Introduction: I’m presently working on a new book entitled “Wild Faith” that will provide a daily devotional about how God meets us in wild places, which means places we’ve never been before. It turns out that wild places are God’s favorite learning environment, and for good reason. When we’re in direct contact with the world God has made rather than in environments that insulate us from heat, cold, wet, dry, thunder, birdsong, sunset, squirrel, elk, and new blossom, our senses are on high alert. In that state, we’re better able to receive the revelation that transforms, moving us increasingly toward being people of hope.
In this “wild faith” section, you’ll find a few of these devotionals along with other resources for an emerging “wild faith” ministry at the church I lead. I’ll post a link to these on social media when they come out. For now, I’m grateful for any feedback you have to offer regarding these wild faith devotionals, including stories of how God has met you in both literal and metaphorical wild places. Thanks! Here’s the first devotional. Each one will have a text, and I encourage you to read it through slowly a couple of times, placing yourself, as fully as possible in the shoes of the people in the story. Let me know how it goes!
Week One: Calling
1.1 You’ve Never Been Here Before Genesis 12:1-3
The world is filled with intentions. Just ask New Year’s Day about that. If the day could talk it would speak of plans people make, especially those shot through with the presumptuous cocktail of wine and adrenaline. This will be the year we run a marathon, or lose that weight, fix our marriage, or write that book. The day creates an arbitrary blank book, filled with pages upon which we long to write the fulfillment of our dreams.
Ask “The Last Week of December” though, about how the book of the well-intentioned years turn out. It will often be filled with stories of everything but the fulfillment of the dreams: “I’d hoped to run, but a car crash sidelined me.” “My mom died, and we put buying the business on hold because of an estate dispute with my brother.” “I lost my job.” The truth of it is that sometimes reality over rules the best laid plans.
There’ll be tall tales too though, excuses for our failures, cloaked as reasonable, wherein we paint ourselves as the victims. “Yes, I’d hoped to write, but just got too busy with other things” which is code for an hour a day on instagram and Facebook, plus a thorough knowledge of every episode of “The Voice” or “Downton Abby” or your favorite teams comings and goings. Or maybe we play the victim card and talk about challenges that unfolded which sidetracked us. Who’s to judge that? Certainly not me.
Still, the truth of the matter is that lots of us hear a voice about the need to get off our butts and do something more significant with our lives than just playing with the internet, or piddling in the garden, or even more than just going to Bible study. We hear a voice calling us to move in some new way. Write. Throw parties. Take a trip somewhere to serve people. It could be anything, but the truth of it is that if you listen long enough, you’ll hear the voice because that’s what God does. God tells people to get off their butts and move.
God told Abraham to go, and Moses, and Joshua, and Jeremiah, and David, and the disciples of Jesus, and the early church, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and MLK. And you. This is because, as one poet put it so profoundly, “the way is made by walking”. You hear the voice. You go. You will be transformed by the going.
The problem is we want to stay home, because the kind of going that changes us is the going that takes us to places we’ve never been before, places which are, to us at least, “wild” in the sense that they’re unfamiliar. I’m sitting the comfort of my mountain house one afternoon when the phone rings with a friend telling me that he needs me to go to India and teach the Bible. I teach the Bible so his request makes sense at one level. But at another level, its outrageous. Apparently he doesn’t know me well enough to know that I have no ambitions to go somewhere far away when the comfort and familiarity of my own bed, food I like, and control the cooking of, predictable weather, and the general safety of familiarity await. That’s the way I like it.
“You’ll need a visa” he says, nonplussed by my protests, “and they normally take two weeks, so ask them to rush it” Sensing an opening, I tell him I’ll apply for the visa, and will view its reception in time as a sign. Of course it came through, and that’s how, like Frodo or Harry Potter, I unwittingly began an adventure that changed my life forever. A flight delay in Bangkok would expose my heart to the darkness of human trafficking and change the way I viewed the gospel (moving me from focusing on getting out of hell, and focused more on being the presence of Christ, which means among other things, setting captives free, including sex slaves). A conversation on the last day of the trip would lead me to eventually apply to be the senior pastor of a church in Seattle, a move I’d never have made without my journey to India. In between, I tasted new food, watched God do things God doesn’t seem to do in the United States, taught the Bible to students who begged for more and outside of class wanted still more conversation, like thirsty sponges.
There was a moment. I could have said no. It wouldn’t have been because I was too busy. All I had to do was cancel the officiating of a few basketball games. My “no” would have been offered under the delusional belief that more time studying, with a fair dose of hiking tossed in for good measure, would be a better use of my time. That way, I’d know more cool things about the Bible and be able to defend it against the bad guys, ever-present and eager to wreck my faith. I was, at the time, under the misguided conviction that information is the key to maturity. It isn’t.
I’m walking through the Himalayan foothills, thick with Rhododendrons and monkeys. The smells of chai tea, wood smoke, and curry hang thick in the air as I stroll through markets. Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, all are present in this little corner due to the convergence of its geography and history. Beggars and holy cows. Late night conversations about, it seemed at the time, every single subject, always with a new twist handed me in this land. Wow. And to think I could have stayed home and officiated city league ball at the Junior College, while reinforcing everything I already believed by studying inside the echo chamber of my own head.
Listen! In the longing ache of your heart; in the “open door” of opportunity; there’s a voice calling you to go somewhere. Now it’s your move. You’ll either go or stay home. Going’s intimidating, or can be. All those unknowns; fear of flying, or of failure. Better to stay put right? Wrong! The way is made by walking. And if you don’t believe me, just ask Abraham.
O God who moves us;
Your voice will call us to go, if it hasn’t called us already. So though it terrifies us to ask, we pray you’ll give us ears to hear with clarity when you speak. Give us the discernment to know that it’s you and not a restless itch, a starry eyed ambition, or mere boredom with the present. And then, having heard, we pray for grace and guts to take the next step because we know too that there’ll be a choir of dissenters; telling us it’s too risky, telling us we’re not cut out for it; telling us we can always go next time; telling us we can’t afford it. Give us the grace and guts to shut down that choir, bringing their tinny voices to a halt so that we can pack our bags, and begin living, with intention, into your invitation to the great unknown. Thank you, too, that not everything’s unknown, for we know that, in following your voice, you will be with us. And that, thanks be to you, will make all the difference.