to him, “Follow Me.”

I have been wondering lately what this verse means for us today. Obviously we are not Peter. Our deaths may be different from Peter’s death. But, do we find ourselves in situations where God is leading us where we do not want to go? How can that be a part of the good news? This does not sound like one of Jesus’ happier sayings! This rubs against us Americans. We have grown up in a culture that places high value on freedom, self-determination, and the “right” to have many different options to choose from. There is a strand of anti-authoritarianism in our culture. We don’t like people telling us what to do. We rebel against that. We have commercials that lift up the value of having “no rules, no boundaries”. Could it really be possible that the Holy Spirit might lead us where we do not want to go? Would God’s will really ever be different from my will? Would Jesus really send me into a situation that I didn’t want to be in? What does the Bible say?

In Genesis, we read about Joseph, whose brothers sold him to a passing caravan. He became a slave and was carried off to Egypt, thinking he would never see his family again. I don’t think that was where he wanted to go. But, many years later, when he was finally reunited with his brothers, Joseph said, “It was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45:8) and “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good” (Genesis 50:20).

In the book of Jonah, we read how God called Jonah to go to Nineveh. But, Jonah didn’t want to go there, so he turned around and went in the opposite direction. Eventually, and reluctantly, he finally gave in to God, and went where he did not want to go. In the 23rd Psalm, we read “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death”, and “Thou prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” These are both places I don’t want to go. I don’t want to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. I don’t want to sit down and eat a meal with my enemies. I don’t want to go there.

In the New Testament, immediately after Jesus’ baptism, Mark 1:12-13 says that “the Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on Him.” In the Garden of Gethsemane, right before His crucifixion, Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not what I want, but what You want.” (Matt. 26:39). Sometimes God leads us where we don’t want to go.

Sometimes we look around at our culture, our country, or our world, and we don’t always like the direction we seem to be going. We think to ourselves: I don’t want to go there. We look at our congregations, and we see the changes that are taking place, and some of us think: I don’t want to go there. We see how our presbytery is shifting or how our denomination is changing, and some of us think: I don’t want to go there. What do we do when this happens? Do we get angry and mean-spirited and cause trouble? Do we get sad, depressed, and discouraged? Or do we ask ourselves what God is up to in the midst of the disruption? Do we cannibalize and attack each other out our anxiety and fear? Or do we go deeper into prayer and the historic spiritual disciplines of the church? One of the recommendations of our Reformed tradition is that we would “actively concur, passively submit, or peaceably withdraw.” We are to consider the peace, unity, and purity of the church, and seek to discern what God wants us to do in the midst of some difficult and confusing times. How are we to behave in trying times, so that we can still be a witness for Jesus Christ?

In speaking about Jesus, Hebrews 5:8 reminds us that “although He was a Son, He learned obedience through the things that He suffered.” As Eugene Peterson says, perhaps this is part of the “long obedience in the same direction”. Philippians 2:1-11 reminds us of the humility of Christ, Who did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, was born in human likeness, and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

So, like Peter, I believe that there will be times when God will lead us where we don’t want to go. We won’t always know why God is doing that. We don’t always know what God is up to. God’s ways are higher than our ways and we won’t always understand why we have to endure what we do. But, each time we do, it stretches our faith a little bit more. It enables us to learn to trust God a little bit more. We become a little more compassionate to the suffering of others. We become a little more like Christ. And after all, that is the goal of our lives – to become more like Christ. Can we learn to see the hand of God at work when we are being led where we do not want to go? To Him be the praise and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

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One Response to “When God Leads Us Where We Do Not Want To Go”

  1. Angela Says:

    Thank you so much for the piece:):).

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