I often focus so intently on the path in front of me that I lose sight of the bigger picture. This morning, however, I had occasion to reflect on the past few years of my life. I was astounded to see how God has been moving in ways I couldn’t have foreseen and hadn’t noticed in the moment. If you’re facing a big decision or contemplating a step of faith, let me offer you some encouragement by sharing a real-life story about stepping out in faith and the surprising ways that God showed up.
I was 48-years old and had a decision to make. As my oldest daughter began working her way through college, I found myself experiencing an acute case of Adult Onset Academic Ambition. When I graduated from high school in 1987, all I wanted was a career in music. College wasn’t for me; I chose to jump directly into life as a musician instead. And then, 30 years after high school, I found myself captured by the idea of getting an advanced degree in theology. In typical fashion, I began weighing the decision in agonizing detail. I was enjoying a successful career as a Senior UX Architect designing enterprise software and had no plans to switch careers. (I probably couldn’t afford the pay cut that would accompany a jump from IT to theology anyway.) A passion for theology had led me to spend over 15 years in self-directed study. But with only a GED to my name, why in the world would I spend so much time and money pursuing a Master’s degree (or higher)?
As I worked my pros and cons list, it became clear that I would choose to go to college in a heartbeat if money was no object. The time and effort it would take to earn a degree while holding down a full-time job didn’t scare me; I considered that the fun part. It was the financial side that was hanging me up. How would we afford it? Would I be unfairly taking money away from my family? Would I be wasting my money on a whim? Maybe my interest in theology should just remain a hobby. Despite all my questions and doubt, I still couldn’t shake the idea of pursuing a degree. Could this be a “calling” from God?
I have a knack for convincing myself that the thing I want also happens to be “good for me” or the “right thing to do.” This is why I am typically reluctant to proclaim to the world (or even to myself) that God is “calling me” to something. This hesitation is due partly to mistrust of my own heart, which is not an unreasonable thing to be wary of; our hearts deceive us so often and so easily. But I have to admit that my reluctance can also stem from a weakness of faith. I question if I am really hearing God’s voice. And if I’m being honest, it can be difficult for me to trust that He wants to bless me with something that I want for myself. It seems to go against the self-sacrificial nature of Christ’s call on our lives. Or so it can seem. Especially when the enemy is whispering imitation truths in my ear: If you really want to serve God, you have to give up everything you like, reject all happiness and personal fulfillment, and go dig latrine wells in a third-world country. While it’s true that we are called to live for God and not for ourselves, how easily I forget that God is a loving Father who wants to give good gifts to His children (Matt 7:11). Oh, me of little faith.
After working through my pros-and-cons list and praying about it for a while, I ended up talking to a wise friend who said something simple and beautiful. “Why don’t you try it for one semester and see what happens?” (It’s remarkable how God’s words are always simple and uncomplicated.) I took the advice and now, looking back on the past three years, I see the glow of God’s grace and favor on my pursuit of a degree, even in spite of me. He showed up not just in the simple, beautiful words of my wise friend, but also in occurrences and opportunities that came “out of the blue” that I could never have foreseen.
For example, I discovered my employer has an education assistance program I didn’t know about. (To date, they have reimbursed me for thousands of dollars of my tuition.) When I later discovered that the Master’s program requires an international trip that costs several thousand dollars on top of my tuition, I wish I could say I responded with confidence that God would provide. Instead, I fretted. How am I going to pay for this? I don’t have that kind of money sitting around. That same month, a bonus from my employer allowed me to pay for the trip in one lump sum without even feeling it.
I should point out that several years prior to this point, I had been lovingly dragged—like a recalcitrant puppy straining against his leash—out of an entrepreneurial career of over 20 years and into a corporate job. This was a difficult and scary change for me, which I wrote about here. I look back now and see how, years before the dream formed in me to pursue a degree, God was already putting the necessary pieces into place. He moved me into a new job to prepare me for what I didn’t even know was coming. What a faith-building reminder! Wherever we are—even if it looks gloomy or bleak—we can trust that God is already setting plans in motion for the things He knows we’re going to need in the coming months and years. Our job is simply to listen for His voice and follow Him.
Amazingly, God’s provision for my educational journey was not limited to unexpected income from my employer. A year after I entered academia, because of my age and life experience, my school gave me a chance to test out of my undergraduate classes if I could prove equivalency. It wasn’t easy. I had to turn in copious samples of work product, write an essay, and score a passing mark on the Miller’s Analogy Test. Ultimately, I got it all done and bypassed three years of undergraduate classes, moving into the Master’s program. Another unexpected blessing.
Then, in another series of “divine coincidences,” I started getting offers to work on creative side projects. I was not looking for extra work, but here came music production and arrangement work. One of the bigger projects came from a total stranger from Virginia. He had written 20 songs for an epic rock musical and was looking for someone to arrange them. His online search eventually brought him to my barely-visited SoundCloud page, after which he reached out to me. The next thing I know, I am paying tuition using money earned by arranging a rock musical. How remarkable that God used my first passion (music…which was the reason I chose to skip college all those years ago) to help fund my new passion. To paraphrase the popular song Waymaker, God is working in our lives even when we don’t see it or feel it.
Not only was His financial provision unforeseen, but this academic journey has generated other blessings as well. I am meeting people I would never have met and exploring new directions I would never have considered had I not taken that first step of faith. I have made great new friends along the way, and God is expanding my horizons in ways I did not anticipate. For example, last year, I wrote my first book, Torahism, which I planned to self-publish. However, through a series of divine appointments, my school ended up publishing the book as the first non-curricular title on Williamson College Press.
These events, opportunities, and possibilities were all utterly unknown to me when I was laboring over my pros and cons list, deciding whether I should take this path. In hindsight, I realize that as I was fretting over the decision, God was whispering, “Trust me.” The moment I decided to exercise my tiny mustard seed-sized faith and “try one semester,” it pleased Him. Now I can say that, yes, my academic journey is something God was calling me to. More than that, it’s something He began equipping me for and providing for long before I knew anything about it. (Lord, may I remember this lesson the next time I hesitate to step out in faith!)
Today, when people learn that I am 51 years old and have a successful career in software design, yet I am pursuing a Master’s degree in Theological Studies, the first question is always, “Why do you need a degree?” It’s a question I’ve been asking myself since I started down this road. My answer is still I don’t know. I have no plans for a career change, and I’m still unsure about what I might do with my degree. But something has changed in me over the last three years. Initially, I saw the future as hazy; I had a sense that something would happen, but no idea what it might be or how it would look. It was a mystery to me. Now, as I look back and see God’s hand so clearly throughout my journey, I am still unsure what my post-degree future will look like. However, rather than walking into a hazy fog, I sense that I am cutting a path through a jungle on my way to a destination God has prepared for me. A destination that will be better than anything I could dream up for me.
Scripture shows us that God equips His people with skills, interests, and passions for the unique Kingdom work He has for them. David was a warrior and a musician before realizing that God was calling him to lead Israel and write poetry. The apostle Paul was well-educated and passionate about theology and serving God long before he was called to plant the first churches and write one-third of the New Testament. Contrary to what the enemy would have us believe, when we choose to turn our lives and our wills over to God and pursue His plan for us, we aren’t giving up on happiness and personal fulfillment. We’re actually stepping into real joy and contentment beyond anything we could find on our own. We are fulfilling the purpose for which were made. So be encouraged and take that first step!