A Mysterious Tension: Personal Initiative and Divine Timing

david with saul's spearAs surely as the Lord lives,” [David] said, “the Lord himself will strike [Saul], or his time will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish. But the Lord forbid that I should lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed1 Samuel 26:10-11a (NIV)

Last week I shared a sliver of the story of how I began working for the company of which I am now a partner owner. It happened in the summer of 1994. I had been working for a parachurch ministry for a year, and had been raising financial support from friends and family to do so. The agreement I had with my employer had been that I would raise financial support for one year. It had been a good year in many regards and I enjoyed what I was doing, but as the end of that year drew closer my employer remained silent regarding the plan for what was going to happen next.

Months before the end of our one year agreement I began to ask my employer for a plan. I even offered to continue raising support if we could sketch out an agreement to reduce the amount I had to raise over a period of time. The answer I received multiple times was “I’ll put it on the board agenda for next month.” After the board meeting I would hear “We didn’t get to it. We’ll talk about it next month.” Finally, my year ended and I still had no answer from my employer. I felt a responsibility to my financial supporters who had faithfully sent me money that year to support me and the ministry I worked for. Many supporters had asked me about it, but I had nothing to tell them because my employer refused to talk to me about a compensation plan.

Suddenly, I felt a stirring inside me. While I wasn’t unhappy with my job and hadn’t really considered another job change, I realized that I could not trust my employer. There was a principle involved here that I needed to heed as it wasn’t just about my employers integrity, but also about my own. I had asked my supporters for a year commitment and the year was over. I felt dishonest asking them to continue their support. The problem was, I had a family with two small children and no earthly idea what I was going to do. I had no job prospects. I didn’t even have a resume put together.

Nevertheless, I knew in my heart that I had to make a move. One morning just after the one year anniversary passed, I began calling my financial supporters and telling them not to bother sending another check. On the list of supporters was my old employer and mentor.

“What are you going to do?” he asked me on the phone.

“I don’t know,” I answered, then explained my reasoning. I shared that I felt I couldn’t in good conscience ask my supporters to extend their commitment when my current employer wouldn’t even talk to me about extending his. I admitted that I had no plan and no job prospects.

“Are you really going to leave? Have you told your employer?” my friend and mentor asked.

“I haven’t said anything yet, but I really think I’m going to leave,” I answered.

There was a pause on the other end of the line. “Make a firm decision by noon and call me back,” he said abruptly. When I called him back an hour later to let him know I had decided to leave he said, “Meet me at 2:00 at Village Inn.”

We met that afternoon and he offered me a job. Within a few hours of deciding to leave, I had another job. Of course, my old mentor made a step of faith in asking me to join his consulting firm, but he also felt the divine timing of events. He did not have enough work to pay me much and had to trust that there would be new projects coming that he couldn’t see. The new opportunity was not a slam dunk or a sure thing by any stretch of the imagination. I was leaving a tenuous position to an even more tenuous position, but it was the right timing and I knew it in my soul. As I drove home that day, and I pulled into the driveway I heard Holy Spirit whisper clearly in my soul:

“Take this job and stick with it. You will be blessed.”

I took the job, stuck with it, and have been immensely blessed. That was 20 years ago next summer.

Along life’s road I have found a mysterious tension between taking personal initiative and waiting on divine timing. I even struggle to define it well, yet I can look back and see how certain circumstances and life decisions happened at what I know to be a divinely appointed moment in time. Had I attempted to make something happen by force of personal will it would not have worked out the way it was supposed to happen. Yet, it was important for me to be sensitive to God’s hand moving in my circumstances and listening for Holy Spirit’s whisper in my soul.

Today we read about the second of three opportunities that David had to take the life of the man who was hunting him: King Saul. His men even encouraged David to take personal initiative when the opportunity to do so presented itself. David, however, was sensitive to the tension between personal initiative and divine timing. David understood that Saul, despite his flaws, had been God’s choice to be King and God alone should end Saul’s reign.

Today, I’m grateful for God’s perfect timing which I see in many different experiences along life’s road. I want to continue holding that mysterious tension between personal initiative and divine timing, as elusive and ill defined as it seems.

6 thoughts on “A Mysterious Tension: Personal Initiative and Divine Timing”

  1. Something similar to this happened to me back in 1996. I had been working at a lumber yard in Ames, Iowa for nine years. I finished my degree at Iowa State in 1995. I applied to three law schools, but was not accepted (which was fine with me because I was tired of the liberal academic establishment). I continued to work at the lumber yard till April of 1996.

    The last three weeks at the yard I was really hating working there. I began to pray and I asked the Lord why I hated working there—I had always liked working there. Then the Lord told me that His Grace was not with me any more at the lumber yard. The Lord told me to quit. So I quit.

    A month later I hitchhiked across the United States, came back to Ames and another job was put in my lap: I began to work at Pike Construction Company. This was the beginning of my hitchhiking travels in the United States: I would hitchhike and then Pike Construction would rehire me; the last time I worked there was in 2001. I am still on the road.

    God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts.

    “A Thumb and a Prayer”
    http://hitchhikeamerica.wordpress.com/a-thumb-and-a-prayer/

    “The Saint Louis Crossing Independent Methodist Church”
    http://hitchhikeamerica.wordpress.com/2013/04/18/the-saint-louis-crossing-independent-methodist-church/

  2. Thanks for this story, Tom. I find myself in a similar situation. Many call this mid-life crisis. I call it God’s tug. I’m not sure what is planned for me, but I’m being prepared for something. My struggle is clarity in the call. God, make it abundantly clear where you need me. Amen.

  3. 12 So David took the spear and jug of water that were near Saul’s head. Then he and Abishai got away without anyone seeing them or even waking up, because the Lord had put Saul’s men into a deep sleep.

    This story flies in the face of those who say God isn’t involved in the day-to-day details of life. The ONLY reason David and Abishai didn’t wake up the guards was because God had put them into a deep sleep. Co-incidence? I think not. I had a conversation recently with a young lady who was wondering what God’s level of involvement was in her life. He’s present. He listens. He protects. What a mighty God we serve.

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