There are two mistakes you can make with regard to action. You can make mistakes in action or inaction. Which way do you lean? Do people tell you that you’re always rushing ahead of God, trying to get Him to bless your plans or like me, do you wait until you’re sure, and then wait a little bit longer?
Now, don’t misunderstand. I don’t want you to wait until what God wanted you to do is either already done or the opportunity has passed. I also don’t want you to get ahead of Him and His plans, either. I don’t want you to make either on purpose, but if you’re not going to be perfect, and I’m pretty sure you’re not, is it better to be doing things while you’re making mistakes or just waiting doing nothing.
If you tend to think like me, you probably would say, “I don’t want God to have to try to fix my mistakes, so I’m not going to do them until I’m absolutely sure.” Hidden behind that thought is the thought, that you wouldn’t say, of course, that maybe you’d mess it up so badly that God couldn’t fix it.
Did you notice that? There’s generally fear behind inaction. “I don’t want to get in God’s way” kind of fear. Let’s think about it for a minute. I think this idea is core to a lot of problems we deal with.
When I was in high school, I had a Casio databank watch. A lot of people would ask to play with it because it just had so many functions. In a lot of ways, it was the precursor to PDAs and SmartPhones. Almost everyone would say one of two things when I let them play with it. Nice people would say, “I don’t want to mess it up.” Somewhat twisted individuals would always say things like, “I bet I can mess it up.” Either way, I’d let them hit all the buttons they wanted.
I’d had one since middle school, so I knew it pretty well. No matter what they did, in one or two button presses, I’d get it back the way it was.
I think the universe is a little like that. God knows the universe so much better than we do. He had the idea for everything that exists and then “built” it all. Because His intelligence is so great, He didn’t have to plan and plan, writing down what the universe was to look like. He knew.
It’s actually a little bit of pride (reversed into insecurity perhaps) that we think we can mess up what God wants to do. Think I’m wrong? Look at the Crucifixion.
If you wanted to best mess up God’s plan for the life of Christ, what would you do? Kill Jesus. That would do it, right? Wrong. God wasn’t surprised that Jesus was going to be killed. He didn’t smack His head with His hand and say, “Did not see that one coming!” No, He planned for it to happen and more importantly He redeemed it.
Don’t forget that redemption isn’t merely restoring things to the way they should have been. Redemption is reversing AND exceeding the evil with good. The Father didn’t just raise the Son, exactly as He was. Jesus was better. Locked doors didn’t stop Him. He could be unrecognizable one moment and clearly Jesus the next. It didn’t stop there, though. His death became the vehicle of salvation for millions of people. That’s redemption.
In trying to mess up God’s plans, the Enemy actually brought them into fruition. Now, back to making mistakes. If you’re trying to follow God well. If you’re trying to be the person He’s made you to be, do you actually think you could blunder into messing it up so badly that He can’t fix it? Do you think He won’t, to “teach you a lesson”? No, that’s not God’s character.
I’m pointing out the folly of being insecure in how you pursue God’s plans because I want you to feel the freedom to try and succeed, knowing that when (not if) you mess up, or even choose not to do what God wants purposely, He can fix it. That’s what grace is.
Think of it this way. Peter and Judas were both part of the crucifixion in one way or another. They both chose to do the wrong thing. Yet, neither could stop God’s redemption of the situation. Now, who would you rather be? Wracked with guilt, Judas killed himself. Wracked with guilt, Peter went back to fishing, thinking that he’d disqualified himself for God’s plans. Peter was forgiven, restored, and church tradition tells us, became the first pope.
Please remember that I do want you to prayerfully go forward in God’s plans. I’m not telling you to do what you want and pray that God blesses it. Try instead to follow His plans well, but quit beating yourself up when you mess up or even choose wrong. You’re not surprising Him. Let Him redeem your mistakes.
I think that you need to genuinely be concerned for whether you’re hearing right and following well, but don’t wait for 100% certainty. That’s just not going to happen that often. Instead, consider what it would mean to step forward in faith when you’re somewhere north of 51% sure that you heard God right.
Of course, there are somethings that should count against your feelings. He’s not going to be counteracting His word, so if you’re 110% sure He told you to sleep with your best friend’s spouse or to kill the guy who cut you off in traffic, reconsider (and maybe get professional help).
He will often tell you to do something that seems counter to common sense, though. “Give the money you have in your wallet to that homeless guy” goes against my mother’s advice that “you don’t know what they’ll do with it.” Since I know that Jesus said to give to the poor, I think what He says trumps what Mom said.
It’s also the case that often what He tells you to do makes you uncomfortable. So, if you don’t want to do something that’s good and righteous (I know I do sometimes, okay a lot of times), there’s at least a good chance that it wasn’t your subconscious telling you to do it, but God.
I’m taking this detour because I think there are some things that we don’t do because we “have to go pray about it,” but God has already spoken.
In wake of some of the church shootings, I decided prayerfully, and in advance, that if anyone was trying to kill people and I can do something about it, I’m going to try and do so. You never know if you actually will until you’re in a situation like that, but if I actually know Jesus and heaven awaits me, “to live is Christ and to die is gain.” God has already said that, so I don’t need to take a week to pray about it.
That’s an extreme example, that I hope to never face, but here’s an easier one. God’s asked me to err on the side of generosity. Since He’s so generous and I want to be like Him, I can tip 20% or more. If I’m wondering whether I should tithe on gross or net, I should go with gross. If someone asks for $1, but I only have a twenty, maybe I should just give it away.
Today, I went to a parent / teacher conference for my first-grade daughter. I remembered that the teacher had graduated from the same Christian college as me, so I brought it up as part of a quick story about my daughter’s memory (which is excellent). Later on, she mentioned that she was “church hopping,” so I invited her to mine.
I didn’t take a week to pray about it because I love my church and think that everyone should at least visit. It’s just that great! Was it a mistake? I don’t think so, but it could be that I went out ahead of what God was doing. I hope not. I trust that if it was, God will redeem it.
You might be thinking, “it’s easy for you Paul, you’re probably a gifted evangelist, too.” Remember my irrational fear of people from earlier chapters? It’s not easy for me to invite anyone to church. I just know what my life has been like since I started going to my church and I want that for her, too.
These aren’t really business or calling examples, but I think you get the picture. Sometimes you’re called to do something specific and you know it, but you spiritualize your refusal as “waiting on the Lord” or “trying to hear for sure.” Don’t do that. If you know, you know.
So, I think you should make your mistakes while trying to make things happen. I’m not always great at this, but I do love it when I do a good job.
At this point, if you tend to “get ahead of God,” you probably think that since the chapter is almost done, I’m not going to talk to you. You’d be wrong.
If there’s a pattern in your life where you’re always (or almost always) not waiting patiently when you should, maybe you should spend some more time in prayer. If you really identify with Peter in the New Testament, remember that he was the one who denied Christ. If he’d spent a little more time in prayer, then maybe it wouldn’t have happened. I think God redeemed it, but as the Apostle Paul says in Romans, we shouldn’t sin that grace may abound. It’s better to not make those mistakes.
I know you might be thinking, “Didn’t you just say that we should make mistakes in action?” It comes down to knowing yourself, I think. If you tend to always make a mistake when you’re in action, slow down a bit. If you always tend to wait too long, it’s time to err on the side of action.
The idea is that if you don’t know what to do, maybe you should make a mistake doing something that you think might be right instead of sitting around and not doing it because you’re not 100% sure. If you tend to move without hearing from God and you find that you should have taken a little longer, maybe you ought to practice a little more patience.
In evangelism, this can be key. I was raised to treat every conversation with a sense of urgency. “You could be hit by a bus tonight.” While that is true, if God is in the business of wanting people to be saved, He’s willing to wait a week for someone to consider if they want to know Him rather than be pressured into right then and there…and He can control buses.
I wouldn’t say that you should never ask a person if they’re ready, but that you should be willing to let the Holy Spirit work with them a little longer if necessary. That’s not a failure anymore than letting a baby go another day or two before she’s born, unless there’s a reason to induce right now.
So, make your mistakes, because you will make them. Just try and minimize them by knowing your tendencies and growing past impatience or erring on the side of action, whichever you need more.
All things being equal, just remember that impatient Peter walked on the water. Everyone else waited cautiously. I want to be Peter in that situation, don’t you.