One of the most spiritual leaders/mentors I have ever known, Tom Elie, has told me often "Life turns out very different than we expect." He refers to God calling him to be a worship pastor, then a Sr Pastor, then a missionary evangelist to India. He says he would have never picked India, but felt God drew him there at just the right time. Now he has been able to lead over 1/2 million people to Jesus Christ and to fund over 100 fresh water wells for villages without clean, running water (impure drinking water is the #1 cause of infant mortality according to the UN). Tom didn't have it all planned out. He simply followed God in the things he knew he should be doing morally and allowed the Holy Spirit to lead him daily and at key decisions in his life.
I would be doing a disservice if I stated God's calling on each of our lives is as simple as choosing a personal definition of success and pursuing it over the next 40-50 years before we retire. Mark Batterson was right when he said "most of us have no idea where we are going most of the time." Recently Steve Hill shared with our home church that one of the greatest truths of Scripture is that we will at times not know what God is up to in our lives. Although God speaks to us and comforts us, we will NOT have clear direction in some areas of our lives when we need it most. Instead we remain dependent on Christ. We walk in what we feel is the right direction, prayerfully and with trust God will speak clearly if needed.
With all this in mind, one of the greatest truths of calling is that God will use storms, tragedies, hardships, discouraging words, failures and loss to direct us into his plans for us. Mark Batterson dedicates a chapter of his new book Wild Goose Chase to this subject, which he refers to as Shipwrecks and Snakebites. The story goes something like this:
Referring to Paul towards the end of the book of Acts ... Paul is taken prisoner en route to Rome where he will face the authorities on his trouble causing missionary work all over the world. While on the way, the ship encounters massive storms and the crew and prisoners endure a shipwreck. The ship busts to pieces and yet after some time afloat they all make it safely to shore on an island called Malta. They greet the islanders and begin building a fire. As Paul is gathering driftwood a poisonous snake bites him in the hand. The islanders are shocked at the wrath of God and that this man Paul would have escaped death in the form of shipwreck only to die by the hands of this snake. Paul may have wondered many moments of his life, and most especially in this one ... why am I here? What did I do to deserve this? What about God's call on my life to reach the nations? What about the dreams God put in my heart? Ever prayed this gut wrenchingly honest prayer yourself? ... Paul shakes the snake off into the fire. He doesn't die. Now the islanders praise the favor of God on his life. He begins to pray for the sick. After some time, everyone on the entire island gets healed and many come to faith in Christ. What seemed to be a Shipwreck and Snakebite in Paul's life, hundreds of miles off course from where he was SUPPOSED TO BE, ends up being right in the plan of God as an island experiences revival and encounters Jesus Christ. God has a way of using the shipwrecks and snakebites in our lives to direct us into his divine purposes for us.
What should we do when navigating storms?
1. Trust in God's plan even when it is beyond our understanding and we feel we may have missed a turn somewhere down the road.
2. Draw near to God and remain dependent on his continual direction.
3. Ask God to use the shipwrecks and snakebites in our lives to bring him glory and notice when he does.