My Story - Week 4: "I Decided to Leave"
This week we are concluding the sermon series that we've been working on for the past several weeks, a sermon series entitled, "My Story: Living the Story You Want to Tell." The basic centering idea of this series is this simply, yet profound truth: The decisions you make today determine the stories you tell tomorrow.
One day you're going to tell a story about this season of your life--hopefully, you'll tell a story that you're proud of. Hopefully, you'll tell a story of how you started new habits to build a better foundation for your life. Or maybe you'll tell the story of how you stopped doing the things that were keeping you from wanting the things God wants for you. Maybe you'll tell the story of how you stayed put when it would have been easier to leave.
The decisions you make today determine the stories you tell tomorrow, and these decisions you're making aren't always the few big huge decisions, that you're called upon to make on occasion, they are the hundreds of little decisions you make every day, every month, every year.
Last week we talked about how sometimes the best decision you can make is to stay when it would be easier to go. Today we are going to go in opposite direction and talk about how sometimes the best decision is to go when it would be easier to stay.
At some point in your life--and maybe you've reached that point right about now--you sense there's something more, something new on the horizon. And sometimes that new thing that is out there, somewhere is scary, and uncertain. And sometimes even though it scares the heck out of you, it's also the most amazing thing in the world.
Sometimes the best decision you can make is to leave when it would be easier to stay. This has been, in many ways, a huge part of the story of my life. Fifteen years ago, I felt like God was calling me to go to seminary, and the most likely prospect for me was McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago.
Merideth knew some people in the Chicago office of the national law firm she worked for, and we decided that I would apply there, and we would go visit to see if it would work for us.
I was sure that it was the right thing to do. But when we visited the seminary, I was horribly disappointed in how shabby it seemed, how second-rate it appeared and besides, there were things being taught there that I disagreed with completely. I renounced my desires to attend McCormick and went back to Florida, trying to figure out what I would do next.
A year later, I was plagued by the feeling that I needed to attend McCormick. I didn't want to. I had a great life. We had a new house in a wonderful neighborhood, my kid was in a great school, church was going awesome and between you and me, Merideth and I were better off financially than we'd ever been in my life.
So I came to Merideth one day, and I told her what I was feeling. "I didn't want to say anything," she said with a small, sad smile, "but I was feeling the same way." Just a few months and several miracles later, and we are heading to Chicago. Away from our family, friends, community of faith, support system, really good money and a great house.
Staying would have been easy. We thought about staying more than once in the middle of it all. But in the end, we just knew. The best decision in that moment was to go. And so we went.
We all have those kinds of opportunities, to seize our dreams, move toward the light, step out into faith, take that leap... We all have opportunities to go when it would be easier to stay. But do we take them? What do most of us do, do you think?
I think that far too many of us stay where we are because it's easy. We've grown accustomed to sitting on the couch, so to speak, and don't really want to get up. We have an opportunity to start a new job, a new career, but pass it up because we don't know if we'd be good at or not. We meet someone who just might be the love of your life, but because we're afraid of commitment we let them slip through our fingers.
Or you can extend this to so many things--growth, faith, education... you name it, we've had opportunities to do more, to do better, or to do something truly special and we've passed on them, let them go, ignored them until they withered away to nothing.
There's a great story in the Old Testament of the Bible in the book of Genesis chapter twelve verses two through four. The background of this story is that there was a man named Abram who lived in the land of Ur, located in the Fertile Crescent, in ancient Mesopotamia. Abram's father was believed to have been a merchant. In some traditions he actually owned a shop where idols were sold.
At any rate, Abram's father Terah was fairly well off, and Abram was not doing too shabbily himself. The city they lived in was devoted to worshipping the moon god Nannar, or Sin as he was often called.
Abram hears God speaking to him, telling him to leave everything he knew behind and to bring his family out of Ur and into a land that God had prepared for him and his descendants. This area would come to be known as the Promised Land to the Israelites who escaped slavery in Egypt.
So Abram hears this voice calling him to leave. He was being asked to step away from his security, his comfort zone. He's being asked to leave his home, his family, traditions, material comfort, previously held beliefs. And beyond that, he was promised that he would "father" a great nation--even though he and his wife were childless.
2 “I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.[a]
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”[b]
4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran.
At this point, it's kind of a no-brainer. For Abram it was much, much easier to stay. To leave his homeland and wander off into the distance without any true direction was madness. You wouldn't blame him would you? What does this verse say? "So Abram stayed in Ur of the Chaldees, worshipping the moon god, and eventually took over the family business of selling moon god figurines for the worshipper that prefers to get his moon god worship on at home.
Nope. It doesn't say that, does it? It says, "So, Abram left, as the Lord had told him." He left, and followed where God was leading him. He left when it would have been easier to stay. And because Abraham left, he learned to trust God, the One true God, and he also learned that God keeps his promises.
In fact, Abram learned that we're not changed by making promises to God We're changed by believing God's promises to us. Let me say that again. We're not changed by making promises to God. We're changed by believing God's promises to us.
What does God want you to want? Where is it that God might be leading you to go? What step of faith do you need to take in order to fully realize the dreams that you've been dreaming ?
Maybe it's a vision for a ministry--you have a heart for those who are far from God, or you want to see children come to know Jesus.
Or maybe you have been wanting to interview for a new job, but the thought of stepping into something new has been holding you back from realizing your potential.
Maybe you want to finally write that book that's been in your head for the last ten years.
Or maybe you want to adopt a child or a three. Start a mission to try and make the world a better place, to show the love of Jesus to people who need a word of hope and a helping hand.
Maybe you want to finally ask her or him out on a date.
You can sit around making promises to God all day long. "God, if you would just change my life then I will start being a better person. If you would cure my loneliness... if you would get me a better job... if you would help me discover my purpose... figure out my financial woes... rekindle my faith... THEN I'll do something, then I'll be a better Christian.
Making promises to God doesn't change you. Believing in God's promises and stepping out in faith changes you big time. When you finally embrace the promises of God through his son Jesus Christ--promises to never leave or forsake you, to be with you always... When you learn to believe that nothing, absolutely nothing can ever separate you from God's love...
When you embrace the truth that God does have plans for you, plans to give you hope and a future... When you see God as your shepherd, your shield, your Rock, your Salvation, your be all and end all... THAT's when you start to change, THAT'S when you find the courage to leave and chase after Jesus when it would be easier to stay right where you are.
I need to say this though--and I need everyone to pay attention...
Here's what I am not telling you to do. I am not telling you to leave when it would be easier to do just that. I am not telling you to bail on your marriage if there is hope for you to work it out. I am not telling you to quit your job if you don't have any clue what you're going to do for a living. You understand that right?
I'm telling you that sometimes the best decision you can make is to leave when it would be easier for you to stay.
Which story will you write? Will your story begin with "By faith I decided to go..." or "By fear I decided to stay..." You don't have to have all the faith you need right this second. If finishing the task that you are bravely setting out to start is a daunting task, if you think you don't have the faith for it, don't worry. All you need is the faith to get started. To do what Abram did, to leave as the Lord told him. He had the faith to take the first step, and then God helped order all of the other ones.
Remember, the decisions you make today determine the stories you tell tomorrow. And sometimes the best decision you can make is to leave when it would be easier to stay.