Thursday, October 29, 2009

That "Vision Thing"

I've really been stymied for the past two weeks. It's been very frustrating for me. Plus, the enemy has taken full advantage of my frustration.

Two weeks ago at my Focus of a Warrior meeting we were given the next level of assignment for our group. I had been playing "Catch-Up" with the homework for a while. (Ever since I joined this group Satan has been working over time to fill me with self-doubt and distractions. It often feels like I am wading through a swamp waste deep) I had caught up and was feeling relatively good about it all. Then we got this assignment.
"Vision is the ability to see God's preferable future," so says the manuel we are using. We are supposed to figure out our Personal Vision for our lives. Oh great! Like I can flip a switch and figure that one out in two weeks. I've been trying to figure that out for years and I keep coming up empty.
I'm going to list the questions that are supposed to help me figure this out. If any of you have any suggestions as to how I ought to answer them, please let me know. I have no problem asking for help when it comes to something like this.

#1. The people & circumstances that have most shaped my life are...

#2. When I think of ministry in the future, the area of ministry (Advancing the Kingdom of God) I would love to concentrate upon ________________. Why?

#3. The qualities of character I most admire and desire for God to shape into my life are ______________________. Why?

#4. People who know me well believe I am most used by God when I am involved in _______________________. Why? (I could really use some help with this one.)

#5. My activities that contribute most to God's kingdom are ________________. Why?

#6. From the perspective of my personal life, my activities that I feel are making the greatest contribution to God's kingdom are _________________________. Why?

#7. Though I may have dismissed the thought many times for various reasons, at times I have felt that I really should be doing _______________________. Why?

#8. When people talk about a passion for ministry, I often begin to think about giving my life to accomplishing _______________________. Why?

Just eight questions. You think that would be easy. Instead, it's virtually crippled me over the last two weeks.

I have some personality problems that I wrestle with. For starters, I have felt like an Outsider my entire life. Always an observer, never a participant. That's actually had some good benefits, but I still never feel truly connected as a result. I tend to think so far outside the box that I kind of forget what a box even looks like at times. That tends not to sit very well in a world that values conformity.
The second is that I am filled with self-doubt and have a heavy guilt complex. (Is that because I am Baptist, Scandinavian or both?) I tend not to trust much of what comes into my head. Needless to say, Satan takes full advantage of the guilt complex. He loves to whisper into my ear.

A couple of things that I do know about myself: I am extremely creative...and I mean extremely! Most of the time when I am trying to create something, it is just to see if I CAN. I also have a very high level of curiosity. That's gotten me into some trouble, but it's also served me well. Finally, I have a very high tolerance for controversy, and am not easily shocked by outrageous behavior. (This is a result of working with At-Risk kids for 3 years. Probably the best education I have ever had. I can't get over how much they taught me.)
A couple of other things that I do have a passion for: I love education and teaching. I love the intellectual give & take. I love to learn something new everyday. I also love the sovereign mystery of God, and the centrality of Jesus.
I also like teens and young adults...especially if they are the oddballs. (I used to refer to my former students as the Island of Misfit Toys.) Honestly, how can anyone not like teenagers? They are just so incredibly entertaining. No offense to any teenager that might read this, but the fact of the matter is that you are all a bunch of massive Posers! You have such amazing enthusiasm for so much in life, and yet you are virtually clueless as to how to handle it. I just can't help but enjoy watching that and working with them.

Last weekend I got a call from the mother of one of my former students. I haven't seen this kid in almost 2 years. His Mom said that he still talks about me all the time, and was wondering if we could get together. He is having some troubles in school and was wondering if I could talk to him?
(This kid is a great kid. He has massive ADHD apparently. Once, he brought brass knuckles to school by mistake...he didn't even remember where he had found them. They fell out of his pants in a classroom and he was expelled. I tried to protect him. I got in serious trouble...possibly the reason I was denied tenure. They tell you to be an Advocate for your students, but most administrators don't really mean it. This one in particular had gone out of her way to earn my DISrespect. So be it. I believed in this kid. I still do.)
So anyway, after all this time this kid still thinks about me as being the one teacher who made a connection with him. Honestly, I'm not certain why that is. I have no magic wand. I wish I did. What I do have is a very strong conviction that every person on this planet has potential to make a positive contribution in this world. Sadly, I know that many, if not most, will not live up to that potential. But I still believe it with all of my heart.
I also learned something from my Shrink many years ago. What you hold in the forefront of your mind towards another person, they WILL pick up on it and live up to it. Call is ESP, call it a Vibe you transmit, call it the Spirit World, whatever. If you think negative thoughts towards others...that they are stupid, worthless, whatever, don't be surprised that those folks fulfill your expectations. So with that in mind, I would always search for any good qualities and skills that any student of mine had. That is what I held in the forefront of my mind. It took some serious self-discipline to make that a habit, but it finally stuck. And, to be honest, it was a lot easier with some to find the good stuff than it was for others.

ANYWAY, this call from my former student's Mom was a bit of a confirmation as to where I ought to be thinking about God's vision for my life.

All of that having been said, I have developed a very blurred vision of what God might wish for me. #1. I would really like to stay in some area of education. #2. I would really like to try and combine that with ministry in some way. #3. I am good with teens and young adults...especially if they are oddballs.
I am an oddball. That is fairly obvious to anyone who knows me. Always feeling like an outsider? Well, maybe that will serve me well with whoever I have to work with and minister too. I just get a feeling that I was meant to work in a niche that most others could not fill.

What is driving me crazy is that my gut tells me that all of my present circumstances are keeping me here until I figure out this whole "Vision Thing." I've been in the holding pattern for almost two years now. I hate it. I want to get on with what God wants me to do with my life. I don't care about making a ton of money. (Although, after 2 years of living in poverty, it would be nice to get a little bump up at least) I could care less about fame. I just want to fulfill my destiny by doing what God desires and advancing the kingdom. That is really all I want. And it feels like until I can figure out this Vision Thing, I am going to be stuck here spinning in circles. All of the job enquiries, all of the applications, all of the searching mean nothing. I desperately want to know what God's desire is. I KNOW that it is there! I just beg Him to reveal it to me. (I would also like to have it confirmed by others, because as I said before, I tend not to trust my own judgement)

If any reader would like to pray about this for me, I'd sure appreciate it. I don't even care if you aren't a Believer. Pray anyway. It's hardly as if the God of the Universe is deaf!

Last Sunday at Living Waters, Pastor Scott began a series on Prayer. He spoke about how we can approach the throne of Christ in Confidence & Expectancy. When Jesus was teaching his disciples how to pray, he ended his teaching with some stories. (Jesus loves to tell stories. I think it is hard-wired into the human brain to love a good story.) Then he encouraged his followers by saying;
"So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For EVERYONE who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door WILL be opened."
A caution about that; some people pray very selfishly. They pray for material things as a luxury, and things like that. I don't see how that would honor God, and I certainly do not see any reason He should answer such a thing in a positive fashion.

Pastor Scott said something that I thought was brilliant. He said that a lot of the time people honestly don't KNOW what to pray for or about. I don't think that there are too many folks at Living Waters that would want to pray in a selfish manner. But sometimes you worry about what it is right & proper to pray for. So Scott said, "Ask yourself What Would Jesus Pray For?" Would Jesus pray for a healthy & loving marriage? Would he pray for reconciliation & peace? Of course he would.
Would Jesus pray that I would know his will for my life and what the next steps are for me? I am certain of it! Would he pray that I keep on working to clean up the selfish & self-destructive areas of my life that keep me from following him fully? Yeah, I'm guessing he would.
So, I would like to pray that in confidence. I would certainly ask that you pray that for me too.
It is so strange to look back on my life thus far. More often than not, I see a perfectly straight line. A perfect road through all of the good & bad. A path that God led me down to shape me into a worker who can do a task, an assignment, that only I can do, because it was His good pleasure to show his glory & peace to a hurting world through some imperfect act of obedience on my part. But when I look forward, it always seems to be a haze.
Whenever He finally reveals His vision for me, I truly believe that the doors will be thrown wide open for my next step. Most likely, knowing my weird life, it will come straight at me and be an almost complete surprise.
Until then, I suppose my main task is to continue to wait upon His timing and just keep asking & seeking. I will not knock on the door. I will pound on it until my fists are bloody. I am sooooooooo hungry to know.




  1. Oh, my dear friend...

    You are not as far away from the desires of your heart, as it may seem.

    What I have learned most in this life, is that there are definite "seasons". If you read Ecclesiastes 3:1-15, you can see by God's Word, that everything happens for a reason, in His own timing. 2-8 explain so much...

    Something else that I have begun to see so clearly, in these last 6 years, is that God always has my back - my best interest at heart.

    I, myself, have gone through 2 job eliminations, within these last 6 years - within 2 years of each other, decimating my nest egg.

    I am back in my 5th year in the PT grocery business, and I can say without a doubt, that I never thought I'd be here again! But, God keeps showing me, as a way to fine-tune my faith in Him, that if I can be happy with little, He will bless me with much, when He believes that the time is right...

    It is ALL in His control.

    He has placed someone very special in my path to help me financially, so I can keep my mortgage paid, so I don't lose my little condo. (this person told me it would be an honor to help me...) That act alone, has brought me to tears more times than I can count!

    God has surrounded me with so many incredible co-workers, that I care about so dearly... You are one of them... I feel so incredibly blessed that we crossed paths...

    Please never doubt that you are a teacher at heart. Maybe for now, the fact that you have a good job, in an industry that for right now, in this time of lop-sided employment, isn't likely to go under... Americans aren't likely to stop eating any time soon. Your benefits are paid each month, and that's more than many have these days...

    Prayer and patience and trust in God will see you through this. God has blessed you, with that student remembering you, all these years later. That may be the one precious gift for you, from that entire teaching experience, that you are meant to have, right now, while you wait on God... You can still help that young person. YOU! (remember - his mom reached out - to YOU.) Feel honored by that.

    I have so much more that I want to say, but I need to get through the rest of this week, with my dad's memorial service, and memories, and the tears that have kept me from sleeping well this week.

    I love you, dear friend. You'll get through all of this! In tact. I know it! :)


  2. Joe,
    Here is my tough love speech. Ready…

    You DO have all of the answers to these questions. Not only that, but you’ve pretty much put the answers into this very blog post. So I want you to take a deep breath, stop over thinking, say a little prayer and just answer the questions already.

    One thing I don’t say very often – and I don’t know if this is the same for you or not, but your voice in this post reminds me of my little (huge) secret. Big reveal here…ready…I’m terrified of succeeding. Seriously, I’m not kidding at all. I know I’m doing what I love. Before I was laid off I would tell people that I was just going to be a copywriter until I could make enough money to write full time – and I KNOW I CAN DO IT. And yet I get to the edge, look over the cliff, SEE the published novel or 5 part travel series in “National Geographic” and I freeze because I am terrified of the amount of work, and time, and how much passion I’ll be giving to life if I succeed. Yep, I’m crazy! You already knew that though…

    But you know what? We both just need to breathe and realize that sometimes God wants us to be happy and maybe even be successful in our own ways – envision our personal and religious goals and then actually accomplish them. So in case no one else has told you, it’s OK to be scared, terrified, depressed, or whatever. You WILL get past it, but not on your own, so stop trying. And after all, isn’t that the point of your 8 question exercise?

  3. Joe,

    I so agree with Mariah...
    It was my similar plan to write something like this today, as well...

    As much as you are questioning yourself and what may come next for you, you have answered most - if not all - of these questions!

    You know what your passions are. You know about the things you are good at, and some of the things you may want to change about yourself.

    The only thing I want to add here, is this:

    When you left the seminary, you must have had a passion. A dream. You must have had a specific direction in mind. I'm guessing that you wanted to change young people's hearts and help lead them to Jesus, so that they could learn to build a strong foundation for their lives. Is that a fair guess?

    You had your experience with the church up on Hwy 10. Something there was done that deeply hurt you and your heart.

    How many years ago was that experience?

    Please forgive yourself for the shortcomings that these people told you that you have...

    You were beautifully made. God knew that you would be a very sensitive man. He put that quality inside of you. A very endearing quality.

    Perhaps if you can let go of that pain, and let go of that burden from so long ago, you can regain some of your own affirmations and self confidence.

    I have heard many pastors speak about the concept that God cannot advance us forward in our lives, so that we can be truly happy and know true peace, until we learn to let go of past "baggage", and burdens, and trust that He will carry them for us.

    Letting the pain go can be scary. Terrifying.
    You've carried that hurt for a long time. That alone can cause you to lose your vision for your future. It's clouded over, because you have pain standing in your way.

    There becomes a time, in every person's life, where we can't move forward, because past hurts and burdens affect everything we try to do and accomplish. We can pray as hard as we want, but there is a time when God will tell each of us that enough-is-enough!

    He can't advance us forward, because we won't let go of the aches and pains of the past...

    If pastoring is not where you feel your true calling is, then try to look at the experience at that church as a blessing. Those folks could not appreciate you for what you had to offer, at that time. That's okay. That was a very long time ago.

    You have people all around you who love you! And I know that these same folks pray for you!
    Pastor Scott can help you let go of your burden, and you know by first-hand experience, that the folks at Living Waters will pray for you.

    Prayer changes things. Love changes things. Love helps to heal old wounds. Patience and trust are key ingredients.

    As they say, "LET GO, and LET GOD". He WILL do amazing things in your life, in His right timing. He IS doing something in your best interest for you - every single day!