Stand by Me
by Mary Toepfer
Here’s the truth …
“If you don’t personally go with us, don’t make us leave this place. How will anyone know that you look favorably on me—on me and on your people—if you don’t go with us? For your presence among us sets your people and me apart from all other people on the earth” (Exodus 33:15-16).
So my husband is trying again for his dream job. This time, though, lessons have been learned from the previous application process experience that will be applied.
We got caught up in all of the Lord’s favor last time—believing that the job was his for the asking because the stars kept aligning just for him at each stage of the process. We had already mentally moved cities and into our dream home to go with the dream job. In the process, though, we stepped out ahead of God. Not intentionally, of course. We simply got too excited and counted our chickens before they were actually hatched. We turned the job into an idol that would end up distracting us from following after God instead of our own fleshly desires. When David was passed over in the end, we realized the error of our ways and vowed not to do that again.
So here we are—examination #2 commences! Now, upon applying for the position—feeling led again by God to do so and being sought out by thoughtful friends who saw the posting and confirmed that he is meant to throw his name in the hat—we step back and examine our motives this time, as though staring at ourselves on an operating table from above, floating overhead and shouting down not to fall prey to any kind of temptation this time around!
Our mission always needs to be to follow where the Lord leads, not to step out ahead of Him.
Moses knew all too well what it would be like not to travel with God, having experienced the security of God’s cloud by day that prompted them to move and fire by night that provided light in the darkness. In fact, when the Israelites decided to create a golden calf with their collective gold and worship it (all while Moses was away on the mountain), God made a decision then and there that He would keep His promise to give them the Promised Land and allow them to defeat their enemies who were currently inhabiting it, but He would no longer walk with them.
Moses begged, “If you don’t personally go with us, don’t make us leave this place. How will anyone know that you look favorably on me—on me and on your people—if you don’t go with us? For your presence among us sets your people and me apart from all other people on the earth” (Exodus 33:15-16). He knew that God’s daily companionship was so much more important than any wonderful piece of land could ever be. We learned that, too, when we experienced His beautiful provision in other ways after the “no” to the dream job happened. It was easy to see that having God with us was way more satisfying than the job itself ever would have been.
Kyle Idleman, in his book Not a Fan, says, “The biggest threat to the church today is fans who call themselves Christians but aren't actually interested in following Christ. They want to be close enough to Jesus to get all the benefits, but not so close that it requires anything from them” (p. 25).
That made me wonder if I would have given up the Promised Land to walk next to God if I had been Moses or if I would have chosen the Promised Land, even if it meant losing God’s presence right by my side. Makes me wonder, as we embark on round two of David’s dream job application process, if God asked us to give up the dream all over again, would we?
Not my way but yours, Lord. And the only way I will know I am going the right way is to walk with you, not carve out my own path!
Idleman also says, “Following Jesus will cost you something” (p. 30). I must live my life willing to give up a dream job if God asks me to, to give up my husband or child if God asks me to, to give up my home if God asks me to (or to share it with someone who needs a place to stay), to give up my church if God asks me to, etc. We really cannot cling to anything this world has to offer, because we will surely come to a crossroads where Jesus makes us choose at some point. Joshua said it brilliantly: “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15 NIV).
Long ago, my friend gave me the idea of a totem pole. She told me that we must not think of people in our lives in a horizontal line of importance with all of them expecting to be on equal footing in our commitment level to them. For example, people might expect that I would give equal importance and devotion to my daughter, my husband, God, my boss, and those who are needy. No. We must always put God at the top of our totem pole. Then our spouse. Then our children. Then all others under them. A lot of people put serving others (in their jobs, in their volunteer work, in their schools) way ahead of God and think that God would be pleased. But if we ignore our commitment to building a relationship with God daily so that we can tend to those others, if we ignore our spouse, if our children feel neglected, then we have not pleased God at all. I truly believe that, and it took me a really long time to get my totem pole properly aligned.
My friend at my book club mentioned how his son decided to stop attending the university after his first year so that he could travel the country, following the Grateful Dead everywhere they went. Imagine that! That’s more than a fan. That’s a disciple, a follower. We need to have that kind of commitment—but with Jesus, of course. Beth Moore says, in her book The Quest, “We’re all looking for someone big enough, beautiful enough, bold enough, brilliant enough, brave enough, otherworldly enough, … finally good enough to rescue us from our self-obsession and sweep us up into a love worth dying for” (p. 111). That’s Jesus, people.
We need to stretch ourselves today. What are we willing to lay down for Jesus? If our answer is nothing, then maybe we should stop calling ourselves a follower because we really are only lukewarm fans. If Jesus were the Grateful Dead, we’d say we like the music but not enough to buy concert tickets and certainly not enough to leave our jobs, homes, or families to follow Him. Just as we plan to with round two of my husband’s dream job process, let’s all vow to start anew in our devotion to Jesus and reorganize our totem poles!
… and that’s the truth as I know it!