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The end of nice

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I had a nice house: the wide front porch my wife always hoped for, a great backyard the kids could frolic in, a garden, a master suite with fireplace and claw-foot tub. It was all so, well, nice.  Then God called.

I wasn’t expecting to hear from him as clearly as I did. At least not in an Abrahamic “Go west, young man!” kind of way. But, with a myriad of subtleties, this is what the Lord did. He came with his still, too-quiet voice, and disturbed my nice.

Had I not known of Abraham and his strange propensity to heed the speaking silence, I may have concluded I had lost my marbles. Instead, there was an unquenchable rightness and drive to pack up and hit the trail. My wife and I both felt it. Our kids recognized something holy in the wind. We said, “Yes, Lord.”

Risky speech

“Yes, Lord” has always been risky speech. If you want safe and nice, avoid this “yes.” Of course, that will be like throwing wet sand on the campfire of your soul, but, let’s be honest: “Yes, Lord” changes everything.

“Yes, Lord” will disturb everything you hold as nice. It will be the most right and wrong thing you ever say. You will know you know you want to say it, and then – much to your chagrin – you discover the Lord is up to more than merely satisfying your itch for adventure and self-fulfillment.

I should have known something was up when our house wouldn’t sell. The weeks passed and not a hint of interest. We prayed, oh, we prayed. We spruced it up. Not a whiff. Days dropped off the calendar, a sinister countdown to a nomadic life with nowhere to lay our heads. This is not nice.

Then, an email. A generous family in our new city, 4,000 kilometres away, would open up their basement apartment for us. All seven of us. In a two-bedroom basement suite? “Yes, Lord.” We packed up to head in an occidental direction wondering if this was an accident waiting to happen.

I should have known something was up at the airport. Our earthly possessions boxed and shipped, we arrived as a clan to wing our way west. Our youngest, still bearing signs of the chicken pox, was spotted by an anal – I mean diligent – attendant. The threatening 10-month-old would not be permitted to fly. The plane was boarding as we stood rejected and dejected at security. Five of us would go ahead. My wife and red-spotted, blonde-topped son would stay behind. Nice. “Yes, Lord?”

Reunited in a land far, far away, we awaited the sale of our home so we could settle in the land of call. Nothing. Nada. Zip. As the months passed, it seemed we were destined to raise our kids in someone else’s basement while our perfectly nice house sat empty an inaccessible distance away. So many signs of the Spirit’s leading; so many logical arguments to run in the opposite direction. I wrestled with everything. I wrestled with God. Like Abraham’s grandson, I asked for blessing.

A perilous adventure

“Yes, Lord” is perilously adventurous. “Yes, Lord” gives verbal consent to holy refining. I should have known better. In this year at the end of nice, I have been thoroughly tested.

Am I God’s man or the man of my own making? Do I love my wife as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her or am I just a selfish bundle of all-too-adolescent testosterone? Will I live bound in a self-concocted and self-controlled world of nice or free as a bondservant of Christ? Is my parenting based upon what others perceive or on what God requires of me? Is my sense of worth built upon a comfortable, middle-class house of sticks? Am I fickle, shallow, and so self-absorbed that I have equated God’s call with God’s obligation to make me happy? Will I only love and serve God if he’s nice to me? Do I really believe mission, true Missio Dei, can come cheap?

These are the angels I wrestle with. They are not demons. These are divine messengers that confront my world of nice and help me accept the call with joy, trust the leading hand, and learn contentment. These angels are not nice. They rarely answer direct questions with direct answers. They beat around the bush. They beat upon my weary soul. They leave me with a limp. It is not nice.

But, “yes, Lord,” it is good, and I know by now that something is up.

Phil Wagler is senior associate pastor with Gracepoint Community Church, Surrey, B.C.

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