“What’s next?”

AUDIO VERSION

One of the things I want to do most in this next season of life is to tell more stories of God’s “endless mercies” to Priscilla and me, particularly in our years of local church and student ministry. But I’d like to start by bringing the current story up to date with an account of how and why I moved here to Pittsburgh. I’m still settling in these days, so the posts that tell this story will appear on an occasional basis, as I find the opportunity to write them up. (I hope to get back to regular blogging soon.) Here’s the first installment.

One Sunday morning last September, I walked into church and it was as if a light was shining on a certain couple. I had a strong feeling that God had a blessing he wanted to send to me through them. But I had no idea how that was supposed to work.

Just before our pastor started his sermon, he invited the husband to come forward and share something with all of us. The man began by quoting Scripture: “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro over all the earth, to show himself strong on behalf of those whose hearts are wholly committed to him.” Wow, I thought, that’s a favorite of mine. The next thing he said was, “We are his workmanship, created for good works in Christ, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” That was another one of my favorite passages. I’d used both of them often in counseling and encouraging my parishioners when I was a pastor. “I don’t know what this guy’s selling,” I said to myself, “but whatever it is, I’m already in.”

What he was “selling” (at no cost) was the opportunity to meet with him and his wife, and anyone else who was interested, for an hour before church about ten times over the next three months to listen and discern what God had for each of us in the next season of our lives. This was exactly what I needed at that point. I’d just recovered enough of my strength and energy after becoming clinically exhausted as a caregiver that I was beginning to ask, “What’s next?” And this was a question I needed some significant help with.

In preparation for each meeting, we were given “homework” to do—reflection questions on how God had designed and equipped us to this point, and what this suggested about where God might be leading us now. One question was, “What do you envision yourself doing in the next season of your life?” My answer was, “It could be any one of a hundred things.” A follow-up question was, “What would you need to get greater clarity about this?” I responded, “A miracle.”

We shared our answers in the group and everyone laughed at mine. But they also promised that they’d pray.

Later that I week I had a dream. I was attending a college reunion and a school official came up to me with a clipboard. “We just want to make sure that our records are correct about what you’ve been doing since you graduated,” she explained, and she went over the information with me. When I confirmed that it was right, she asked, “And what will you be doing next?” And I told her!

“I want to do more writing,” I said. “I want to continue my blogs that answer questions about the Bible and tell about God’s endless mercies. I also want to write more books about what the Bible is, what it says and how it says it, and how we can continue its story in our own lives.”
At that point I woke up. I said to myself, “That’s it! That’s exactly what I want to do.” I shared this experience with the group the next time we met and we were all encouraged. When we seek intentionally to listen to God’s voice, God actually does speak to us!

The reflection and processing in community continued quite helpfully throughout the fall, with a few breaks for reflection and consolidation, until the only question remaining before me was, “Where?” In theory I could do what I wanted to do just about anywhere. I decided that if there were no other considerations, I’d stay where I was, specifically so that I could remain part of this Christian community that had been so supportive of Priscilla and me during her illness, and of me during my bereavement and now my renewed vocational explorations. But then something happened to show me that actually there were other considerations.

I was on a trip and hadn’t been able to check email for a couple of days, so when I finally reached a place where I could do that, I pulled out my laptop and started booting it up. (I’m not part of the smart-phone world just yet.) Suddenly I had a thought: “I hope my mother is all right. I hope she hasn’t had a fall. I’d feel badly if she did and I wasn’t there to help.” And when I picked up my new emails, sure enough one of them reported that she had fallen. Mercifully, she hadn’t suffered any serious or permanent injuries, and she soon recovered. But this episode showed me my heart. I wanted to be near my parents in Pittsburgh so that I could help them. This would also put me near my sister and one of my brothers and their families, and of course it would be good for me as well to be close to all of them.

Our homework for the next group meeting had been to think about a “difficult conversation” we might need to have and ask God to help us with it. My difficult conversation would be with the group itself! I had to share with them that I was now feeling led to move to Pittsburgh and that I would no longer be able to be a regular part of this church community. Fortunately I didn’t have to find a way to bring this up; all I had to do was say it when I was called upon to share my response to the homework. We were all sad at the thought of parting, but we also acknowledged that God was leading clearly, and that in effect our hopes and prayers for the whole group experience were being realized. So how could we argue?

Thus began the next adventure that I’d like to tell you about in the series of posts ahead. They will be about how I experienced more of God’s endless mercies as I relocated from Michigan, where I’d lived for 15 years and from where I’d sent Priscilla off to heaven, to a new home in Pittsburgh.

The city I now call home.

Author: endlessmercies

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is a writer and biblical scholar who is also an ordained minister and served local churches as a pastor for nearly twenty years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the Scriptures that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He has an A.B. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School. Dr. Smith answers questions about the Bible, particularly those that arise from the use of his study guides, at goodquestionblog.com.

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