By Kevan Breitinger
Originally published in CMcentral.com (now CCMmagazine.com)
Learning Curve: On Hearing God and Leaving the Land of Ur, Part 1 (read Part 2)
Living as we do in this Age of Information, most of us rarely leave the house without knowing exactly where we’re going, what we’ll find there, and what we’ll do with it when we arrive. The information we need is at our fingertips, easily accessible in seconds. Yet the conveniences of our times can make a lifestyle of faith seem even more mysterious to some… maybe even inconvenient. Imagine being instructed by the Lord to pack up your family of six and move across country…. with no more information than that. The story of worship leader Chris Nesbitt quickly brings a certain Old Testament character to mind, although when Abram and Sarai left their home in Ur they had no children yet, let alone two teenagers and two grade-school kids.
The Lord’s instructions to Abram were straightforward: “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” (Gen. 12:1). He promised great blessing, lavish blessings in fact, but little specific direction beyond “go.” The “showing” was yet to come; the day’s obedience laid simply in the leaving.
The call of Chris Nesbitt was quite similar. Like Abram’s, the life he laid down in obedience was a fairly successful one. The owner of a small insurance business in California, he recognized the Lord’s hand of providence, for his thriving business provided him the freedom and security to minister full time at his church as a lay leader, a church that he loved and served faithfully for over ten years.
Regular CMCentral readers may recall some of Chris’ story from his devotional posted a few weeks ago, “The Scars of Obedience.” As he shared more of the details with me this past week, I was struck not only by the tale itself, but also by the rich communication between Chris and the God he follows. “It’s been such an amazing journey,” he admits. “About three years after we were married, my wife and I were on our knees together in prayer in front of our couch, seeking the Lord for direction. Suddenly His voice was so clear in my mind, saying, ‘I’m going to uproot you from San Clemente.’ I sat straight up and looked at my wife in shock, and then realized that she was looking at me with the same expression! She asked, ‘Did the Lord just speak to you?’ And I said, ‘Yes, He’s going to uproot us.’ She replied, ‘That’s what I heard, too, and I think He said Nashville.’ I had been thinking the same thing, but I was afraid to say it because I’m not a fan of Nashville,” Chris laughed. “We thought maybe that part was just coming from our heads, but we still hid it in our hearts.”
That was 15 years and 4 kids back. Chris says his missionary friend Jeffrey Simons puts it best: God speaks to us His purpose, and then He grows us into it. “In other words,” Chris explains, “He speaks promise, purpose, and direction into our lives, but it’s usually before we’re ready. Then He spends time working us into that promise. Over the years that followed, we always had this sense of leaving. And it was difficult,” he admits, “because we wanted to have our hands firmly to the plow there in San Clemente where we were ministering and living in community. We knew the Lord was going to take us out, and there were even times when we thought it was happening, but we were wrong.” Hearing the voice of God is not an exact science; for instance, Chris tells the story of a cross country run to look at homes in Virginia. He and his wife ended up on the wrong side of the country when 9/11 shut down their flight home to their kids waiting in California. They eventually drove home, where they shared the news with the family that the Lord had shut the door.
Of course, Abram’s journey wasn’t a straight line either. Genesis 12 goes on to tell how he let fear and a lack of faith lead him into lying and even putting his wife in grave danger. I asked Chris what his post-Virginia feelings were: confusion, upset, discouragement? He answered honestly, “Yes to all! We were trying so hard to be sensitive to the Lord’s leading, trying to be open and ready. And we felt all those things, but the Lord was gracious to come and speak to us always, and especially after that particular trip. He rushed in and comforted our hearts, showing us why the promised time was not yet. He even showed us a glimpse of His agenda, and some things that had to precede our move.”
As Abram made his way from Ur to Canaan he faced innumerable challenges and personal quandaries, calling for constant dependency on the Lord’s leading, and able listening skills to hear those directions. Chris’ need was just as great, as is ours. So I asked him to describe a bit about his process of hearing. “For my wife and I,” he responded, “when we say the Lord speaks something, we specifically mean this: First, we have to be in relationship with Him, routinely spending time with Him. Then, out of that intimacy, He speaks to our hearts either through His Word, or we might hear His voice in our hearts. Or maybe there’s a prophetic word spoken into our lives,” he added. “Once that happens, we receive it, but we test it; we deliberately lay it down and wait on the Lord for a confirmation. When we agree together that He has specifically confirmed that word, we move forward.”
Scripture of course encourages us to expect to hear the voice of the Lord, reminding us in John 10 that the Lord’s sheep know His voice, and are to be familiar enough with it to distinguish it from an imposter’s voice. Verses like this challenge us to come to the conversation with faith that we will hear and be heard. Chris found his understanding of that revelation deepening as the Lord led him through the last two years of preparation. “He really turned up the heat in terms of the way He was preparing our hearts,” Chris shares. “He had to bring us to a place of absolute certainty, in every way that we could possibly understand, that God is always good and always faithful. It’s beautiful now, in looking back, to see how He worked that truth into our souls, intertwined in such a way that nothing can turn it out.”
“Then last April our family took a time of rest and got away, and the Lord spoke to us again, saying ‘I’m about to do it, but it’s not going to be like you expected.’ Well, after 15 years of preparation, we didn’t know what to expect,” he laughs, “but we certainly had expectations. I’ll be honest, I thought there would be a specific ministry opportunity, something tangible. But He began to make it clear that we’d be stepping out in complete blind faith. In June, He began to deal with us regarding areas of unwillingness in our hearts. One of them was Nashville, and we had to repent of it before God. Once we did, once we laid it down, He confirmed it: this is where I want you to go, and I want you to go now.”
The story of Chris’ call is an exciting one, it’s true. But as the story progresses we see it is also one of extreme testing and refining. Check back next week for part 2, but I warn you: God wasn’t kidding. It’s not the tale you might expect.