Expecting God’s Unexpected
The Art of Spiritual Readiness
Christian leader, are you ready for God's leadership in your life-wherever it takes you? Such spiritual readiness demands more than willingness to serve. It implies a willingness to set aside our agendas, priorities--even our dreams--to join God's greater work when He calls.
But unfortunately, many Christian leaders who serve our nation are often unprepared to serve our King when He moves in unexpected directions.
Our military life is marked by milestones, both bitter and sweet: deployment and reunion, promotion and change of command, commissioning and retirement. And it's marked by preparation. No other vocation dedicates more time and effort readying its leaders for service, bracing us for challenges--all towards becoming "mentally alert, physically strong, and morally straight" (Army Ranger Creed).
But amid this diligent preparation lies hidden dangers: depending solely upon our own efforts, hardening our hearts against the unforeseen. And at the milestone events in our lives, when we should be eagerly anticipating God to reveal Himself, we are often least prepared to see Him move.
Consider Zechariah's stunned response to the announcement of John the Baptist's pending birth (Luke 1). After centuries of prophetic silence, God's people longed for His deliverance and leadership.
Generations of priests like Zechariah had performed their duties with exacting precision. But over time, even faithful service can become repetitiously rote--we obey God's calling and commands but hold little hope. Zechariah and Elizabeth's earnest, decades-long prayer for a child was apparently all to no avail.
Through meticulous effort and rigorous study, this dedicated, "righteous in the sight of God" servant was ready for the pinnacle of his spiritual and professional experience--the day he was to burn incense in the Lord's Temple.
But God was ready for something far greater. Not only was He answering Zechariah and Elizabeth's fervent prayers for a child, that long-awaited son the Lord was sending would be the one to "make ready a people prepared for the Lord."
When God interrupts our detailed and earnest preparations--even to answer our prayers--few of us respond much better than Zechariah did, reacting to the Lord's incredible promise with doubt, "How can I be sure of this?"
Standing in remarkable contrast is Mary's response to the Lord when He stepped into her mundane, common life of a small-town girl--she would bear the Messiah! Did the young virgin recognize that enormous honor would also mean a lifetime of hardship and heartache, that she would be a pariah among her own people? Although greatly troubled, Mary bravely submitted to God's plan for her life, "I am the Lord's servant.... May your word to me be fulfilled"(Luke 1:38).
Mary's humility and readiness are a challenging example to Christian leaders.
God's timing and ways are perfect. Our intentions and understanding are not. That long, aching wait--what we interpret as God's negative response--can be His patient work readying us to receive and become agents of His blessing.
The Lord uses our circumstances to prepare our hearts, disrupting both the mundane and milestones of life. Such interludes and answers can be surprising-even unwelcome. But our sovereign Lord will not be bound by our meager, self-serving expectations.
For military leaders accustomed to defining our lives and circumstances, one of the hardest callings is in sincerely yielding to Him, "Not my will, but Yours be done." No two testimonies are alike in God's calling of other faithful servants--Abraham, Isaiah, Esther, the disciples, Paul, etc. Yet common among those accepting His invitation to work through them is their readiness to say "yes."
Make no mistake--planning and preparation are crucial. The Bible instructs us to earnestly prepare for the future (Proverbs 6:6), yet exhorts us to also keep watch for a Master who will return at an unknown day and hour. We must work diligently as servants and leaders under our Master's guidance and leadership.
Zechariah's astonished response earned him nine months of enforced silence--a sojourn that would greatly benefit most of us! But Zechariah accepted God's rebuke, obeyed Him, and rejoiced when the Lord fulfilled his prayers immeasurably more than he asked or imagined.
The lessons that have best refined and strengthened my own faith have been acute and usually uninvited. God revealed the powerful impact of lives yielded to Him--no matter how brief those lives were--through the losses of my brother and my daughter. His loving discipline enabled me to comfort others with the comfort I've received (2 Corinthians 1:4).
Through working relationships with difficult personalities He exposed my stubborn pride and unforgiving heart. And He restored me after my idolatry of professional and personal expectations, redeeming false starts and wrong conclusions for His glory!
Christian leader, the narrow road of discipleship--a road the Lord travels with us--is full of unexpected, difficult turns. Prepare earnestly, lead well. Work out your salvation with fear and trembling. But in our vocation of personal and professional readiness, also remain spiritually ready to embrace God's greater calling and leadership. "Here am I. Send me!"
Todd is the Army ROTC Professor of Military Science at Washington State University. He and his family are learning to remain spiritually ready for God's great-and often unexpected-blessings.