Anytime God has invited me into His work, He has asked me only for faithful obedience.
I have, however, typically added stipulations and expectations onto those invitations. Some of those stipulations and expectations could be characterized as genuine anticipation of what God might do. My heart was hopeful, but somewhere along the way, I started imagining exactly what I'd hoped He might do. Sweet and simple faith then turned into something more subtly sinister. He'd asked me to be faithful and, in my movement forward, I'd wanted to tell Him precisely what that faithfulness should look like and precisely what should result from it.
When God gave me children, He invited me into faithful parenting. Follow Me as this little one follows you, He'd said. Before the first child was even free from the womb, I'd already encased him in my expectations of who he'd be, of what gift I wanted God to give. The little boy came and the reality of him was so different than my expectations. When I turned my questions toward God, He seemed to say, "I simply asked for your faithfulness with this little one."
When God called us to plant a church, He offered me an invitation into faithful service. I responded with obedience but also a clear and detailed plan of what would result from my obedience. My husband and I had dreams and all the dreams were big, God-sized, God-honoring dreams. What could be wrong with that? The dreams, however, were not what God had originally asked from me. He had asked only for my faithfulness.
God asks for our faithfulness, but we don't get to choose the shape our faithfulness takes.
We simply say "yes" and God takes that "yes" and makes what He wants with it, both for our good and for His glory. If we attach expectations–what shape our faithfulness should take–or demand certain results or fruit from our "yes", we will be consistently frustrated and angry, and we will consistently miss the joy of simple obedience.
When I tried to choose the shape of my faithfulness in parenting, I felt like a failure. In church planting, my dreams created a gnawing thought that clung tightly to me: God has somehow let me down. Or perhaps I've let Him down and need to try harder. I couldn't see obedience as the gift and the freedom that it is, the freedom that leaves the shape-making up to our sovereign God.
Sometimes we just have to go back to the beginning, to the initial invitation. In every instance when God invites us into His work, there aren't stipulations and there aren't guarantees, aside from the most important guarantee: that He'll never leave us. We must remember what pleases God. It's faith–faith that leads to simple obedience.
When we return to the invitation, it's easier to see that we're often harder on ourselves than God is.
My friend teared up recently as she told me that she didn't understand why God hadn't moved in a certain way, a way that is right and good and dear to His Father-heart. She was willing, oh-so-willing, to serve Him sacrificially and, like Abraham with Isaac, God had led her so far and then not required the final act. But, I said, you responded with faithful obedience. It seems that's all God is asking for right now. And you've done it! His heart is so happy.
I see myself in her: wanting to do everything possible to serve and honor the Lord, wanting to serve the least of these. I don't think it's true of her, but it's true of me: I also want my faith to be visible to others. Why is it that I want results to validate my faith? Why is that I want my faith to be seen and celebrated by others, but I'm not quick to listen for the sweet celebration of my God?
That's what it comes down to for me, because faith isn't always tangible in its outcome. Sometimes it's an unseen "yes", a BIG unseen "yes", and God doesn't in the end act as we thought He would. Sometimes what others see in our outward circumstances doesn't match that unseen "yes". However, every unseen "yes" is always, ALWAYS seen–and celebrated–by the God who asked for it.