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Holy Spirit disruptions: Go/Wait

Lynne Baab • Friday July 16 2021

Holy Spirit disruptions: Go/Wait

The Bible and Christian history are full of stories of God telling people to go somewhere. The command to wait is quite frequent, too. God’s word to us to go, as well as God’s instructions to wait, often come to us as a disruption.

Elizabeth Elliot (1926-2015) was a hero of mine when I was a young Christian. Early in my twenties, I heard her speak, and I was captivated by her description of the obedience that took her first husband, Jim Elliot (1927-1956), to a South American tribe to share the Gospel. Instead of becoming Christians, the people there killed him and his companions. I memorized the statement Jim made: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

When I was in my mid-twenties, Dave and I felt a strong call from God to serve as self-supporting missionaries in a country where Christians missionaries find it hard to get visas. Dave got a position teaching dentistry in Shiraz, Iran, and we made a mental commitment to be there three to five years. Oddly enough, the Holy Spirit disruption did not come when we went to Iran. That felt like a challenging and interesting adventure to us. The disruption came six months later, when the Iranian revolution was coming into full bloom, and God said, “Go.”

What? We had followed God’s guidance to Iran, expecting to be there several years, and we’re supposed to leave after only six months? I felt so disoriented. (Our son, Mike, wrote about our time in Iran here. Cute old photos in the article!)

God led us to Israel, where Dave got an 18-month job teaching in the dental school in Tel Aviv. The time in Israel was wonderful in so many ways. A gift from God that came from disruption.

During our time in both Iran and Israel, we felt the companionship of people in the Bible who responded to God’s call to go somewhere, beginning with Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 12), to whom God promises a land. Centuries later, God sends the people of Israel into exile in Babylon because of their disobedience. Talk about a disruption! God sends Ezra and Nehemiah back to Israel. God tell prophets like Jeremiah to go – not on a journey involving travel but on a journey involving speaking God’s truth and living with the consequences. The disruption that Jeremiah experienced is visible in his passionate prayers (Jeremiah 12:1-415:15-1820:7-18, and 20:14-18).

The ultimate traveler, of course, is Jesus, who left intimacy with his Father to come to earth of our sakes. The disruption he experienced by coming to earth is visible in his passionate prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46). Listen for the disruption in these words from the Apostle Paul: “You are familiar with the generosity of our Master, Jesus Christ. Rich as he was, he gave it all away for us—in one stroke he became poor and we became rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9, The Message).

Waiting is also a common theme in the Bible, and being asked to wait can feel very disruptive. I’ll write more about that next week.

During the pandemic, Dave and I have experienced a big “go” and a big “wait.” Both had components of disruption and components of gifts. Last year in May and June, while we were holed up in our house in Seattle, we noticed how well New Zealand was doing in the pandemic, and we started wondering if we should return there. We hold permanent residence there because I taught there for ten years. 

We conferred with friends, and never have I experienced so much enthusiasm for something I was proposing to do. Most people wanted to come along with us! In July, we bought tickets for early September, and one factor that made the decision easy was that our son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter had moved to Brooklyn, New York, six months earlier.

In August, our son and his family suddenly decided to move back to Seattle, and they arrived two weeks before we left for New Zealand. We could have changed our minds about going, but we continued to hear God saying “go.” Being in New Zealand for the first six months was a great gift, coupled with huge sadness because of the suffering of friends and family members in the United States.

Beginning in March, things shifted in my mind. My mother and friends who work in health care were fully vaccinated. My other friends were getting their first shots. Our granddaughter turned seven, and every day without seeing her felt like losing a chunk of her childhood. By April it was clear we could get on a plane to Seattle and get a vaccination within a day or two of arriving. And God said “wait.”

We didn’t have to wait that long, but it felt like forever. By late May, we were able to get our first shots and appointments for the second, so we were able to book flights for June 24. We are happy to be back in our home, and completely thrilled to be able to spend time with our granddaughter.

So many of the disruptions I have experienced when God says “go” have had big gifts attached. The gifts are wonderful, but the disruptions are real. I wonder if you have also experienced this juxtaposition of going, feeling disrupted yet also perceiving blessings.

(Next week: waiting. Illustration by Dave Baab: the patio of one of the five places we lived in our eight months in Dunedin. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” below.)

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