This summer has been a season of especially difficult decisions for me. In order to understand the nature of these decisions, a little history is in order. For the last three years, I have been a student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. My time in seminary has been far from typical however. The Lord worked a miracle on our behalf three years ago in order for us to attend seminary in the first place. I don’t say that lightly or flippantly. With Rachel’s health being as poor as it was at the time, we knew that I could not work a full time job to support my family and engage in seminary studies at the same time. Our home church in Georgia, Providence Church, offered to serve as a “sending agency” of sorts for us, and they helped us raise missionary-style support as a way to provide for our financial needs while I was in school. Within three months of sending out support letters, the Lord had provided enough money for us to move from Georgia to Louisville in order to attend seminary. It normally takes nearly three years to raise this level of support. To say that my time in seminary was a blessing and a privilege would be an unfathomable understatement.
From August 2008 until October 2010, our financial support remained fully sufficient to provide for our needs. Our support level fell to critical levels in November and December of 2010, and we petitioned the Lord, and our supporters, for additional help. The Lord, through the generosity of His people, again provided for our needs through July of this year. We knew, however, that we would need to do something different after July, and I still have two classes to complete in order to graduate in December. With Rachel’s deteriorating health as a constant backdrop to this entire discussion, we now arrive at the season of decision-making that this summer has become.
So, this was the situation in which we found ourselves: We did not have enough money to stay in Louisville, and I could not get a part-time job without having someone to help Rachel, William, and Adelaide for the times at which I would be working. Hiring that kind of help would defeat the purpose of getting a job! This meant that we needed to move. But where? There were two logical choices: Georgia, to be near Rachel’s family, or Minnesota, to be near my family. In Minnesota I discovered that there might be an apartment to rent for less than $400 per month. However, in the small town in which Dad lives, there are very few jobs. In Georgia, the rent would be significantly higher, but there are also more jobs available.
When it came time to decide what to do, I had been so busy with summer classes that I had not been able to find a job in either location, nor had I been able to find an apartment. At that point, there was not a single apartment or home to be rented anywhere near my Dad, and we certainly could not afford to rent an apartment in Georgia! After much prayer, and after seeking much counsel, I still felt as though I was spinning my wheels about what to do. We were faced with what I thought was an impossible situation. We did not have enough money to stay, and we did not have enough money to go. Since those two options are simultaneously mutually exclusive and fully exhaustive we had to make a choice.
So…how do you honor Christ in a decision like this? Ultimately, no matter what I chose, I knew I needed to act in faith. So, what does that look like? Should we stay in Louisville and trust God to provide the finances that we would need? Should we move to Minnesota and trust God to provide a place to live? Should we move to Georgia and trust God to provide both? How should I exercise faith in this situation? I want to be obedient to God, and I want to make decisions that are wise and pleasing in His sight. Of course, God did not simply speak to me directly and tell me what to do. Nor is there anywhere in the Bible that says, “Will, move to …!” There must be some biblical principle to apply.
My pastor was preaching through the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11, and he came to verse 30, which says, “By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days” (NIV). This verse refers to the narrative in Joshua 6, in which the people of Israel defeated the walled city of Jericho. My pastor noted correctly that the grammar in Hebrews 11 shows the walls of Jericho themselves exercising faith. Of course, this is preposterous, so who then, was exercising faith, and how were they doing it? Certainly Joshua exercised faith; however, God actually physically appeared to him and audibly spoke to him. It would seem that obedient actions would be simpler to discern when God does this. Again, God did not just appear in a vision and tell me what to do, although I kind of wished that He would have! Joshua was not the only person who exercised faith in this narrative however.
The people of Israel exercised faith, and their exercise of faith applied in principle to my own. The people of Israel received no vision from God. They heard no voice. Imagine being an Israelite warrior listening to Joshua’s battle plan! (Read Joshua 6 for reference) Ultimately, the Israelites were in a situation in which they needed to conduct siege warfare. The typical procedure would have been to encamp the army around the walled city, and let no one in or out until the inhabitants starved or surrendered. It was a brutal process. Siege works designed to break down walled defenses were often built when an army had the wherewithal to do so. However, after wandering in the desert for 40 years, the Israelites were not equipped for this. So imagine their surprise when they heard Joshua’s battle plan:
“3 March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days.
4 Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams' horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets.
5 When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have all the people give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the people will go up, every man straight in." (Joshua 6:3-5 NIV)
Excuse me what?! Yeah, not likely. God, through Joshua, told His people to do something…well…stupid. Walking around in circles for a week and then yelling a lot is not tactically advanced siege warfare! Yet the people obeyed Joshua, and in so doing obeyed God, and exercised faith. The parallel to our situation was that no matter what we decided to do, it would be basically stupid! There was no “good” choice that made perfect sense nor any answer that accounted for all of the variables. The principle that I took away from this was basically this: when in doubt submit to your leaders. The specific application was that I asked the elders of Providence Church to discuss amongst themselves what they believed our best option would be. I would then submit to their leadership, and do whatever they advised. Of course, their advice was to return to Georgia. This was not an abdication of my own God-given responsibility to lead my family, but rather a recognition that I do not have exhaustive spiritual wisdom and insight in and of myself. I needed the help of the people of God to rightly discern the will of God.
We moved from Louisville to Georgia at the end of July in an act of submission to the authority of our spiritual leaders. In so doing, we trust that our move constituted an act of obedience and faith, and we believe that this was the only right thing to do.