About 15 years after I worked in Yellowstone NP I planned a vacation to the park with a friend. We were going to camp and hike at all my favorite locations. Due to our work schedules, the only 2 weeks we could get off together were in the beginning of May, so we made our reservations and I made some contacts with the people in Yellowstone who support A Christian Ministry in the National Parks so we could borrow all kinds of camping gear and not have to bring everything with us on the plane.
As we flew into Jackson Hole Wyoming I turned to my friend and said, look out the window. He said, I know it’s beautiful. I said, no… look out the window. He said again, right – it’s beautiful and said, everything is covered in snow! He said, so what. I said, we are planning on camping for 2 weeks but we aren’t prepared for 2 weeks of camping in the snow! My brain was suddenly doing some major recalculating. Little did I know this was just the beginning.
When we called to make plans to pick up all our camping gear the woman asked me what travel agent booked us in Yellowstone the first two weeks of May. I said, there was no travel agent, these were the only two weeks we could come so we just made the plans ourselves. She said, well you are two of the luckiest people I know because normally the road into the park from Jackson Hole isn’t even open yet, but due to a warm spring, the road opened… yesterday.
While this was actually a very cool thing because we were some of the first people to travel the roads and we could see where they cut through the snow
So there were 2 campgrounds open and after staying a few nights at one and being so cold we actually had to sleep in the car we once again recalculated and started finding motels where we could stay. So basically nothing seemed to go the way we planned. From closed roads and trails to cold weather and lots of snow – all our plans changed. We still had a good time – but we had to do some significant recalculating.
Whether it is vacations or life, there are times when all our plans have to change and we are left doing some major recalculating and these can become the opportunities for us to learn, grow closer to God and even discover God’s will if we will have faith, courage and humility.
The Apostle Paul did a lot of travelling. He took several different missionary journeys and he often set out with a clear plan and agenda, but there was part of one journey where he had to do some major recalculating. Acts 16:6-11
Paul’s plan was to return to the churches he had visited on his first journey to encourage his leaders and the head east into Asia, but somehow he was prevented from doing this. We don’t know how the Holy Spirit kept Paul out, but Paul was not able to follow his plans. When he came to the border of Mysia he again tried to head east but the Holy Spirit once more kept him out. It would be interesting to know what the road blocks were for Paul, but whatever they were, Paul clearly saw them as God recalculating his route.
Then there was a vision of a man in Macedonia calling Paul to come and help. Paul now hears the voice on the GPS (God’s Powerful Spirit) telling him the new direction of his route. Paul now heads west to Macedonia and the rest of Paul’s life is mapped out for him. Paul never again tries to head east – he continues to go further and further west – all the way to Rome.
Clearly this was an unexpected change for Paul. His plan had been to go east but God recalculates not once but several times and sends him west. What helped Paul accept these changes and start moving in God’s direction was his faith, courage and humility. These are the things we need when God starts recalculating our lives. First let’s look at the role of faith.
Clearly Paul had faith that God was leading him on this journey and that the big picture of his life was in God’s hands. Later on, Paul wrote about this kind of faith and trust in God when he said, we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28) Paul does not say that all things are good but that through all things God can work for God. When unexpected and even tragic things happen in life, God has the ability to use those things to bring about something good. The cross of Jesus was not something good that happened to Jesus, but God used that crucifixion to bring about something good – namely our salvation.
We all go through difficult and trying times. Accidents, a diagnosis of cancer, loss of a job or failures in relationship or business are tragic and difficult things to get through, but if we have faith that God is with us and if we are willing to trust God when those unexpected moments come along in life and we are left recalculating, we can have confidence that God will bring about something good and lead us into the future and purpose He has for us. Please understand that this does not mean that all things are good. They aren’t. Tragic and evil events take place in our world but God can redeem them if will have faith and trust him.
At the leadership summit this year we heard the powerful story of a woman who survived 91 days in a 3x4 foot bathroom with 7 other women during the genocide that took place in Rwanda.
Courage is also needed when the unexpected and unexplained events of life send us in new and different directions. Will we have the courage to keep going? Paul had to have the courage to go in a new direction. This was not part of his plan and itinerary but He had the courage to go and see what was going to happen. Will we have the courage to step onto a new path or maybe back onto the right path?
Another person who had courage when God recalculated his life and trip was Jonah. Jonah was on a vacation from God – literally. He was running away from the plan God had for him and so set off on a ship headed away from Ninevah which was where God wanted him to go. During his “cruise”, a fierce storm sprang up and when the crew realized Jonah was running away from God they threw him into the water. God does some major recalculating here and sends a big fish to swallow Jonah and deposit him on dry ground. If you don’t think God is at work in this recalculation, when Johan was deposited on dry ground he was closer to Ninevah than when he started. God was literally moving Jonah in the right direction. God was working for good in this situations.
Once God started recalculating Jonah’s life, Jonah had to have the courage to keep going. Jonah 3:1-4. Jonah now had the courage to go and do what God asked him to do. It was not easy to preach God’s message to the wicked people of Ninevah, but Jonah had the courage to step out in faith and go. When the unexpected change comes along, we have to have faith and trust that God will use it for good but then we have to have the courage to go in this new direction. Even if we aren’t sure it is the right direction we need to keep going and trust that God will recalculate our journey if and when it is needed.
So faith and courage are needed during times of recalculating but so is humility. Paul had to be humble enough to say that the direction he wanted to go was not the direction God wanted him to go and he had to be willing to make the change. Jonah had to have the humility to realize he was going in the wrong direction and start going to Ninevah. If in our stubborn pride we refuse to change course – even after God has worked to recalculate our lives, we will miss all that God has for us and the amazing things God wants to do in our lives. Imagine if Paul continued to push his way to the East – perhaps the Roman world would not have embraced Christianity? If Jonah kept running away, God would either have destroyed the people of Ninevah or found someone else to help save the people. Can we admit when we make a mistake or at least be humble enough to open ourselves up to God’s will for our lives?
When I first started seminary I was pretty adamant that I was not going to be a pastor. I had told myself for years that I was not going to do that and that God didn’t want me to do that. I thought about being a chaplain or maybe working in missions but I was not going to work in the local church. But then I took a position as an associate pastor in a local church as part of my field education at Duke and everything started to recalculate.
About half way through my year at Mt. Hermon UMC God began to change my head and heart. I realized that I actually enjoyed being a pastor and working with people in all kinds of situations in life and in the life of the church. I realized that the local church was the front lines of mission and that in many ways there was no more exciting place to be and I realized that even preaching was something that I could give myself to. I remember preaching my first sermon in that church and in the message, I was inviting people to give their lives to Jesus. In a kind of surreal moment I remember thinking – actually hearing a voice in my head saying, Andy who are you to tell these people they need to give themselves to Jesus, and as that statement was being said, my heart replied, but there is no message I believe more powerfully and there is no other message to preach.
In that moment God was recalculating my head and heart so that I could start on a new path to become a local pastor. And, by the way, I still believe that the local church is the front lines of mission and that the local church is the best hope for changing our world because God is at work in recalculating all our of our hearts and lives so that we will be and do all he wants and when that happens, the world changes. And I still believe that there is no message more powerful than that we need to give our lives to Jesus because that is how God starts recalculating our lives and I still believe that the best life available to us and the most powerful and purposeful and peaceful life we can live is one where we have faith in God and trust in Jesus as our savior and lord. If that is the change needed in you today then please allow God to recalculate your heart and life.
So I humbled myself before God and started on a new road. I ate crow with all my friends who reminded me that I told God I would never be a local pastor. Humility is needed if we are going to experience the fullness God has for us. We can’t hold on to foolish pride and miss the new direction God has for us. Paul humbled himself and stopped trying to travel east and committed himself to going west and he made it to Rome where his message of Jesus began to make an impact throughout the entire Roman Empire and through that the entire world.
So faith, courage and humility are needed in those moments when God begins recalculating our lives. If we can embrace God’s new plans and move in God’s new direction then we will experience the new life and the blessings of life that God has for us and not only will our world never the same, but the world in which we live will never be the same. In little ways or maybe in big ways God is always at work recalculating our lives. With faith, courage and humility, let us allow God to make those changes and let us go forth in those new directions.
Vacation – Recalculating
1. At times God recalculates our lives because we have wandered away and at times because we have willfully walked away. Which is most often the case for you?
2. Can you identify a time when an unexpected event recalculated your heart and life and brought you back to God?
3. Read Romans 8:28.
How can your faith and trust in God help you see God working for good in all things? (Please note that this passage does NOT say that all things are good)
• When have you seen difficult, even tragic, circumstances used by God to bring about something good in your life or the life of someone you know?
• Who do you know right now that is going through something difficult? Pray that in time God would bring something good out of this situation.
4. Read Jonah 3:1-4
What kind of courage did Jonah need to help him on his journey and accomplish God’s plan for his life?
• What helped Jonah have courage now when he didn’t have it before?
• What situation are you facing today that needs this kind of courage?
5. Read Acts 16:1-10
How did Paul show his humility in this situation?
• Where is God asking you to be humble?
• How is humility needed for you to start moving in a new direction?