Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Not that long ago, a pastor friend called me up and asked to have lunch. When we sat down together a few days later I could immediately tell there was a problem. I already knew that he had been feeling frustrated in his ministry due to some of his church members being extremely resistant to change and new ideas. However, some recent actions by a small group of his leaders took the problem to a whole new level. My friend poured out his heart, expressed all his hurts, and then looked up at me and asked, “Greg, what should I do?”

Now I’m all for lending a listening ear, for I have needed others to do that for me on many occasions. However, when someone needs more than just an outlet to vent frustrations, but actually asks for advice and guidance, I get worried for I know they might not like the answer.

In this particular situation, the steps my friend needed to take were quite clear. I knew they would be painful steps to take but they were absolutely necessary. As gently as possible, I spent the next thirty minutes examining with him the issues and outlining the things he needed to do to address them. The further we got into our conversation and the more he realized and accepted the necessity of taking certain actions, the more crestfallen he became. I actually believe he already knew what needed to be done, but he hadn’t wanted to face the truth of it. He sat there facing an internal crisis. Would he or could he be strong enough to step forward in faith an do what was necessary?

As he sat on the brink of failure, I put before him three questions. First I asked, “If you take these steps and make the changes that you’ve agreed are needed, will you ultimately feel better about yourself and at least create the possibility of the positive changes you are seeking?” His answer was yes. Then I asked, “If you do these things, what’s the worst possible response your church leaders could have?” He said that although unlikely, they could fire him, which I had to agree was a possibility. Then I asked my final question. “What happens if you do nothing?” He response couldn’t have been more accurate. “Nothing.”

Sadly, I know that my friend went and did just that – nothing. He’s still in that situation today. Unhappy, Unsatisfied. Unchanged. Asking for help and guidance is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal, but what’s the point of asking when you’re unwilling to respond to the answer?

Let’s turn to Scripture for another example.

16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Matthew 19:16–22, ESV)

This young man was seeking. He just didn’t like what he found. He wanted to know what “good deeds” he could do, but what Jesus desired for him was to remove the idol from his life so that He, the Son of God, could fill that space. The man walked away emotionally and spiritually destroyed because he couldn’t part from what was most precious to him. The problem was not in the question that was asked, as misguided as that questions was, but in the man’s refusal to appropriately respond to the answer he received.

I think many of us struggle in the same way. I know that sometimes I don’t want to face the truth of what God has to say about certain areas of my life. Therefore, I might be tempted to adopt the “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach with God when it comes to those sensitive issues. Maybe, like me, there have been moments when you’ve asked God what to do about an issue or crisis in your life, but you didn’t really like the answer you received. Where God was leading you was a place you were too afraid to go.

Well, I’ve got some good news and some bad new for you. The good news is that God is still willing to guide you and help you resolve the tough problems you are facing. The bad news is that God’s Word doesn’t change. (Actually, that’s good news but it sure can feel frustrating!) If God has spoken to you previously about certain changes, specific commitments, or different plans you need to make in order to fix a problem you are facing, then those things are still true today. You can try to run from God, but you’ll find that He’s always waiting for you with the same solution as before. He won’t force you to change, but He will patiently and lovingly leave you in that trial until you humbly submit to His plan.

I know that you might be feeling fearful or anxious about doing the things you know God wants you to do. You’re sitting there right now facing an internal crisis wondering if you have the strength to step out in faith. Allow me to leave you with three questions that I hope will help.

  1. Would you ultimately be happier, stronger, and closer to God if you made the changes you know God is calling you to make? You and I both know the answer is yes. If God is leading to change in some area of your life, whether great or small, you can be confident that the end result will be a positive one.
  2. What’s the worst thing that can happen if you make those changes? I’m not much for dwelling on the negative, but I think it’s valuable to do so in this instance. What will these changes and new commitments cost you? Your job? A friend? Your time, effort, or money? No matter the cost, it is worth it if you’re doing what God would have you do.
  3. What happens if you do nothing? You already know the answer to this one.

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