Editor’s Note: Pastor Roger Barrier’s “Ask Roger” column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My life is not turning out at all like I thought it would. I dreamed of marrying the right man, having a good job and a happy family. It hasn’t worked out that way at all. My husband is not a Christian and is antagonistic toward God and toward me. My teenage daughter is rebellious and on drugs. At least my job is holding steady. Mom and dad are getting older and needing more care than I can supply. I’m not enjoying life much. This is not at all how I dreamed it would be. Do you have any advice for me?
Once upon a time there were two missionaries named Paul and Silas. They were like super heroes as they lived out their adventures sharing the message of Jesus throughout Turkey.
I don’t imagine that life turned out like they imagined either. They didn’t get “first best;” they had to make do with second. What they did with second best changed the world.
The gospel of Jesus was roaring through Turkey when Paul decided it was time to go to Bithynia, the largest, richest and most influential city in all Turkey. This was Paul’s homeland. This was his country. This was first best. He hardly could wait.
And then God said, “No. I want you in Macedonia.”
”When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them” (Acts 16:7-9).
We can imagine Paul on the sea shore near Troas looking across the Aegean Sea toward Macedonia while thinking, “I really don’t want to go to Macedonia. Bithynia is my first choice. I’ll just have to see what I can do with second-best.”
In Macedonia Paul performed his most significant service with the leftovers of a broken plan.
Wanting Bithynia and getting Macedonia, how familiar is that. But to take the leftovers of disappointed expectation and to make of it the greatest opportunity that we ever have, how impressive is that!
James Whistler, the artist, started as a soldier at West Point, but failed because he could not pass chemistry. “If silicone had been a gas,” he used to say, “I could have been a major general.” But it wasn’t. He failed soldiering, halfheartedly tried engineering and then tried painting with remarkable success. Whistler’s life is an impressive exhibition of handling life’s second bests.
Every Christian experiences closed doors at one time or other– some more than others: unexpected illness; lingering sickness; drawn out recovery after surgery; depression that begins to set in; financial reverse; divorce; loss of a job; an unexpected move; disappointments at school or work; discouragements to come from the low times of life; children begin to have deep personal problems; dealing with necessities and other things that demand our attention while the mainstream of life seems to be passing us by; a career where that’s boring you to tears.
Some of you are there right now. What happens next depends totally to you. Let me give you some thoughts about handling life’s second bests:
1. Don’t panic, no one lives out their entire life with first best.
I believe that God has a life plan for us all. I call it, “Plan A”. But I don’t know anyone who goes from birth to glory on Plan A, all the way. Often, when we get off track God says, “Okay we can get back to Plan A.” On the other hand, there are times when we make choices and behave poorly and God has to say, “I’m sorry,” we can’t get back to Plan A from here. We must jump to Plan B. Thank God he has a Plan B. But the truth is that many of us are living on Plan X Triple Prime. Thank God for grace.
2. Keep your faith intact. God has a plan for your life.
One of the best tests of a person’s faith is when we see him or her, wanting Bithynia and getting Macedonia, and yet is still certain that there’s a purpose for his or her life.
3. Don’t automatically assume that what seems to be second-best is really second-best.Satan also opens doors and provides options.
Abraham was called by God to go to Canaan. A famine was raging there. When Abraham heard of the harvest in Egypt he said, “God has opened the door in Egypt!” So he went to Egypt and got into all sorts of trouble. He lied about Sarah; he hired Hagar who soon mothered Ishmael; and the Arabs and Jews have been fighting it out ever since.
Later God scolded Abraham for running to Egypt. “I was going to feed you supernaturally so that all of the people in Cana would know that your God was the true God and you blew it.”
4. Don’t be in a hurry. Be patient. Wait for God’s clear word before deciding what second-best might really be.
Spend extra amounts of time in prayer and fasting to know God’s will for what’s next.
5. Invite several others to walk with you on your second-best journey.Don’t go it alone.
The first 15 chapters of Acts are written in the third person: “Paul did this;” or, “Paul did that.” It is intriguing to notice that beginning with chapter 16, the record of Acts is written in the first person: “We did this,” or, “we did that.” In Acts 16, Paul joined forces with Dr. Luke who wrote both the gospel and this book of Acts.
Solomon wrote that there is much wisdom with many counselors. It was Paul, Silas, Luke, Timothy, Demas, Aquila and Priscilla and others who all worked with Paul to make the second-best, best.
6) Do not despair; the Holy Spirit has plenty of power and all the grace you need for victory in any situation.
If you read the Bible carefully you’ll see that God never gives martyr’s grace to a secretary. But let that secretary become a martyr and God has plenty of martyr’s grace.
7) Second-best often begets a new dream and lurks nearby if we just take time to look for it.
My father loved his job as an airline executive overseeing the finances of a fledging airline. The company was sold and all the current officers were immediately let go, except for my father and one other. For three years he worked in a stressed-out environment with incredibly demanding leaders who engineered his departure while he was in the hospital having surgery.
First best for my dad was finishing his career at age 65, with the airline he loved. He called the day he was let go the worst day of his life. He was hurt, angry, grieving and depressed. I watched him go to bed and lay there for hours. Then, one day it was time to get up.
One of his favorite sayings was “When life hands you a lemon, make lemonade. So he did.
He found a low-stress job with an accounting firm. At age 65 he organized his own accounting firm. He played golf in the morning and accounted in the afternoon. On his 70th birthday he said, “It’s time to close down the business and just play golf.” So, for the next 15 years he played five mornings a week and napped every afternoon.
“The best day of my life,” he said to me one day, “was the day I got fired. Had I worked five more years in that pressure packed place I would’ve died before 65. Now I see that second-best got me 20 more years of good health and time to do the things I want to do.”
He wanted first best but instead he got second–and it was the best thing that ever happened to him.
Well, Kattiana, I hope this is helpful.
Sincerely, Ask Roger
These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open” (Revelation 3:7)
A closed door often means a new dream! We just have to look for it.
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.