In this series, inspired by a Craig Groeschel book, Pastor G challenges all of us to make four decisions.
- A Decision to START something.
- A Decision to STOP something.
- A Decision to STAY somewhere when GOING would be easier but not best.
- A decision to GO somewhere when STAYING would be easier but not best.
This is week three: It’s Time To STAY
Tonight, we’re in the third week of a four-week message series called “TALKSTORY”. If you missed the first two weeks, let me catch you up. All of us love to tell our stories as we Talk Story with others. We’ve said there are two very important principles that we have been revisiting each week. #1 is that
1) The decisions we make today, determine the stories we’ll tell tomorrow.”
The second principle has a similar point.
2) Direction, not intention, determines destination.
The reality is that 5 years from now or so, you’ll look back and you’ll tell a story about this season of your life. And the good news is a lot of you will tell a story that you’re proud of. “Hey, this one time, let me tell you what happened and what I did and it turned out awesome!” The bad news is that some of us will look back to this season of our lives five years from now and we won’t be proud of our story. We will look back and say “I wish I had made different decisions!” The decisions we make today determine the stories we tell tomorrow and direction, not intention, determines destination. Now, the reality is that for many of us, during this season of life, we’re going to run up against an obstacle or a challenge. Maybe it’s a job that you don’t think you can endure another day.
Maybe it’s a relationship that turns south and you think, “Hey, maybe it’s not even worth staying in this relationship.” Maybe it’s a dream or a vision, something that you’re trying to accomplish, and you think, “This is never going to happen. I give up!” Whatever it is, you’re going to be faced with a decision. Do I stay the course or do I walk away? And beyond a shadow of a doubt, we need to acknowledge that there are times to walk away. Absolutely! There are times in our lives where we need to let a chapter end and go start a new chapter. There are times it is best to go, to leave the situation we are in and goo someplace else, to walk away. That’s what we are going to talk about next week in the finale of this series. But a very important thought as well is this one today. Sometimes, the best decision you can make is to STAY when it would be far easier to GO.
I’ve shared a lot recently about some of the very difficult seasons in my life. In many those times I learned God’s will for me, in those situations was just to stay when all I wanted to do was go. I wish I could look back and give you a whole bunch of amazing great things and successes that happened during those difficult times, some ultra profound reasons for God having me stay in those situations, something amazing I accomplished by staying or some huge, positive difference that I made in someone else’s life by staying but often I can’t. In a few, rare occasions I can say “Ohhhh, that’s why God wanted me to stay.” But most of the time, to this day, truth is, I honestly don’t usually know why God called me to stay.
I just stayed faithful and I stayed because God told me to stay even though it would definitely have been much easier to go.
As I look back on all that now, I have come to the conclusion that the point of all that, the “blessing” that came from all that, the lesson God wanted me to learn from all that, was just for me to learn how to go through an incredibly trying, terribly unfair, impossible situation. God wanted me to learn how to go through the dark night of the soul and learn to trust Him anyway, even though I couldn’t find Him, couldn’t see Him, couldn’t hear Him, couldn’t sense Him at the time. For me, now, the whole point of the worst season of my life had to be God saying “Greg, will you obey me and stay even when it makes no sense at all for you to stay. Will you trust me and stay anyway even though it would be far easier to go?” This one time, it was time for me to STAY. What might God be calling you to stay with right now in your life, when it would be easier to go? Don’t misunderstand me! Sometimes God does call us to go and not stay. That’s what we’re going to talk about next week. Right now, tonight, think about where God is calling you to stay.
I can promise you – if you are in that dark night of the soul part of your life – many of you are experiencing that in THIS season of your life – if you are not now, you will. Maybe this week, maybe next month, sooner or later you’re going to have to make a similar decision. You will have to make a decision about whether to stick with something or to leave it. Of course, you want to make sure you make the best decision you can in those moments. That comes from correctly discerning what God is telling you to do. Remember, the point of this Talk Story series we’ve been talking about all month is we need to stop and ask “What does God want me to want? —- What does God want me to want?” If God is telling you to stay, then no matter what, I’m sorry to tell you, that’s what you need to do. Stay. Just stay. Remember, the big question we’re trying to answer in this series of messages, “How do we live a story worth telling? How do we live our lives today so that we can tell the story with our lives tomorrow that God wants us to tell?” And again the answer is found in a great little verse in Hebrews, chapter 12, verse 2. We’ve looked at this verse every week. Let’s look at it again today.
“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus,” ~ Hebrews 12:2a
We are not to fix our eyes on our situation, not on our options, not on our pros and cons. But instead, fix our eyes, fix our thoughts, fix our minds on Jesus. And who is Jesus? What does it say next in the verse? Say it aloud with me.
“The author and the perfecter of our faith. ~ Hebrews 12:2b
How do we live a story worth telling? We fix our eyes, our thoughts, and our hearts on Jesus, the Son of God, who is the author of our life. He is the One who helps us live the story that He wants us to tell, the story of YOU! If you want to make sure your life is a good book, you need to make sure Jesus is the author. You need to want what God wants you to want even when it seems like insanity to you. You need to trust that God has a bigger, longer-term purpose in mind.
Some of you, you’re going to listen today and go, “Okay, Greg, I don’t really have any huge decisions like that today where it is difficult for me to stay. My life is pretty smooth sailing right now.” And that’s fair enough. But (imagine ominous music playing and a chilly wind suddenly beginning to blow) one day, I promise you. It may be tomorrow, it may be next week, it may be next month, it may be in a year or two or ten or twenty. But at some point, listen to me now, listen. Don’t miss this. Sooner or later you’re going to hit a terrible obstacle. You are going to hit an impossible challenge. You are going to hit a devastating time.
You are going to hit a really bad and terribly tough situation, an awful relationship or an awful job, a dark night of the soul, something, and you won’t want to stay in there. You will want to bolt, run for the hills, take off as fast as possible. When that happens, it is my hope and prayer that this series will come rushing back to your mind and you will remember to keep your eyes on Jesus, and ask Him, “Jesus, author, and perfecter of my faith and my life? What story do you want me to tell right now? Is it time for me to stay or is it time for me to go?” And during that prayer, many of you are going to realize the right thing to do in that particular, specific, terribly, horrible, frightening, painful situation is to stay when it certainly would be far easier to go.
There’s a tremendous example of this in the Old Testament story about Naomi and her two daughters-in-law. You can read the whole story in the book of Ruth. Naomi was the mother-in-law; she had two daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah. Now, just a side note, this is kind of fun. Talk show queen and billionaire success story, Oprah was actually named after Orpah – after this woman in the Book of Ruth; that’s a true story. When they were writing the birth certificate, someone tried to spell Orpah and accidentally wrote Oprah, and the family just went with it. Which is just an amazing blessing because I’m not sure there would be as many fans of the Orpah Show. It just doesn’t sound right. It sounds too much like Orca! They would announce “Heeeeeeere’s Orpah!” and you would expect Shamu to leap through a hoop and eat a herring! No good.
And so anyway, unfortunately, Naomi’s husband died and then tragically, her two sons also died. So here are these three widowed women, all without a husband and stuck in a culture where that reality made life very, very difficult. In their culture, in their society, during that time, this was a huge tragedy because they couldn’t just go to Starbucks and get a job. They were almost unemployable, and they didn’t have a husband to provide for them. And so, it would reduce them almost to the status of beggars or a little bit lower than slaves and many women in that time in their situation found themselves forced into the sex trade to survive.
And so, Naomi, the mother-in law, said to her daughters-in-law, “Hey, go back home; it’s easier there. Maybe God will provide a husband for you there. The odds are certainly better for you back there than they are here. Go back home. Go. Don’t stay. It’s far easier to go.” And so, Orpah did that, no shame in it. Naomi told her to go. Gave her her blessing to go. That was the easy thing to do, that was the logical thing to do. It made sense for her. After all, she went on to host a hugely popular television show and discovered Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz. Just seeing if you are paying attention. Orpah left Naomi as Naomi requested her to do. Orpah decided to GO but Ruth decided to do something very different. She STAYED. Ruth decided to STAY when it would have been much, much easier for her to GO. And Naomi tried to talk her out of it, again, very graciously. Let’s look at Ruth 1:15 and 16.
“Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.” – Ruth 1:15
But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you.” – Ruth 1:16a
Now, next is a great verse that a lot of people use at their weddings. In fact, I include this in a lot of weddings I do as well. It seems odd because it is a daughter-in-law speaking to her mother-in-law, not a husband to a wife or a wife to a husband, but the sentiment is one of profound love and commitment to stay even when it would be easier to go. Ruth says…
“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” – Ruth 1:16b-17
Ruth decides, you know what, we’re family. I’m choosing your God, the one true God. I’m committing to Him and I’m committing to you. Even though it makes sense to go, even though it would be far easier to go, I’m deciding to stay. And that decision, was costly for Ruth at first. She became a little lower than a slave; she was a beggar. And, she would go in the fields. And she’d go and kind of pick up any leftover food after the workers had kind of picked it up. It’s called gleaning. If they left any food on the ground, if they missed anything in the harvest, she and other gleaning beggars got to eat and if they didn’t, she didn’t get to eat. There was this rich guy, Boaz, an incredible guy, who owned these fields. And Boaz, this amazing guy, heard about Ruth, what she was doing for Naomi, who was kin to him, and he had compassion on Ruth. He said to his workers, “Hey, give her some extra food.” He said to the guys working in the field, “Don’t you lay a hand on her. Don’t you touch her. She is under my protection!” Look at Ruth 2:11-12 as Boaz explains his kindness to Ruth.
Boaz replied, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband —how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. May the Lord repay you for what you have done…” – Ruth 2:11-12
In verse 11 of Ruth 2:11 and 12, Boaz replied, he basically said, I heard about how you STAYED when it would have been easier to GO.” And then he pronounces a blessing and he says, “May the Lord repay you for what you have done.” And neither one of them, in that moment, realized how big this blessing would be. Because, through a series of unusual events, Boaz ends up marrying Ruth and suddenly this young widow, who at first seemed to have no future whatsoever, in making this faithful decision to STAY, even when it would have been easier to GO, now she’s one of two women who had books of the bible named after her.
Now, don’t miss the power of this. She didn’t stay, hoping God would bless her. She didn’t stay because God promised her it would only be for a short time and then things would get a whole lot better. She stayed just because she believed it was the right thing to do in that moment. She stayed just because it was what God wanted her to do. She wanted whatever God wanted for her life. She didn’t know that Hebrews passage we’ve been coming back to – it was written 1,200 years after her time. But, spiritually speaking, she was trusting God as the author and perfecter of her faith. So she was faithful and she stayed. There is a big question we’ve been asking in this series of messages. I mentioned it earlier and I want to ask it again tonight and have you really think about it. And that question is: “What does God want you to want?”
You should be able to answer that when you look at your life. There’s something in your life that’s not where it could be, should be, where God would want it to be. You are pursuing the wrong thing maybe. What does God want you to want? It might be he wants you to spend more time with your family, or to help develop them spiritually, or to maybe develop yourself spiritually because you’re not really growing as a follower of Jesus. Or for some of you, it may be to stop pursuing your own dreams and surrender something to God. Or it may be to stop living for things that don’t matter. It might be to spend more time at home. It might be to give away more of your wealth to support God’s word in our village or across the globe. It may be to stay in a difficult, trying, painful, work situation or ministry situation even though it doesn’t make any sense at the time just because God wants you to stay there. Whatever it is, what does God want you to want?
Here’s the follow-up application question. In light of what God wants you to want, where does God want you to stay? Where does God want you to stay the course so that you can live the story that God wants you to tell? When does God want you to stay the course even though it would be easier to just walk away, to go? Sometimes, you’re going to come to a place where it doesn’t look easy. You will start looking for a way out. And I’m here to tell you that God is going to call you to stay the course when you would rather go the other way. So, again, I want to ask you, in light of what God wants you to want, where do you need to stay? It could be in any number of different places. Some of you, you’re in school right now and you think I just — I can’t make it through. It is too hard. I want to quit. I want to drop out. I want to go. I don’t want to stay.
Some of you, are in a difficult job right now. You don’t like your boss. You don’t like your coworkers. You don’t like what you do or the hours or the drive or whatever. You’re on Careers and Monster dot com every night, desperately finding a way to go. You don’t want to stay. Some of you, it might be a problem with your church one day. Maybe someone hurt your feelings or let you down and you are thinking “Well forget them, forgot that. Christians, they’re all a bunch of hypocrites. I’m leaving the church. I’m going to show them, I’m walking away. Take that, church people! Take that God! I’m not staying in this stupid church thing. I am leaving!” You want to go, not stay. And that can end up being your story; it’s a lot of people’s story.
Some of you, it will be in your marriage. Let me say two things before I talk about your marriage. Number one, I don’t want to make you feel guilty about past chapters in your story because we can’t change the past. Number two, if you’re being abused, if someone is harming you, physically or emotionally, I’m NOT telling you to stay and be a punching bag. That is a 100% of the time GO situation not a STAY situation. I’m telling you to immediately get away to where you can be safe, where you can be healthy, where the person harming you can hopefully become healthy, and then maybe — maybe – maybe — you can work on it in the future in a healthy and safe way. I’m not telling you to stay and let someone hit you physically or emotionally. What I am saying is, over and over and over again in our society today, we see one or the other spouse say, “Well, I’m not very happy so we might as well cash it in. When we first met I had all kinds of butterflies and now it’s just blah.”
But listen. Don’t miss this now. Listen. When you first met, those butterflies, those were all just endorphins and oxytocin chemicals. That was infatuation. That doesn’t stay at a permanent high for ANYONE. If you think every single minute of every single day every single relationship is supposed to feel like that you are always going to be disappointed. The only way to keep that up is to change partners every couple of months or years at most. But many couples, after the initial thrill dies down a little in year two, start to think, “Well, he’s not meeting my needs anymore and the trainer at the gym, he sure compliments me a lot. Or she’s kind of boring now and this girl at work, she’s so fun and unpredictable and so, I’m walking away from my marriage. I’m leaving. I’m going to go. Not stay. He doesn’t make me happy. She doesn’t make me happy. I mean, we gave it a shot for a little while but it just didn’t work out. So I am leaving.” If that’s your situation, don’t you think it is more likely God is calling you to STAY rather than Go?
What I want you to hear is sometimes the greatest act of faith is just faithfulness, just staying where you’re planted. Bloom where you are planted. Stay! Even though it would be easier to just leave, even when staying doesn’t make much sense to you. Even when staying is really hard. So, maybe today, the story of this chapter of your life that God wants you to tell is “Stay. Just stay.” And you may not see your Boaz immediately, you may not see a blessing immediately. It may not make sense to you for a long time. But I’m telling you what: Galatians 6:9 says,
“Do not grow weary in doing good. For at the proper time, you will reap a harvest if you do not what? Somebody help me. “If you do not give up.” ~ Galatians 6:9
When is the proper time? When will the harvest come? I don’t know. Only God knows. In fact, you may not experience any so-called harvest in this lifetime. It may, like it has so often been with me, it may just be about learning obedience, patience, and trust. I just know that the decisions that we make today determine the stories that we tell tomorrow. And sometimes, the best decision you can make is to stay when it would be easier to go. Direction, not intention, determines destination.
When you don’t know where to go, maybe that’s because God is telling you to stay. Sometimes God calls us to stay. When it would be far easier to go. Stay and just keep walking with God. Take another step and another step and another step. AMEN? ~~~~~ LET’S PRAY ~~~~~