Be Careful Where You Are Headed – You May Actually Get There.
I am a doer. When I first met my wife, Wendi, I was in college at the University of Maryland in the Washington D.C. area and I had a seven year plan. This plan spelled out what I was going to achieve over the next several years. I planned to complete my undergraduate degree with a 4.0 GPA, while interning in the nation’s capitol. I was in a Military Intelligence Army reserve unit next to the National Security Agency (NSA) and was looking into some part time work for the NSA. This scenario would have set me up nicely to be accepted into an ivy-league law school to specialize in international law. After law school the seven years would be completed and after taking stock, I could make a new plan. To me, relationships were secondary to accomplishing goals. I let Wendi know that my plan was in place and that where our relationship was going (to marriage or elsewhere) depended on the status of my plan.
I followed my plan for about a year and a half with quite a bit of success. My plan changed, however, when God brought me to my first “time out.” God gave me a sneak peak into what would happen if I actually achieved everything in my plan. I asked myself, “If my wildest dreams came true, if I become a high level advisor on the national level, or if I am elected to the legislature, then so what?” Even if I achieved all those goals, they would be gone – forgotten within a generation. If I achieved my wildest dreams I would have achieved nothingness. This revelation didn’t come about subtly. It was driven home by a Bible cult that I had started hanging around with. (I describe this association more in subsequent chapters.) God knew that I needed a LOUD wake up call. After a short time of looking at things through an eternal perspective I knew that God was the only thing of any permanence and the only thing worth devoting my life to. I soon realized that I wanted to devote my life to God but not this cult. In the cult’s eyes you couldn’t do one without the other. Rather confused and feeling that I didn’t want to follow my plan or this cult anymore, I left. I went back home to live with my parents. For the next couple of months I was in time out. God took away everything I was doing. I no longer had a plan except to abandon my old plan because it was worthless. I didn’t have a clear grasp of what the Bible really said or what God wanted me to do next. Away from college and all I had lived for, I spent the subsequent few months pouring over the Bible for myself. I really focused on the voice of the Father and my relationship with Him grew. This was my first time out and it felt like the hardest time of my life while I was going through it. But in hindsight, I am so thankful for that time out. I was so focused on doing, on achieving, on following the American dream that I was actually throwing my life and relationship with the Father away. God was trying to tell me this truth for some time, but I couldn’t hear him. I was too busy doing stuff. I needed a time out and that is exactly what I received.
I am struck by how deaf we (I) can be to God’s voice. Often it is only after we are in a time out that we re-hear what God was saying to us. Much like a parent-to-child conversation, our brains pick up the words on a semi-conscious level but the connection doesn’t go any deeper than the physical senses. When a child is alone and quiet (perhaps in time out) she can then remember and re-hear what she couldn’t hear because of the distraction of activity. When God pulled back the curtain of my future, showing me the futility of my grand plan, He spoke to me through King Solomon, the writer of the Biblical book, Ecclesiastes. I would have to say that Ecclesiastes made the greatest impact on me when I was beginning my time out. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon wrote about obtaining all the greatest things that the world had to offer. He found that they were all meaningless without God. What’s amazing is God had been telling me that my own plan was meaningless long before He even put me in time out. I was just too distracted to hear Him. The truth of my deafness came to light some months after I withdrew from school when I found a poem inspired by Ecclesiastes. Although I don’t remember it specifically, I assume I read Ecclesiastes when I first entered college. Shortly after, I wrote this poem for a poetry class. This poem was written months before I was put into time out and really listened to God’s voice. This is the poem:
To Solomon the wisest greatest king,
who lengthy searched and found no world repose.
I give you thanks, and songs of yours I sing,
with hopes to see the truth your tale still shows.
Uncountable, desolate, expansive treasures,
Attainments, worldly, grasped in flesh fingers,
Your harems spilling sensory pleasures,
The wisdom stirred your soul, empty lingers,
Does power held in hand fulfill purpose?
when flesh is torn off, leaving bone and nerves?
How long to dwell on a rocky surface,
where time proceeds, to see Mammon be served.
Time’s finale will come, it draws too nigh,
Were birds constructing nests, or did they fly?
This poem shows two things. First, I am not a poet. Second, I was too busy doing big and important things to hear the Father’s message. I was later able to hear the exact same message when I was in my time out. Knowing the history, it is comical to read this poem. I had read God’s message in Ecclesiastes and had even written a poem about it. I really did not hear, or receive, the message, however. Ecclesiastes inspired me to write this poem but I was deaf to God’s voice. In the fourth line, I wrote, “With hopes to see the truth your tale still shows.” On one level, I had heard and seen the message of Ecclesiastes – but past the physical senses I was blind and deaf to the truth that God was speaking to me through this scripture. In hindsight, it was clear that the Father was trying to speak directly and firmly to me. I was too busy doing stuff, trying to achieve the plan and manipulate the world around me. God gave me a time out a year after I wrote this poem because if I continued to ignore His message in Ecclesiastes I would have gone down a path that I would have regretted till my death.
The message of Ecclesiastes is one of the first truths all of us doers need to really hear. King Solomon tells how he achieved wealth, wisdom, women and power. His assessment of it all:
“Then I became great and increased more than all who preceded me in Jerusalem. My wisdom also stood by me. All that my eyes desired I did not refuse them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart was pleased because of all my labor and this was my reward for all my labor. Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 2: 9-11)
God can see the big picture and He sees where all of our doing will lead us. Solomon’s deeds led him to be the greatest king of Israel in terms of physical things. God showed him that all of it was meaningless. He called it vanity and striving after the wind. What a picture this metaphor paints! You can exert tremendous energy chasing after the wind in order to catch it. Although it is impossible to catch the wind, even if you succeeded all you would have is a handful of air, which is what you had already. All that sweat, the frantic running, the falling and getting back up, the gritty determination, the training to get fast enough, all of it and you don’t have anything more than when you started! A handful of wind. A handful of nothing.
Perhaps you are like Solomon and feel like you are going down a path of meaninglessness. God can show you where your path leads. God longs for us to listen so that He can guide us to a permanent, valuable, and meaningful place. But will we listen? Can we listen? I couldn’t listen. I not only read God’s message to me in the book of Ecclesiastes, but I even wrote a poem about it. Despite all this, I still couldn’t listen to what God was trying to tell me.
Do you have a time out in your life to ask yourself (or better still, to ask God) where all your doing will lead you? Be careful where you’re going – you may actually get there. King of Israel, a political big wig, financial stability, they are all places that disappear like the wind when the night time of life comes. Taking a time out to hear the eternal call is always easier than being given a time out. Either way, go to the Father of wisdom and He will lead you onto the permanent path of meaning.
Questions to Ponder
As you look at the direction of your life, where are you headed?
When you are at the end of life what do you hope to have achieved? Will any of these achievements last?
If God wanted to tell you something right now would you be able to hear Him?
What distracts you the most from hearing God?