“You need to leave,” a Voice said.
I lifted my head and looked around but all the other women were listening to Ginger speaking at the front of the room. I saw her lips moving but no sounds were coming out of her mouth and yet women were nodding their heads in response.
I closed my eyes. I knew that Voice. I’d heard it before. I knew He meant business. I braced myself, knowing something big was coming.
In January of 2009 I sat in a church classroom with 50 other women. At the time, I was the Ministry Director and that particular day we were hosting a Bible study coffee…a time for ladies to hear the descriptions of our upcoming classes as the new semester would start the next week. I had my clipboard in hand and was reviewing our schedule for the morning; my mind was looking ahead as I half listened to the teachers sharing. But then He spoke and my body functions ceased.
“You need to leave. I want you to go outside the walls.”
“But, Lord,” I began explaining, “You don’t understand! Our ministry team is rocking. We have great programs. Ladies are filling their hearts and home with Jesus. It’s all good!”
Silence. No reply. I knew I had no chance, no evidence to sway Him or change His mind. But I still stubbornly held my ground…waiting. And then He spoke again.
“But where I want to take you, you can’t bring this.”
For the next three months I wrestled with God, telling no one. I didn’t want to leave my ladies, my team, our special classes, the upcoming ministry events…even my office. So many wonderful conversations and plans had happened in there. I loved coming to work! But then I gave in. Exhausted from trying to compromise with God, I told my closest friends and ministry team about His request. That June I cleaned off my desk and shut the office door behind me. I was excited but frightened, eager to follow but afraid of failing. I had no idea where, how or who would be filling my future.
Peter struggled with the net. It had been a horrible wreck of a night. Not one single fish had been caught even though his sore muscles proved he had been hard at work since sunset. Now he sat in the boat as the sun began to slowly peek over the horizon. He was tired, dirty, confused and broken hearted. He was also feeling alone and out of place even though his fishing buddies were with him. He stole a sideways glance at John. The youngest disciple was sitting and staring out over the sea, tears silently falling down his cheeks. He made no effort to wipe them away or let others know he was crying. He just sat and gave in to the constant quiet lull of the boat’s movement.
Peter lowered his head down into his hands. “What is going on? What have I done?” Just days ago, he had been on fire for Jesus, then he denied Him, then Jesus was crucified. As sobs rose up in this chest, excruciating pain broke his heart. He HEARD Jesus, he was sure of it but THIS never entered his mind to be part of the ministry process. Peter wracked his brain trying to determine where he had failed, what he had done to cause this confusion and sorrow among the disciples. He was the leader and now a failure. Even resuming their fishing was a waste of time. He didn’t know what to do. He felt hopeless.
But then a Voice spoke. Peter lifted his head and searched the shore. He knew that Voice!
“Put your nets into the water on the other side.” And in less than an hour, all three boats were so full of fish they barely made it to shore.
“Bring some of what you’ve caught,” Jesus said, encouraging them to place it on the fire of burning coals with His fish and bread. As they sat around the fire eating the breakfast that Jesus had prepared, the friends reconnected, reminisced and refreshed their spirits. Then Jesus pulled Peter away for a private chat. Peter bristled at first anticipating to be reprimanded. He knew he had denied and lied, personally causing consequences for everyone. But Jesus’ face was gentle and inviting. Peter took a deep breath and waited.
“Peter, I need you to leave.”
“But, Lord, the guys and I are fisherman and we have plans.”
“Peter, I need you to feed My sheep…out there. Where I want to take you, you can’t bring this.”
“Peter, you are an amazing fisherman. You have many God given talents. Your commitment and effort is outstanding. You are strong and resourceful. You can succeed on your own even with some limitations…but I need you to leave all that and follow Me. I need you to “fish” differently and somewhere else. I have MORE for you! I need you to trust Me. I need you to leave your plans and choose to do Mine.”
Peter stood quietly but his mind was turning and his heart racing. “Ummm, where? How? Do I get a blueprint? An agenda? A budget? We have families and marriages to maintain. Without You here every day, this may get a little overwhelming for us.”
Peter looked into Jesus’ eyes. He knew his questions were hopeless but he had to try. This was a journey of blind faith outside human spreadsheets and policies. He knew what Jesus was doing. Jesus was asking him to walk away from resources and simply rest in grace.
“Lord, how will I know if I am doing the right stuff…what You’re asking of me? Do you have a list of goals and measurements I can use?”
“Peter, do you love Me? Then just feed My sheep. I will give you everything you’ll need. Why would I send you out on a mission alone? To fail at something I need you you do?”
Peter shuffled his feet, pushing the sand around with his sandals, watching it filter and fall through his toes. He knew what he needed to do but he was nervous…him, the impatient and often passionately obnoxious disciple. He looked around and saw John. “But what about him?”
“Nevermind about others and what I have them doing. I need you to focus on what I’ve called YOU to do.”
The sun was now higher in the morning sky and its rays began slowly seeping into Peter’s face. He removed part of his tunic, intentionally folding it in his hands, taking time as his heart wrestled with his head. A few seagulls flew overhead. Peter had to choose: a life of control and security vs every day dependency and unknown circumstances. All night he had fished on his own strength and Jesus had simply told the fish to go away. Nothing Peter could have done would have succeeded without His approval. Yet because of his simple obedience, Jesus called the fish back and filled his nets beyond capacity and imagination. The anxiety and fear within him drained away as he looked back to Jesus. He knew no other answer to give.
“Yes, Lord. I will leave my boat and I will follow You.”
Looking back on my life as Ministry Director, I now see what I left behind…what He asked me to give up. At first I was petrified with a part of me thinking I had failed Him and He was demoting me, relieving me of my duties. But it wasn’t ministry or my faith or my passion or work for Him that He was stripping from my hands. It was the man-made security in which I had surrounded myself: the four walls, electricity, paper, books, supplies, resources, a budget, people, access to promotion and advertising,…everything stable and guaranteed. In the weeks to follow, I was a complete emotional mess. Things did not go as smoothly as I imagined. Many days I simply lay on my living room floor crying out in fear, convinced I had heard Him wrong, confused as to how to begin or where to go. But it was right there…in my living room, where He needed me.
“Feed my sheep” meant opening my door to 15 women from the neighborhood, gathering and sitting on that exact same floor. But this time we cried out in excitement, jumping into His Word and discovering our role models: the Great Women of the Bible! We laughed, cried, pondered, questioned and shared our lives and faith. We filled our hearts with Him to then fill our homes with His presence.
Within six months of my leaving the church, all the special classes and events our team had established were dissolved by the new leader. God, one by one, handed them back to resume them at the Vineyard. The ministry He started was still there but now had a new location reaching new women outside the church walls. Could I have ignored God and stayed at the church? Yes, classes would have continued, events would occur, life would go on…but would I have continued being as joyful to work there? Probable not, as He would have continued to pull my heart. Abundant blessings and the extraordinary occur only through complete obedience, as partial obedience is still disobedience. Was I working for Him or letting Him work through me? All my passion and effort meant nothing if my heart was not totally His. I needed to choose.
Was I frightened? Overwhelmed? Did I feel totally out of control? YES! But a dear friend told me, “That’s exactly where He wants you! Rely on Him and not your own resources. It’s HIS ministry!” Did that mean I then could sit around and just wait for funding and supplies to fall into my lap? No. I needed to STEP OUT, take that first step in faith just like Joshua did at Jericho. I needed to empty my hands to receive what He provided, just like the widow did with her oil. TRUST and OBEY…for there’s no other way.
In Biblical history,
- A big fish opened and shut his mouth.
- Waves and winds calmed down.
- A section of water drew back to reveal the ground.
- Rain fell from the sky.
- A large school of fish swam one way and then another.
Jonah, Peter, Moses, Noah, the disciples…all were just ordinary men who stepped out and trusted God, not having any idea if they would fail or succeed. They just trusted. They just wanted to be with Him. They just wanted to follow Him wherever or however the outcome, believing He knew what was best…knowing He would show them bigger and better than their minds could conceive! Yes, some events were miracles but they were ordinary as well. God works within in His realm of nature but adds His personal shade of glory, His extraordinary to the ordinary. God uses water, fish, fire, birds, storms…all natural, but He has the power and authority to interrupt and direct outside the patterns, thus intervening to BLESS and CHANGE hearts!
Peter was a fisherman. I am a writer and teacher. Both are normal, natural careers that can be used to benefit and impact others. But if Peter and I let go of OUR control and LET God direct our path and work, He WILL do mighty things way beyond our imaginations and limitations!
He told the fish to go away. He told me to leave the church. Nothing Peter and I could have done would have been successful if we kept going. And so we left and followed. Because we love Him. His power fills in where our work ends; His strength completes our weaknesses and limitations. But the timing is not in our hands. We need to watch and listen and step out when He speaks. We can come up with ideas and spreadsheets and work ’til midnight, but all will be in vain if it is not HIS plan and timing.
“Do with what you have until God gives you more,” my mentor reminds me. I, of course, do not want to wait. I want to build and create and expand for Him. I want to welcome in so many more ladies. I want people to empty their pockets and throw money at us. I want them to be just as excited as we are. I want a secure bank account and a strong credit line. I want to minister without worrying. But then there’s that thing that Jesus told Peter and His disciples: “Give us today our DAILY bread.” He also reminded them, “I take care of the birds and their needs. I love you more so wouldn’t I see and provide for your needs too?”
Yes, Lord. I trust and believe. So I will step out, leave and follow.