Faith to Leave
By Andre Castillo
For those of us who drive, I would venture to say that we generally get behind the steering wheel with a concrete notion of where we are headed. In this day and age, we may not have a picture in our minds, but have a trusted navigator in Siri, who can direct us step by step along the way. Or, in case you are as curious as I, you may take the helm on occasion to seek an exciting new road, to process thoughts and emotions, or to experience the sheer joy of driving. But I would venture to say that a person does not sit behind the steering wheel without at least a subconscious notion of being in control, the captain of the ship, director of the journey, or cultivator of destiny.
In life, the human temptation is the same: to be the cultivator of our own destiny. The spirit of independence in our culture hardly lends itself to outsourcing navigational control. Yet this is the crux of the Christian life: the practice of relinquishing control to the Author and Finisher of our faith, in trust that He will complete what He has begun in us.
It can be particularly difficult to submit the reins to God when we lack any foreknowledge of the intended destination, or at least a few concrete steps along the way. I can recall a few times in my life when following the call of Christ required that I forsake both the need for control and the need to appoint a designated destination in advance. The only direction given in these challenging seasons was: leave. I recall the departure from the first undergraduate school I attended, unsure of where I would transfer, but confident in the call to depart from an unhealthy environment. I experienced the same single direction on the drive home from a lost love interest’s presence, recognizing that I could never go back, and without a single idea as to what my life would look like moving forward. In the same way, leaving a position at a thriving church plant in Los Angeles, to support my wife’s calling to an internship in Chicago, left me with a keen knowledge of what I had left behind, and little understanding of what God had in mind for the future. These were seasons of my life when, if I were to respond to the calling of Christ on my life, I would need to move to the passenger’s seat in obedience, and trust that the One who made me would lead me along the appointed route.
I would be remiss if I did not admit that in addition to being seasons of perceived obedience, these were also seasons of fear, anxiety, and heartbreak. Having sacrificed the route I had carefully crafted ahead of time, I must also admit that I approached these seasons of clear calling with more than a little objection. But ultimately, when God calls us to leave where we are and follow Him, we either respond or we miss out on the promises God makes to those who follow.
Scripture paints portraits for us of those who trustingly relinquished control of their journeys, and those who refused. As we will discover, obedience to God and the achievement of His best for us is often as much about where we are headed as it is about what we leave behind. In this chapter in human history when progress has been deified without regard for the baggage we accumulate along the way, perhaps there has never been a more pressing opportunity to leave behind all that would prevent us from experiencing God’s promises.
Leaving All Else Behind
Consider the conversations we read between Jesus and a few would-be followers in Luke 9:57-62 (NRSV):
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Scripture does not reveal the final outcome of the conversations between Jesus and these last-minute objectors to his calling, but we see (and can possibly relate to) the hesitancy and lack of urgency on behalf of the called. These people had plans. They had families and fortunes and fears (oh, my!) – all legitimate reasons to stick around for a little while longer and put off an invitation to follow Jesus. But Jesus is clear in his message: “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” In other words, one cannot cling to new life in Christ, and continue to remain stuck in old patterns of living.
We see the hesitant response again from a wealthy young man in Matthew 19:16-30:
Then someone came to him and said, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” 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; Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “I have kept all these; what do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions. Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, “Then who can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” Then Peter said in reply, “Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”
This young man is used to being in the driver’s seat of his life, and what a car he drove! He had wealth, power, and a spotless reputation for keeping the law. But as the man inquires further, acknowledging his awareness that there must be more than this, Jesus reveals the one thing the man valued above all else: being in the driver’s seat. Well, technically it was his wealth. But we see that all Jesus seemed to promise him was the opportunity to follow. An opportunity that the man saw as a poor business decision, and went away disappointed that he could not simultaneously follow Jesus and hold onto all the financial security he had cultivated over the years.
Perhaps this was an opportunity for the disciples to consider their own decision to drop everything and follow. Peter, whom I like to refer to as the loud-mouthed disciple (although he is not so referenced in Scripture), may be recalling his fishing business and the family he left behind when he inquires, “Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Jesus is quick to answer, and his promises are larger than life, for it is not the asking of questions or the voicing of doubts that disappoints him, but the allowance of those doubts to frustrate the relationship. There is an unnatural role reversal when we insist on being in the driver’s seat of our own spiritual journey, and demand that Jesus be the follower.
So we have seen the wealthy young man and the would-be followers’ lackluster response to Jesus. Let us now examine a faithful response to God’s calling. For this we will look at one triumph of Abram’s relationship with God in Genesis 12:1-9:
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram, and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and invoked the name of the Lord. And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb.
Here, God calls, and Abram responds in obedience. What is so fascinating is that, based on our reading, Abram gets minimal logistical information regarding the journey ahead. The only clear-cut instruction Abram receives is, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” The second half of that instruction is too vague to justify including in the GPS directions. So really, all Abram gets initially is the command, “Go.”
We are not made privy to the conversation between God and Abram, only that God called and Abram obeyed. I like to think that Abram asked questions of God as well. I often do. Maybe more than I should. Doubt, perhaps a distant relative of misery, must love company. Abram certainly had a lot to lose—wealth and notoriety in the land of Haran, family, prosperity, and predictability, not to mention an army of servants who looked to him as their leader. Neither was he a particularly young man when God called him to depart and begin again without foreknowledge of the outcome. But Abram followed nonetheless, relinquishing the steering wheel to God in the face of an uncertain future.
Clinging to God’s Promises
If we are not careful we can become paralyzed by our addiction to predictability and control. We want a God who behaves more like Siri: one who never questions our plans, but rather obligingly plays the supportive navigator who helps us get where we want to go. But what we miss in our resistance to trust are the promises God makes throughout history to those who would follow Him.
Beginning with the account of Abram in Genesis, we encounter nine history-altering promises God makes to Abram in these nine verses. Eight of them appear within the first three verses. God promises to make of Abram a great nation, to bless him, to make his name great, and He refers to a flood of future blessings that will go on and on. God makes another promise in verse seven when he declares He will give the land on which Abram stands to his offspring (implying another promise that there will be offspring). It appears that the blessings are contingent upon Abram’s obedience to God’s call. It also appears that while the call to follow without foreknowledge of the destination is not without earthly risks, it is also not without the trustworthy promise of abundant rewards.
Abram’s faith extends beyond simply following God out into the unknown—to the point that he actually builds an altar to the Lord before He has even begun to fulfill His promises. The odds are stacked against God’s promises, since the land He was promising was still inhabited by an entire nation of Canaanites. Imagine a faith so authentic that Abram’s gratitude preceded the fulfillment of the promise of land. Abram sets up an altar of praise and sacrifice to God while the certainty and timing of the journey are still a mystery to him.
In the New Testament, Jesus also makes grand promises in recognition of those who would leave the certainty of their former lives, as Abram did, and embark upon a journey with him. Once the wealthy young man has departed in Matthew 19:27, Peter inquires as to their reward for obedience. Jesus responds with eternal grandiosity that may have even made God’s promises to Abram blush: “…when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” Jesus’ followers’ response to the call is often like our own; they express their doubts throughout the Gospels in both word and deed—but still they followed. We are all in the process of learning to trust and believe Jesus with our everyday lives. But in these moments we recognize that Jesus does not demand that we wholeheartedly believe Him from the start, but simply follow Him. And the rewards for those who overcome their doubts are beyond earthly measure.
Perhaps the destination is even less important than our obedience along the journey, since there may not be a destination at all. The reason God may be calling us to relinquish control may not be about where we are going, but what we need to leave behind. God knows we are incapable of leaving in our own strength, which is why He offers to lead. Like Peter, we may ask in response to God’s call: what do we get when we follow? In other words: is it really worth it? Embedded in the question is the implicit fear of surrendering what we might lose, but it ignores the abundant blessings we receive in return. When we abandon that which we have been called to leave behind, we exchange our inadequate sense of security for the real deal.
Lest we claim these blessings for ourselves alone, let us revisit Genesis 12:3, where God promises Abram: “…in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” The blessings that extend through Abram are intended to reach all nations of the earth. So it is with us: when we allow God to lead and bless us, we in turn become a blessing to everyone with whom we come into contact.
What other gods might be holding you back? Is the land of your kindred keeping you from experiencing God’s blessings, keeping you from being a blessing to others? Perhaps yours is a physical location: a job, a home, a school, or even a church (not Church in general – this is not a get-out-of-fellowship-free card). Or perhaps it is a metaphorical place like an addiction, an unhealthy relationship, a destructive emotion like worry or bitterness. It may not even be an unhealthy place, per se, but rather a place you know God is calling you to move beyond.
The wealthy young man in Matthew had followed every commandment to a “t,” and yet came up short as Jesus exposed that which truly captivated the man’s heart. The would-be followers of Jesus in the book of Luke revealed their hang-ups when it came to abandoning their former lives to follow Christ. But Abram sets the example—he would never have claimed the promises of God for himself and his descendants had he not left the land of Haran without looking back. We are not told in Genesis that the land of his kindred was a particularly evil place; we only know that remaining in Haran would prevent Abram from experiencing the fullness of God’s plan for his life. So it is with us. Even the good things in life—the ministries we serve, the non-profits we support, the parishioners we counsel—may distract us from moving into a realm in which God can bless us beyond our ability to ask or imagine.
May our pursuit of God always compel us to follow where He leads—even when we cannot see the destination—so that we may enjoy the abundant life Jesus promises rather than the mediocre way of our own plans. May we continually ask Him for guidance with the twofold prayer:
Lord, show me where you want me to go, and Lord, show me what you would have me leave behind.
 T.D. Alexander. From Paradise to the Promised Land. Paternoster Press and Baker Academic. 2002. 145.
 Mark Labberton. Called. Downers Grove, IL. InterVarsity Press. 2014. 71.
 T.D. Alexander. From Paradise to the Promised Land. Paternoster Press and Baker Academic. 2002. 145.