Lately I've had a love/hate relationship with church. It seems every Sunday, I sit through the sermon and I leave feeling like I was smacked in the face with some important life truth. This Sunday was no exception, however, I also left questioning my plans to return to college in the fall. Pastor Jeff is doing an excellent job of challenging me in my faith.
Today's sermon was based on Numbers 22:21-35:
22 But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the Lord stood in the road to oppose him. Balaam was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him. 23 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand, it turned off the road into a field. Balaam beat it to get it back on the road.
24 Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path through the vineyards, with walls on both sides. 25 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it pressed close to the wall, crushing Balaam’s foot against it. So he beat the donkey again.
26 Then the angel of the Lord moved on ahead and stood in a narrow place where there was no room to turn, either to the right or to the left. 27 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it lay down under Balaam, and he was angry and beat it with his staff. 28 Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth, and it said to Balaam, “What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?”
29 Balaam answered the donkey, “You have made a fool of me! If only I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.”
30 The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?”
“No,” he said.
31 Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with his sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell facedown.
32 The angel of the Lord asked him, “Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me. 33 The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If it had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared it.”
34 Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned. I did not realize you were standing in the road to oppose me. Now if you are displeased, I will go back.”
35 The angel of the Lord said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but speak only what I tell you.” So Balaam went with Balak’s officials.
Pastor Jeff began his sermon by talking about the conspiracy Mapquest, GoogleMaps, YahooMaps, and all other directional websites have to get him lost. (Personally, I just think it's a user error...) Then he spoke about how now, he has a GPS, but sometimes, he still gets lost and when he does, it passive-aggressively complains about the fact it has to recalculate.
His question was: Is the exasperated recalculating voice our own when we have to shift direction in order to find where we need to go?
We all have goals for our lives--dreams we want to achieve educationally, professionally, personally--and even though we know the directions, we sometimes miss a step or turn or a new situation may arise, be it a health problem, a family problem, or just a door being shut. And in these moments, we find we need to recalculate and this may come with anger, frustration, sadness, annoyance and other emotions.
In Numbers, Balaam has a special relationship with God. He's going to meed the king of Moab, but God is not super thrilled by that idea, so He sends an angel with a sword to stand in Balaam's path and for some reason only allows Balaam's donkey to see it. The donkey, seeing the danger, diverts the course in order to save Balaam from percieved danger three times, and Balaam, frustrated because he has to recalculate, hits his donkey each time for not staying on course.
After the third time, the donkey says to Balaam, "WHY DO YOU KEEP DOING HITTING ME?! IT HURTS!" And the donkey and Balaam then argue, until God allows Balaam to see the angel, who explains why the donkey kept averting the course.
Balaam, now realizing he maybe should not be going to see the kind of Moab, wisely decides he should go home rather than risk his life, but the angel encourages him to go on to meet with Balak, but only if he does what God says.
Pastor Jeff then began to talk about the journey of faith and how it involves discernment. There are moments when life recalculates us, and in those moments, we need to ask, is God leading us or are we deciding where we go? We need to discern the difference between our voice and God's. We need to be actively figuring our which is which, following the one and leaving the other.
Especially when life seems to recalculate us. We need to turn to God and ask, "Now what?"
This process of discernment means paying attention to the divine messengers God places in our paths--our friends, teachers, mentors, maybe even our donkeys. Who is God asking us to pay attention to? What are the voices saying? Is God asking us to recalculate our plans for our lives or to go ahead with His blessing?
God is always speaking to us in the moments when life recalculates us, not passive aggressively, with exasperation, anger, frustration, or annoyance, but with a voice of love, challenge, and grace.
Ten months ago, my life recalculated me. It sent me home from my dream college to deal with my health and mental illnesses. It took me down a road I never thought I would be on at this point in my life. I still find myself exasperated and saddened I missed out on a semester and a half of college.
In 22 days, I am planning on moving back to Gettysburg for what should be my junior year of school. And for the past four months or so, I have been having doubts about returning. Others in my life have also been having similar doubts, to which I've put on a brave front, but the truth is... I'm filled with so much anxiety and fear about returning that I'm not sure it's the right decision. If it was the right decision, I'd feel 100% confident in it, wouldn't I?
And this morning, I was challenged to ask myself another question: Is God leading me or am I the one deciding where I go?
I honestly don't know. If I look at the could-be messengers God has placed in my path, I am hearing mixed opinions. I'm listening to the voices but I don't know what they're saying to me.
How do I know who God is speaking through? How do I know if God is telling me to go ahead with the journey I'm on or if He is asking me to recalculate my plans? What if I don't have enough faith to discern any of this? What if I misunderstand God's voice and make the wrong decision?
I don't know.