The following is Part 5 of a seven week “Reality Radio” series. The series was advertised on secular radio and unfolded online at a special website that no longer exists.
Was God offering a brand new plan for my life? If so, what would it be and where would it lead me? I sensed that my discovery was about to deepen…
One morning at church, a 90-year woman was sitting next to me. This woman knew nothing about my life but she suddenly just said, “You’re on the right path…just keep on…I think the Lord is calling you to go to Siberia.” That was the second person to mention Siberia to me within a very short time.
That summer, our church had a short-term mission trip to Siberia. I felt the calling…I felt the passion…but I ended up choosing Italy instead! And not a short-term mission trip…it was just a fun trip exploring all the great ancient ruins and tourist sites from Northern to Southern Italy. The whole trip, I was thinking about Siberia. I knew I had sold out for fun instead of calling.
The next summer, I was not about to be dissuaded. Other opportunities emerged but I was determined this time not to get off course and so I signed up to go to Siberia to work with orphans in the rural country. Just a few weeks before that trip, my company asked me to open a new office on the East Coast. I intended to say ‘no thanks’ but the moment I opened by mouth…out came the words “I’ll go.” And so two very big events happened that year – I went on a trip to Siberia and I accepted a relocation far away.
I should have known that my life was about to dramatically change – indeed, it seemed as if God were moving me around like a Chess game almost against my own wishes.
Siberia had a powerful impact on me. As you no doubt by now noticed, I lived a “Hollywood” life with much excess. I expected that I just had the inherent right to have everything good in this life. But in Siberia, my worldview was about to break down. They were not rich. They had no power. And they had few personal freedoms even though independence had swept across the former USSR years earlier.
The people were so innocent. One 19-year old young man said, “Why does everyone kill one another in America?” He was so naïve that when he saw the first American movies imported into Siberia, he thought that the shootings or stabbings were real. One 85-year old woman simply and quickly touched the gate of a condemned cathedral as an expression of her personal faith in God. She cried with joy because she had the freedom to simply touch a gate that surrounded the place of God.
We met young adults who had seen their parents executed for their faith in God. We met orphans on an isolated and rural farm where they had been abandoned. All they do is try to keep warm during the long, cold winters and work the potato fields all day during the short summers. All they will ever be in life are potato farmers and orphan caretakers. There are NO other choices for them. When frostbite results in the death of a child or leaves a child with missing toes or missing fingertips…this is just a reality of life.
If we in America are uncomfortable or in pain, we have many choices to change our circumstances and get help from doctors and family and friends. The Siberians…they live day after day after day in the reality that there is no escape from their walk of life. This trip had a tremendous impact on me…
Three days after returning from Siberia, I was required to leave for the East Coast to open the new office. It was as if I was propelled to go to a place I did not want to go. I left my lover who I loved dearly…I left my family that I was so close with…I left my many wonderful friends who meant so much to me…I left all my possessions thinking that I would soon return – that somehow the East Coast would be temporary. I left all that was familiar and arrived in a city I had never before visited.
In the first few weeks, I covered my loneliness with sightseeing…and there was much to see. I could spend the rest of my life seeing new places, discovering the historical roots of our nation, hiking into mountains, walking along beaches. But after a few weeks, the loneliness was so intense that there was no earthly beauty that could relieve the ache inside my heart.
As the loneliness increased, I was spending more time in prayer and more time reading the Bible. God comforted me as I spent my lonely hours desperately clinging to Him because there was no one else I could hold on to…and there was no one to hold me. I so wanted to escape and go back home and fall into the loving arms of all the people who were so important to. Here, I knew no one as it was difficult to make friends.
Through all this, I was processing much about my relocation and my summer experience in Siberia. I have never audibly heard God’s voice, but as I look back it seems God was saying to me, “Will, you do have many real needs. They are real needs. Yet look at the Siberian people. Their needs are much more basic than your needs – all of your basic needs are met daily. They go day after day and year after year and their basic needs go unfulfilled. They have no way of escape from the harsh reality of poverty…and yet they are not becoming thieves to try to meet their own needs. They simply exist in a state of intense neediness. And yet I am sovereign over their lives because they are My children…and My Word has authority over their lives because they are humbly submitted to the lot they have been given.
“Will, you are a thief. You are robbing Me by going beyond My Word to fulfill your neediness. You have sought to fill the place where I am to dwell with money, with possessions, with lovers and many comforts and pleasures. Those things will not meet your true needs and they will never fill the place where I am to dwell.
“Will, you think you have been seeking Me. But I tell you…I have been drawing you to Me.”
As I pondered these meditations, I realized that it was true. I never once before in my life really thought, “Is God happy with my life? Am I really following Jesus?” I just assumed that wherever I went and whatever I did…that it was simply my prerogative. I did not really want to have someone else controlling my life…I wanted to be in control. And yet I did not hate God. In fact, I found myself deeply loving God. But I just assumed that whatever I chose for my life was good enough for me…and God. I was, so to speak, a good person.
But now I was being confronted by the reality that much of my life was outside the will of God. No church was pressuring me. No Christian was judging me. Oh sure, many were judging me but I did not let that pull me away from God. It would be foolish to let a mere man – imperfect and sinful – to lure me away from God’s grace simply because he thought I was not worthy of such grace. The God of the Bible was revealing to me that NO man is righteous…NO man is, so to speak, good. Yes, I was and am imperfect…but so are those who point their righteous fingers at me. No way I would let anyone take God away from me…because God was NOT rejecting me…He was simply out of love correcting me and offering me an invitation.
For weeks, I wrestled between the God of love and the God of judgment. We like to live in an “either-or” world where we can make God who we want Him to be. Oh sure, with other things, we want a “both-and” world where we can both have our cake and eat it too. But with God, we think…He is either a loving God who would never judge sin or He’s a judging God who would never love sinners. In fact, He is a “both-and” kind of God. He both loves sinners and will judge sin. And now He had moved intimately into my life and was presenting to me a choice to turn toward Him or keep swimming upstream on my own path.
My life had been a joy walk on a mile wide path where I determined what to do with my life. And I thought I had the freedom to go far to the right and far to the left as appetites called…I never imagined that there was an actual boundary to how wide this path could be. And yet as God had intervened in my life, the wide path was becoming narrower and narrower and soon I felt as if I was walking on a razor thin wire…a narrow path…where one can no longer balance and must fall one way or the other.
It was not an issue of comfort. It was not an issue of negotiating out of the pain. And it was not an issue of “things will get better” in time. It was the stark reality that there were only two choices…only two choices. Either I could fall into the arms of Christ and surrender my life to Him. Or I could fall away from Him and have it my own way. But I could no longer have my own ways and God too. Those days, sadly, were over. The Hound of Heaven had tracked me down and reduced my multiple-choice life down to a “yes or no” question.
The spiritual conviction was immense. I was resisting and hoping I could make it work out to where I could have God and keep my life. I did not want to lose my life. I desperately wanted it to be OK in God’s eyes for me to just keep plugging away the only way I knew how to live in this world. And yet in my heart of hearts I knew it was no longer OK. My day had come.
I’ve said I was a prodigal. I know of another prodigal. His name is Jonny Lang. Jonny was a prodigy instrumentalist at a very young age and started his first blues band when he was 12 years old. By the time he was 16, he was a cult legend. By the time he was 18, he was opening for the Rolling Stones and Sting. Jonny had it all…all the money in the world and all the pleasures in the world.
But something happened. Jonny was trying to fill that aching hole in his heart – the same ache we all have – with lots of different things. Yet it never satiated his thirst…just like me, his drinking from the fountain of youth only left him thirsting for more and more. Addictions overtook his life. His world came crashing down.
At his lowest point, God met him in his muck and mire and gave Jonny an invitation. “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest for your soul.” That is the invitation that Christ extends to every person on this earth – you can read about it in the Book of Matthew…simply Google “Come to me all you who are weary” and you’ll find it on the net.
Jonny sings about this invitation in his 2007 Grammy-winning CD titled Turn Around. In the song Only a Man, he writes of Jesus speaking to him, “And He said, what will it be now? Will you choose Me or keep swimming upstream now?”
The rich and famous and handsome and talented Jonny Lang had the whole world to gain and He gave it all up to choose Jesus. What choice would I make? To surrender it all…or keep swimming upstream?
My name is Will, and I desire the “real thing” in life. What about you? Come back next week as my journey continues…I’ll see you then!
NOTE: Tune in each week as Will’s story continues to unfold in seven (7) weekly segments. Click here to easily navigate to Week 6.
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