When I look at Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and stars that You have established; what are human beings that You are mindful of them, mortals that You care for them? (Psalm 8:3-4)
Rarely, it seems, do we recognize those decisive turning points in our lives when they actually happen. It’s only in retrospect that they assume their true significance. So, I was on a boat, in the middle of a lake, near the Swiss city of Lucerne. Alpine peaks towered all around the water’s edge. It was one of those perfectly blue sky, impossibly clear fall days, and I remember looking at the mountains and hearing myself think, “I want to spend my life serving the God who made all this.” That was it. A flicker of spiritual insight that went nearly as fast as it came.
But it never went away entirely. I was in Lucerne because what I’d really wanted to do during that fall semester of my junior year in college didn’t work out. It was a bitter disappointment—and yet that disappointment, in a roundabout way, put me in a position to hear my spirit respond to the majesty of God one fall morning in Switzerland. What captured my imagination, and still holds it tightly even now, some twenty-five years later, was the awe I felt in the presence of the God who made all this. Since then—maybe before that, but I can’t be certain—the most important spiritual question for me, the one that has guided, strengthened, and sustained my faith, has been this question of Who? Who made all this? Who loves me? Who can I trust? Who is the source of all truth and goodness? Who speaks to my soul and invites me to step out further than I can see?
There are, of course, other profound spiritual questions through which God lives and moves in our lives, questions of how, why, where, and when. For some people, these are the questions that stir their spirits, the ones they fall back upon when they sense the Lord whispering their names. For me, however, the way I have tended to hear God’s voice and discern God’s leadership rarely makes sense to me in a way that can be explained in terms of how, why, where, and when. I remember sitting at Smith Reynolds airport in Winston-Salem one night with the late Ed Christman, the longtime chaplain at Wake Forest. I was unburdening myself to him. I feel called to serve God through the church, I told him, but I’m having trouble explaining it to people. Rather than answer me directly, Ed instead told me about his own experience with the same struggle and how he finally turned on one persistent friend who kept demanding an explanation for why in the world Ed would abandon a promising law career in order to enter the ministry. “Why did you get married?” Ed asked him. After each proffered reason—love, companionship, security, and so on—Ed would fire back, “Well, yeah, but you don’t have to be married to get that!” Finally, the poor guy blurted out, “I can’t explain it, but it just felt like the right thing to do!” With that, Ed turned and looked at me. “And that’s how you’ve gotta be, brother. Trust God to do the right thing,” he said. “You don’t have to explain it to anyone else.”
It remains, perhaps, the single best word of spiritual counsel I’ve ever received. Time and again—whether it be to attend divinity school, serve as a missionary in Russia, begin graduate school at Baylor, accept the call to serve as a pastor in Murfreesboro, agree to start a conversation with Providence’s pastor search committee, or take countless thousands of smaller steps in between—I have only (and I do mean only) been able to step out in faith because I trust God to do the right thing. My faith is not in the how, why, where, or when. It’s in the Who. If I get that right, then these more vexing (and, for me, frightening) questions tend to be resolved in a way that confirms my faith. Indeed, some of my greatest joy as a Christian has come in saying Yes to God without having any answers to those how, why, where, or when questions—and then watching with amazement and gratitude as God works it all out.
When I am anxious, when I am discouraged, when I am scared, when I wrestle with doubt, or am in the midst of one of those awful seasons of waiting for something that I can’t put my finger on but I know is out there, what I hang onto with deep reverence and determined hope is my faith in the God who revealed Himself to us in Jesus Christ. A God who is great enough to create the Alps, yet humble enough to become weak and suffer for my sake, is a God whom I can trust to take care of my life, both now and forever. For, as I have come to believe, “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). Because I know Who loves me, I can trust that this promise is true. Because I trust that this promise is true, I can offer my life in service to the God who made all this and is, even now, working to redeem it through the grace, love, and mercy of Jesus Christ.