GOING WHERE YOU DON’T WANT TO GO
by Eric Elder
There’s a skit I’ve seen where a man playing Jesus is talking to a woman and Jesus tells her that He’s picked out something special, just for her. The woman is overwhelmed that Jesus has something for her. When he pulls out a cute little 8-ounce soda, the woman is thrilled; it’s “perfect” for her, she says.
As she’s walking away, another man walks up to Jesus and Jesus tells him he has something special, just for him. He pulls out a 16-ounce soda and to the man’s delight, he says it’s perfect for him, too. The woman, however, now looks at her soda, which is half the size, then gives Jesus a puzzled look.
Then another woman walks up to Jesus and he pulls out a 1-liter soda for her, which makes the first woman irate about her “little” soda. Still another man walks up to Jesus and is overjoyed when he gets a 2-liter bottle of soda. Now fuming, the first woman walks up to Jesus to give Him a piece of her mind, when He hands someone else a 3-liter bottle. “I didn’t even know they made 3-liter bottles!” she exclaims. As Jesus sees her mounting frustration, he reminds her that He really does know what He’s doing, and she can trust him to give her exactly what she needs, just when she needs it.
What was “perfect” for the woman at first soon turned into envy and jealousy in her mind before she even got to take a sip of what she was given, not because there was anything was wrong with what the Jesus character had given to her, but because she began comparing her experience with others and wondering what Jesus could possibly have been thinking. You may have had the same thing happen to you, thinking that Jesus has been grossly unfair.
Believe it or not, the apostle Peter faced a similar moment when he was having a conversation with Jesus, as recorded in the Bible in John chapter 21. Jesus had recently risen from the dead and had just entrusted Peter with the monumental task of taking care of Jesus’ followers, saying three times: “Feed My lambs,” “Take care of My sheep,” and “Feed My sheep.” Then Jesus tacks on this tidbit at the end:
“I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go” (John 21:18).
The Bible says that Jesus said this to indicate the type of death by which Peter would glorify God; then Jesus said “Follow Me!” And according to church tradition, Peter was eventually led away and killed, being crucified, upside-down, for his faith in Christ. It’s said that he asked his executioners to turn him upside-down because he didn’t feel worthy to die in the same manner as his Lord.
But when Peter first got this news from Jesus, the Bible says that Peter looked down the beach where they were standing and saw John following them. Peter said, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus replied:
“If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow Me” (John 21:22).
At this point, Peter might have been tempted to think Jesus was unfair, and not just because he was getting an 8-ounce can of soda! Why would Peter have to die and John get to live? According to church tradition, John did go on to live a long life, having been sent into exile on the island of Patmos where he received and wrote the book of Revelation.
If Peter felt any twinge of jealousy, he didn’t carry it long, as he went on to follow Jesus just as Jesus asked him to, leading the early church with conviction and power, preaching about Him wherever he went and seeing miracles all along the way. John also went on to follow Jesus, eventually being sentenced to death and, it is said, being drowned in a cauldron of burning oil. When that didn’t harm John at all, he was sent to the prison island of Patmos for the remainder of his life, where I imagine there may have been days when he thought Peter’s path was easier.
The truth is, even though God may have a different path for each of us in life, if we do what He says and follow Him, just as Peter and John did, we can trust that He will work things out for the best in the end, glorifying His name, too, all along the way.
At our annual retreat a few weeks ago, several of us shared about the unique paths God had called each of us to follow, sometimes going where we didn’t want to go, whether it was facing the death of a marriage, the death of a spouse or the death of a dream of ever conceiving children. We also shared how God had helped us along the way.
How can you get through what you’re going through? How can you know that God is still with you? How can you walk through the pain and suffering or death or divorce or the loss of your job or health or financial resources? And is there anything practical you can do along the way to help you get through such stressful times?
I compared the process to someone who’s taken a terrible fall on a motorcycle. There are some things you can do along the way, like letting others help you back up, getting to a doctor to clean out your wounds and stitch them up so they don’t get infected, and doing the physical therapy you need to do to build up your strength again. But there are other things that will simply take time and God’s healing touch to get better, things that you can’t rush, but healing is taking place as you rest and let your body mend. Both active and passive roles have a part to play in the process.
While each of us shared the unique ways God walked us through our difficult times, the way He helped us along the way fell in three broad categories: God provided us with “people,” “resources” and “His Holy Spirit.”
In terms of people, God put a variety of people in each of our lives, whether people who had been through what we were going through; or people who simply cared about us and were willing to walk through it with us; or people who were trained and skilled at walking others through these kinds of difficulties, like pastors and counselors and medical doctors.
And thankfully, God doesn’t waste our pain. The Apostle Paul said:
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
As alone as I felt after losing my wife, I was often reminded that I wasn’t the first person to ever lose a spouse. He introduced me to people who had already walked through what I was walking through, sharing with me the comfort they had received from God, just as God will hopefully use the pain of what I’ve gone through to bring comfort to others down the road.
God can bring a variety of people into you life for a variety of reasons. Whether it’s a family member, a friend, a small group, a pastor, a counselor, a medical doctor, or a combination of all of these, God can provide you with the people you need to get through a difficult time. You may think you’re all alone, but if you’ll recognize and reach out to the people God has put in your life all around you, you’ll be able to see that He’s giving you just what you need, every step of the way.
In addition to people, God also provides resources to help us through, whether it’s books from authors throughout the ages, or specialized programs like GriefShare or DivorceCare or groups for couples facing infertility.
The Bible itself is more than just a book of rules or spiritual quotations. It is, to a much larger extent, a series of stories about real people who have face real difficulties and found God’s help to get through them. Again, the Apostle Paul wrote about his own struggles saying this:
“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us. On Him we have set our hope that He will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers” (2 Corinthians 1:8-11a).
The stories of each of these people who have been helped by God are one of the greatest assets we have to give us hope through our own trials, whether the stories are from today, or from 2,000 years ago like Paul’s, or 3,000 years ago like King David’s, or 4,000 years ago like Abraham’s.
God has always and will always help people through their struggles, just as He will continue to help you through yours.
And finally, God still speaks through His Holy Spirit. My partner in ministry, Greg Potzer, shared how God helped him through a particularly difficult time a few years ago as he would regular walk and pray, pray and walk, and walk and pray some more. He said that during those times of conversing with God, he grew incredibly in his faith.
Prayer is is more than just talking to God, but listening to to the Holy Spirit as well, the same Holy Spirit whom Jesus promised to send to His disciples:
“All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:25-27).
If God has put you on a path down which you’d rather not travel, take heart. Don’t compare your path to those around you; trust Him that He’ll be with you on the path no matter what. Just as He was with Peter through it all, just as He was with John through it all, and just as He has been with me through it all, He’ll be with you.
Keep your heart and eyes open to the people and resources He sends your way, and listen to the Holy Spirit as you go. Then do the best thing you could possibly do, the thing Jesus told Peter to do and all who are willing to surrender their lives to Him:
“Follow Me!” (John 21:19).
Father, thank You for the path on which You’ve put me, whether I like it or not. I trust that You will walk with me through it, no matter what, and for that I truly thank You. Help me keep my eyes open to the people and resources that can help me along the way. Help me have the strength and courage to reach out and get the help I need, from wherever You would have me get it. Help me hear Your Holy Spirit as I talk to You in prayer, trusting that He can give me not only Your words, but Your peace. Help me to not be afraid of what lies ahead, but to focus on the best thing I could possibly do: following You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
P.S. You can watch more about this topic by viewing the 2nd session from our Ranch Retreat a few weeks ago. Here’s the link to watch: www.theranch.org/retreat
You can still help make Lana’s dreams come true. To learn more, visit www.LanasHope.com.