“You can’t steer a ship that isn’t moving.” One of our pastors mentioned it again last Sunday, “God can’t direct you if you aren’t already moving.” We’ve all heard this admonition so many times. We assume it’s true. Isn’t it in the Bible somewhere?
Our culture has a thing about keeping busy. If we aren’t doing something every minute of every day, we worry that we’re wasting our lives. We aren’t being significant. We aren’t making a difference. And of course, everybody wants their lives to count for something that matters.
I understand where our pastor was coming from. He was tired of hearing people explain that they wanted to follow God, they wanted to get involved in missions (in particular), but they didn’t know what to do—so they sat in church week after week and did nothing.
His answer was to encourage them to sign up for a short-term mission trip. Hopefully, once they were on the field, they’d hear God’s voice more clearly, realize their calling, and know God’s will for their lives. It’s a common message, both in our churches and on Christian blogs and websites. But is it true?
The Bible has lots of passages about God directing our steps, and we can rest assured that He is capable of doing just that. The first part of knowing God’s will is to obey the instructions He’s already given us. Are we loving our neighbors as ourselves? Are we worshiping God? And we using our spiritual gifts to help other parts of the body grow toward maturity? Do we spend time in prayer? These sorts of activities are God’s will for every believer.
But we want to know God’s special will for us. Why did God create us? What is our purpose? What does He want us to do with our lives? Hence the frequent complaint that our prayers for direction aren’t being answered, and the common advice to do something, anything, so that God can direct us.
It sounds good. The problem is that nowhere (at least that I could find) does God tell us to jump the gun and get moving before He’s given us a direction.
When God led the Israelites out of Egypt, they had to wait for God to do His thing before they could step out. And when they were finally on their way, He went before them.
Elisha wasn’t doing anything very spiritual (he was plowing his father’s field) when Elijah called him into prophetic ministry.
David was tending sheep. Peter was fishing. Matthew was collecting taxes.
True, they weren’t sitting around in their underwear, drinking beer and watching “Happy Days” reruns on TV. But they weren’t doing anything exceptional, either.
I have a friend who describes his ministry style as “Ready, fire, fire, fire, fire! (Did I hit anything?).” It’s funny, but is that the way God wants us to be? What about Proverbs 3:5-6, where God tells us to “… lean not on your own understanding…” ?
Even if we know the direction God is leading us, we still need to wait for His timing.
Maybe we need to learn some lessons before we’re ready for what God has planned. Maybe those we are to serve have some lessons to learn first. Maybe circumstances aren’t quite right yet.
How much harm might we do if we act out of our own understanding? Abraham took matters into his own hands, and produced Ishmael.
It’s true that many Christians sit around, wondering what God wants them to do, while paying no attention to the instructions they’ve already received. But it’s not true that He can’t steer us if we aren’t moving. We’re disciples, not ships.