I desperately wanted to honor God in this decision. I could feel my future swinging wildly from horizon to horizon in front of me as I stewed and prayed. So I grabbed my sleeping bag and pillow late at night and headed for the church. I locked myself into the building and made my way to the front of the sanctuary.
Five great questions of life: Life * Love * Learning * Labor * Leadership
Sleeping at the Church Altar to Hear God's VoiceBy Evan Nehring
I met Hillary when I was youth pastoring. She was a divorced single mother of two girls, living in a big house with no man around to help with projects. Having learned of a landscaping project, I gathered a gaggle of youths and headed over one Saturday to make it happen. I’ve always had a heart for single moms. Still do.
Hillary was a Jesus lover and began to get involved as a leader in my youth group. Are you ahead of me in where this is going? We began to chat and hang out a little, then more than a little. This became my initiation to how my denomination and my church would handle ministers dating divorcees.
Will I Be Deported?I was notified that if I wanted to date Hillary, I would need to resign as youth pastor. Keep in mind that I was in the United States on a religious workers’ visa. To leave my job would mean being deported from the country.
I determined in my heart that I wanted what God wanted for my life, period. I didn’t want my decision about dating and marriage to be merely mind-numbed submission to church policy. I had long studied God’s relationship with his bride, the church, but now I poured through all of the scripture passages on divorce, marriage, and remarriage. I questioned whether God would qualify to be a minister in my denomination. His covenant relationship with an unfaithful bride in the Old Testament left Him very much alone.
I prayed a lot, sometimes hours a day. One night, walking by the river, I felt God speak to my heart saying, “I want you to marry her.” The only real question remaining in my mind was, “Is this the voice of God?”
Sleeping at the Church AltarI desperately wanted to honor God in this decision. I could feel my future swinging wildly from horizon to horizon in front of me as I stewed and prayed. So I grabbed my sleeping bag and pillow late at night and headed for the church. I locked myself into the building and made my way to the front of the sanctuary. I prayed for a while, but my intention wasn’t to intercede all night. My purpose on this night was just to rest in God’s presence and feel as close as I possibly could to Him while the moment of decision approached. I slept at the altar.
I woke up believing the answer was yes—God had directed me to marry Hillary—and I began to move in that direction. I told my pastor and church board. They met and then informed me that if I married Hillary, or even dated her, I would be asked to resign my position.
I sat alone at my desk in the church office and stared at the computer screen. My dominant thought was this: If I take one more step forward, I’ll be moving back in with my parents in Canada within the week. The jig was up. I decided that whatever else I knew about the situation, leaving the country and moving back home was not an option.
I backed away from the situation. I told the church I was done with Hillary. I told Hillary I was done with Hillary. The whole situation fizzled away and I continued on in the job I loved, youth pastor to an amazing group of teenagers.
Something had changed, though, and I’ve wondered since if this was God’s intention with the whole episode: I knew very clearly how I would need to plan and act in the future if I were to ever get to know a divorced woman.
So, What About God's Voice?Had I heard God’s voice? I’ve become much more humble about the answer to that question. If I say yes, then I have to concede that God was telling me one thing to get me to do another. If I say no, then I just plain missed it. Either way, I’m humbled. I’m humbled that God can speak and I can carry out actions that he never intended. I’m humbled that I don’t have the hotline to God which allows me to throw all other wisdom to the wind.
I believe as much as I ever did that God speaks and interacts with us. He breaks into our world and changes things. He speaks encouragement and direction to our spirits. I also know that you and I can be wrong.
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