Red Light Green Light
I hate being called upon to make decisions. And I don’t just mean big life decisions, I mean things like choosing where to eat dinner or what movie to watch. Often my excuse is that “I don’t really care.” But what I generally mean, is that “I’d prefer not to take the fall if you don’t like what my decision is.” Because if I choose a steakhouse and you’re a vegetarian, I’ve now ruined your dinner. And if I choose a drama and you hate Bradley Cooper, you’ve just lost several hours you’ll never get back.
There is something oddly terrifying about being “responsible” for the supposed contentment of yourself and others. It is much easier to assume a passive role, a role that requires no accountability. It is much easier to pass the torch and claim that you don’t really care... even if you hate sushi and horror movies. So usually I sit back. And I hope that others will make the decisions and that they will be decent.
Every day there are a million decisions to make that can seem trivial. What time to wake up? Snooze or no snooze? Coffee or no coffee? (Always coffee). What to eat for breakfast? (This one is more difficult and, in my personal opinion, a bit less trivial). But there are days when some decisions aren’t so trivial. Some days, there are decisions with steeper consequences than a ruined dinner or a few hours of disappointment. It is in those moments when I most desperately want someone to make a decision for me. I want someone to give an opinion or tell me what to do because the root fear is still the same: I don’t want to be responsible if things go bust. And as a Believer, I have found myself guilty of this on a lot of occasions. I have caught myself looking for “confirmations” from God about big decisions or overwhelming opportunities for change.
My friend, Ariel, last week reminded me of a saying we heard a while back and that we remind each other of every so often: “Green light ‘til red light.” For us, the reminder means that God knit us together with free will. He gave us a Helper who is good at His job in convicting and leading. He gave us an example in the Word through the person of Jesus that we are able to look at and follow. If then, we are doing our best to aim at Him, it’s almost always better to be doing something than nothing. There are too few days in life to waste any drumming fingers and thinking about someday. And so, green light. But to us, the saying also means that God is awfully good at His job if we need to get re-routed.
In Acts 16, the apostle Paul and his companions are traveling around preaching the Gospel and “strengthening the churches” (Acts 15:41). In Acts 16:6, we learn that the group traveled “throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia.” Then, Paul and the team end up traveling to different regions before trying to enter into Bithynia, “but the Spirit of Jesus wouldn’t allow them to” (Acts 16:7). Again, the group makes an alternative plan and travel arrangements. It is only after all of this chaos that the Lord gives Paul a “vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’” (Acts 16:9), and so they go.
My first thought upon reading this is that it must’ve been quite frustrating for everyone to have traveled over 400 miles and then after, have had the Lord tell them where they were needed. The planner in me, who likes efficiency and convenience, assumes that it surely would’ve been much better to have known the need from the get-go instead of wandering around like fools for a while. Couldn’t they have just received a vision before Asia and been saved from all the chaos? Reading this, the anxiety I feel surrounding decision making boils up for whoever may have offered their conviction for a certain location or suggestion towards a particular region. Although we don’t really know how they were shut down—it could’ve been simply from lack of peace, or with dreams and visions, or from logistical issues—it was evident to all they were supposed to go elsewhere. So I imagine suggesting Asia or Bithynia and the feeling that would come when the whole team must re-route the travel and re-think the plan. I imagine the shame that might easily come when it feels the outside world must be thinking your team looks like a group of misfits who have no idea where they’re going or what they’re doing.
And yet even after being turned away several times and at different locations, the team doesn’t give up and turn back. They do not stop and sulk or throw their arms up in defeat. The hearts of these people are merely poised to love the Lord and love others. They are people desperately seeking to step into the Good News of the Gospel and invite others to do the same. And so, regardless of circumstance, they continue with hearts that know the Lord is with them and for them and championing them in their effort. So as I’ve sat with this scripture, I’ve realized that the Lord was in no way holding out on His children, but was honoring the group’s willingness to say yes to the adventure and unknowns set before them. God was loving them wildly—giving them steadiness in the chaos and joy in the deep unknowns.
In his book Barking at the Choir, Gregory Boyle says:
“Some things are random and other things are meant to be in our control. So God is with me when ‘shit happens’ and God is rooting for me when I need to decide things. And I’m okay with that. I don’t need God to be in charge of my life. I only need God to be at the center of it.”
I’ve been reminding myself recently that God isn’t a God of assessment or evaluation. Our God is a Father of radical, overwhelming love that advocates for and defends us even when we are wildly off-base. He is a Father with a heart that looks at a finger painting we finish and smiles when we say it’s a dog even though it has absolutely no resemblance to an animal. He is a God that delights in us and in the fact we have simply invited Him into our chaos (Psalm 37:23). Sometimes He gives us really major, bright green lights and sometimes He gives us big detour arrows but regardless, He is at the beginning, end, and middle of the journey… and someone who loves me that wildly is worth making wild decisions for.