In 2006, I was a youth pastor. I was putting together a mission trip, and there was a bit of controversy surrounding it. One family really wanted to go to somewhere different from where we had planned. When it became apparent I was committed to the trip we had chosen, they began to undermine me by talking to various leaders in the church trying to convince them to compel me to take the youth to the destination they favored. Their kids exerted pressure on their peers, and at least one person dropped out of the trip admittedly because his friends were against it. A parent, whose child could not attend for family reasons, even thought it was necessary to explain to me that it wasn’t because of “all the stuff going on” that she wasn’t going on the trip. It was a little ugly.
Then it happened. One week before the trip, Father’s Day, I was playing softball with the youth and their dad’s, and I blew out my left achilles’ tendon. No mission trip for me. The next week was a scramble to get the other chaperons up to speed on the details, and then I went to surgery. Let me tell you something, I’ve had several injuries, and this one was awful. I hated every minute of recovery. It was a year and a half before I could walk without pain. That leg has never been the same.
An on-looker, or an opponent, might have figured that this was God teaching me some sort of lesson about humility, not listening, or being stubborn. Maybe this was true, but their interpretation of this event in my life would’ve been based on their view of my life, my choices, my attitude, my thinking, my spiritual life, and my actions. Can anyone really know such things about me in such detail so to confidently proclaim what God was teaching me? Nope. Their interpretation of these events would be based on their perspective of me and the fact that I didn’t do what they wanted, which they were sure was what God wanted.
The lesson I took away from this time in my life was that God did not need me to accomplish his purpose. I worked really hard for that trip, and in the middle of the controversy began to feel as though if not for me it wasn’t going to happen. Then, in an instant, I was on the PUP list (Physically Unable to Perform = bad sports reference.), and the trip happened anyway. People were blessed, and two years later we went back to the same place, and I was privileged to go with them.
What others may have perceived about God’s lesson for me was not what I took away from it. They may have thought it was a lesson for me to show more humility, and what they meant was that I should do what they wanted me to do. The funny thing is, it was a lesson about humility for me. It was a lesson that God does not need me to do His will. He wants me to take part in his plan and purpose. He wants me to serve Him and others, but He does not need me in the way an old lady needs help across the road. He will get to his goal just fine without me, thank you very much.
The lesson is this: when you set yourself up as judge over the difficulties of others, be careful. You don’t know everything there is to know about that person, and your perspective of them is likely clouded by your own prejudices and feelings. Of course, some things are easily discernible as natural consequences for actions. A heroine addict is such because once upon a time he chose to stick a needle in his arm. But fires, storms, and Achilles tendons? We can’t know why these things have happened to others, but we can know that God is using them to call people to faithfulness in Jesus.
My advice: worry less about what God is telling others, and start paying attention to what he is telling you.