I like to think that I’m a risk-taker. After all, I’ve done some interesting things in my life: I’ve moved with two suitcases to a foreign country. I recently left a job I loved to try something different. I’ve even signed up for belly-dancing and sword fighting lessons (two separate classes; combining them would really be risky!) I like to think it, but it’s just not true. When I look at the ratio of risky decisions to the safe, comfortable choices, the second option wins hands down.
In truth, I like things to be mostly predictable with just the right amount of non-terrifying risk to keep it interesting. For most of my career, my days have been dictated by a bell schedule – and I liked it that way! I often find myself at a local restaurant, thinking to myself, I really love that smoked duck clubhouse, what if I order something and it’s just not as good? What if I spend the rest of meal eating butternut ravioli in a faint malaise of disappointment?
You can imagine, then, my response when I was sitting in my customary pew at St. John’s Vancouver (and I do mean customary, halfway up on the right-hand side), and I felt God tap me on the shoulder. I had been vaguely aware that St. John’s had been talking for some time about this fledgling church plant, St. Peter’s Fireside, but I’d mostly tuned out the first few times it was mentioned. After all, I loved St. John’s. It had been my home for 11 years. I’d spent a lot of time there – Sunday mornings, service and Sunday school. VBS. Conferences and courses. I knew every nook and cranny of that church building, including the creepy furnace rooms where they stored all the costumes for Christmas pageant. I lived in three places in those years, my apartment, my school and the church.
So when talk of St. Peter’s first started, I didn’t even listen. Didn’t consider that it could be for me. God wouldn’t call me away from where I was happy and useful, would he? But despite not actively opening my heart and asking God if he wanted me to go, he made himself heard. An unaccustomed discontent, a blog post I loved (Zombies, no less), an inquiring friend… All things to catch my attention.
Change, Shannon. The unknown. A challenge. Risk.
And because I want to please God ever so slightly more than I want to be comfortable, I listened. I left a church family who had supported and loved me, who gave me a place to serve and to use my gifts and I stepped into the unknown, with a bunch of people who I thought looked way cooler than me (mind you, that’s not terribly difficult).
God prepares us, gives us experience, skills, and education, then he asks us to trust him to place us where we need to be to best glorify him. To best grow in Christlikeness. To best serve his people and his purposes.
Peter (appropriately) has always been my favourite apostle, but this moment felt a bit like Jesus holding out his hand and commanding me to come out of the nice dry boat into the stormy sea. I realize that God calls people to much harder and larger obediences than this, but it was a difficult choice for me. But I want to say this really clearly. God is faithful. I need to remind myself of this fact time and again. He calls us to unknown roads, to uphill climbs and, even sometimes, to very dark nights. But he never leaves us. And in those moments of joy and unity that I so often feel at St. Pete’s, in those times when I’m asked to serve in a way that stretches and challenges me, in times when I see the movement of my heart towards God, I hear his voice again. “See?” he says encouragingly (not in the snarky tone I try not to use when I imply, “I told you so”), “See how I love you. See how I call you only towards me.”
I taught Sunday School at St. John’s for many years. One of my favourite series of lessons we covered looked at Esther, St. Paul and William Wilberforce (there was one more person at the end, but I can’t recall his name – he was obviously not as exciting as the first three). The core text of all the lessons were Mordecai’s words to Esther, “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” All of Esther’s faith and courage, all of Paul’s training and intelligence, Wilberforce’s wealth and connections. All of them used to accomplish the purposes of God. In these three stories, the payoff for obedience was pretty good (the deliverance of the Jews, the inclusion of the Gentiles and the Abolition of Slavery).
One of the wonderful things about God, however, is that he is no less faithful in small obediences than he is in the large ones. Through my small obedience, tinged as it was with fear, irritation and hope, God has changed my heart. God prepares us, gives us experience, skills, and education, then he asks us to trust him to place us where we need to be to best glorify him. To best grow in Christlikeness. To best serve his people and his purposes.
As we step out into new places, as our family changes and grows, as we are called to trust God and risk moving a few steps into the unknown, know this: God has placed us where we are for such a time as this. And in obeying his leading, there is risk, but our security is sure and the rewards are certain.