Perhaps the harshest word we ever hear growing up is also one of the shortest: “No.” “No” is a small word that packs an enormous amount of power. It has the ability to both prevent and protect. Children, however, almost singularly see the prevention side of this command, seeing “no” as only a barrier hemming them in. In reality, though, telling them no is more like a gateway to better living. “No, do not touch that electrical outlet.” “No, do not touch that hot stove.” “No, do not play in the middle of the street,” etc. Youthful ignorance and curiosity sometimes doesn’t see the protection, only the prevention in those words. Sometimes, we do the same with God. When the Heavenly Father says no to us, we often react not unlike a toddler throwing a tantrum. What’s your reaction when God says no? What happens when God closes a door and denies your seemingly good intentions? Do you still see the protection and preservation of his hand in that moment? Or do you see it as another instance of him preventing you from enjoying life and fulfilling a dream?
At the end of King David’s life, he expresses a desire to build a house for the Lord. “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent.” (2 Sam. 7:2; 1 Chron. 17:1) A passion arises in David to construct a temple for Jehovah — not for his own renown but for the worship, honor, and glory of the almighty God that had sustained him throughout his life. It is a good desire and the prophet Nathan even confirms his aspirations, saying, “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you.” (2 Sam. 7:3; 1 Chron. 17:2) God’s will is seemingly clear: David would erect a house for the Lord in which generation after generation could extol the God that had delivered them and is now preserving them.
It is natural for us to conclude that such an impulse would not only be recognized by God but would be commended and allowed to be carried out. But the Lord’s plans were different for David. God denied him. God said no. “Thus says the Lord: It is not you who will build me a house to dwell in.” (1 Chron. 17:4) The good intention in David’s heart wasn’t to be. It wasn’t God’s will for David to build the temple, rather, only to prepare the way for the temple. We see this at the beginning of 1 Chronicles 22, where David begins stockpiling materials and resources for the promised construction of God’s house — the house he would never get to see. (1 Chron. 22:2–5) He then commissions his son Solomon to “arise and work” (1 Chron. 22:16), for he was the one that should see the glory of the Lord’s house. The blueprint was there. The plans were made. The materials were collected. But the building wouldn’t be realized in David’s day. This must’ve been perplexing for David. The man after God’s own heart would never get to walk in God’s house.
But where David desired the good thing of constructing the Lord’s temple, God had a better plan. As is always the case, his ways aren’t our ways, nor his plans our plans. God promises to David that he would raise up his offspring, Solomon, who would usher in a reign of peace and prosperity in God’s kingdom. “When your days are fulfilled to walk with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever.” (1 Chron. 17:11–12) I can’t help but think that these words aren’t only intended to foreshadow what God would do through Solomon, but also what he’d do through his Son. He wasn’t only going to raise up David’s son, he was going to bring a Savior, the one who would bring true, lasting peace and rest for the nations. The promised Messiah would come from “David’s body.” (2 Sam. 7:12) The true and better Son of David would come and establish God’s Kingdom.
David might’ve wanted to build God a house, but God’s plan was better: he was going to build David a house. “Moreover, I declare to you that the Lord will build you a house.” (1 Chron. 17:10) God makes a covenant with David, something much better than any construction project David could’ve pulled off. And, so, David passes away, denied a good thing, but promised a better one. God had closed a door but had opened another.
You may be wondering why I’ve chosen this biblical story to recount. Well, for me, it’s as relevant as ever. It’s tough hearing God’s “no,” especially when it doesn’t sound like protection, only prevention. It seems as though God has taken my heart, put it on his anvil, and hammered me in all manner of unexpected ways. The last few weeks have been spiritually trying, to say the least.
At the end of January, I announced my new role as part-time youth pastor at a new church in Stuart, Florida. I closed by saying, “We step out into this next chapter of life and service not assured of the end but assured of the One who is already there.” The end was definitely not assured, as it has come far quicker than I ever imagined. As of this past Sunday, I have officially resigned my position and role in that church — a decision that wasn’t hastily made, nor made on a whim or a feeling or an emotion. It was a decision made through a great deal of agony and prayer. The perplexing realization that the good thing I desired, the “noble task” I longed for (1 Tim. 3:1), was being denied me has only served to intensify my faith. I’m still not sure why God has allowed me to go through this, but I’m praying for God’s patience, for his guidance, and for his grace to shine in more spectacular ways through it all.
Two primary factors led to this conclusion. The first arose during a conversation I had with a dear brother in Christ. As we were talking, we began discussing young men in ministry — he himself being a very young campus pastor. But as he was explaining his heart for the gospel and preaching, he reminded me that ministry isn’t about having a paid staff position or fancy title after your name. It’s just about loving people and being there for them, through moments of victory and defeat, gain and loss. I thought a lot about that conversation, and afterwards I came to the realization that part of my desire for this position in Stuart was for the title itself. The “good thing” I sought after was laminated with my own pride. I wasn’t necessarily seeking a ministry as opposed to a ministry title. And nothing ashames me more than to admit that. I never want to be one who seeks to puff up his own name. Yet, I was doing that, under the guise of ministry.
The second factor that came into play was the birth of my daughter. Having Lydia in my life has really reoriented my entire perspective on life itself. They say that having children changes you, and it does, it really changes you. But even these are changes I didn’t expect. I expected to be humbled, I didn’t expect to be reworked like this. Things that mattered to me before just don’t anymore. Things I concerned myself with are left alone to concern myself with her. I’m not blaming my daughter for my current departure from ministry. Not at all. It’s simply that I recognized that I don’t need a ministry position in order to minister. In fact, my primary calling and my first priority ought to be the ministry of home.
These two realizations — the primacy of the ministry of home and the pride of my desires — collided. And when they did, they served to rearrange all the most important considerations of my heart. The agony and embarrassment of leaving a ministry you felt called to can really cause you to have an identity crisis. As strongly as I felt called to this church only a few weeks ago, I now feel strongly about moving on. And knowing that God is putting this on my heart is all the more perplexing. Like David, the good thing is being denied. And at first, I was honestly depressed. I had so many questions. If I wasn’t called here, then am I really called at all? If I’m not called to minister to this church, am I even called to ministry in the first place? Why, God, are You denying this passion in me? Why are You preventing me from preaching Your name? Am I just wasting my time with writing about this whole gospel thing? These thoughts and a thousand more like them racked my brain.
But it was then that God brought something back to my mind that’s been one of the most inescapable thoughts for me of late, which is, the truth that I don’t have to be anybody to be somebody for God. He doesn’t need me to lead a movement or start a reformation or be the next gospel crusader. He doesn’t even need me to be a pastor. As much as I might aspire to those ends, God doesn’t really need those things. He just wants me to be faithful, where I am, with what I’m doing, right now. God closed the door on me because I think he knew that, perhaps, I needed a few more seasons of meekness under my belt. Because, you see, when God closes a door, he doesn’t always open a window. Sometimes he just wants you to be content in the room you’re in.
That’s me right now, learning to be content in room of quiet faithfulness, content with just being a godly father, husband, church member, and employee. I’m learning to let the gospel overwhelm these parts of my life first. I’m learning to be okay with not being significant. I’m learning to discover the radicality of being ordinary.
Maybe if we discover the opportunities of the ordinary, a fondness for the familiar, and marvel again at the mundane, we will be radical after all. (Horton, 27)
Again, I don’t write this for views or likes to retweets. I write this for my own catharsis. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to rationalize and reconcile what has occurred with what I thought was going to happen. Besides, if I didn’t write this stuff down, I’d hear it twice anyway: once as I confide in my wife, and then forever after that as the voices in my head berate me with thoughts of failure and fatigue. I’m a dweller — I dwell and think and muse on things that happen to the point where I get stressed over them, over outcomes that haven’t even occurred yet. This dwelling both is a blessing and a curse. It blesses me to be able to think deeply about things, but it’s also a curse that such deep thinking often turns into obsession and discouragement. I often imagine the worst and that’s what I end up dwelling on. I still struggle with that. And since we’re being honest, even as I write this I’m thinking the worst about you and what you’ll think of me as I disclose all these things. I’m worried you’ll no longer like me or accept me or approve of me, and I’ll be a failure once again. A twice failure: failing my own goals and your expectations (at least what I think are your expectations).
I hope that you’ll pray for me during this season as God continues to chisel me into the man he wants me to be. I’m praying that his will for my life would become evident — but even if it doesn’t become crystal clear right away, I’m praying for contentment even there. I’m praying that I’d be okay with not worrying about next year or next month or next week, but that I’d be okay with concerning myself with the here and now. I’m praying that I’d be able to minister to my wife better. I’m praying that I’d take each moment with my daughter and influence her with the gospel. I’m praying that I’d continue to display grace to my friends and family without being behind a pulpit. I’m praying that I’d be at peace with the ministry of home and that I wouldn’t be caught up with all the successful youth ministries that I seemingly didn’t live up to. I’m praying that I’d be okay with God’s denial.
God doesn’t always open a window after he closes the door. But even still, I’m going to praise him in the hallway. I know that many close to these circumstances might be confused or even angry with this decision. I know that as much as I might try and explain what has occurred in my heart, you might only see this as a betrayal of your trust. And I’m deeply sorry for that. I know that God did, indeed, have me in this role for a particular reason, and I know he has a purpose in calling me out of it — I just don’t know what that is yet. I don’t know what exactly he’s desirous of me to learn through all of this. Nor do I know what he has in store for me in the weeks and months to come. But I do know that he is with me, and that’s enough. He might’ve said “no” to me in this, but for everything else, his “yes” is Christ. And that’s all I really need.
- Michael Horton, Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014).