Have you ever felt like you heard something so clearly, but the message must have gotten garbled somehow along the way?
I have voice recognition software at work that translates phone messages into text, but let’s just say the technology still has a ways to go. Case in point: yesterday it translated “Stephanie” as “Brian” and interpreted “just going to” as “jazz orchestra.”
It’s rather entertaining when communication breakdowns are of the lighthearted, technical variety. But when it comes to spiritual messages, the stakes are a bit higher.
A while ago I felt prompted to buy a Bible, and not just any Bible—one of those big, classic, leather-bound numbers. I didn’t know why or who it was for, but the message was undeniable: Buy this Bible. And so, despite feeling rather foolish, I made the purchase, wondering when I’d get my next set of instructions.
Not long after, my husband and I were packing for a nine-hour train ride to visit his family. We were carrying everything on with us, and our bags were stuffed. Just as I was wrestling with the zipper on my bloated carry-on, another prompting came out of nowhere: Take the Bible with you.
I was pretty sure I’d misunderstood, and I haggled with God over it. Surely he didn’t mean I’d have to take it with me on the train! Couldn’t I compromise and take a smaller Bible, one that wouldn’t cause permanent spinal damage? Or once I met the person I was supposed to give the Bible to, couldn’t I just write down their address and mail it to them? But the directions felt unambiguous, so I obliged.
All through the trip my eyes were peeled, searching for the person in need of a Bible. Maybe it would be someone sitting in the aisle across from us or a fellow passenger we met in the dining car. Maybe it would be one of Daniel’s relatives or his parents’ neighbors. Perhaps it would be a stranger we encountered at some point on the trip. As silly as I felt, I was eager to see what God would do, to have a testimony about how I’d carried that Bible around and then God had led me to just the right person at the precise moment.
It never happened.
I lugged that big Bible home again—all nine hours—and never got another nudge about what to do with it. Did I miss the person I was supposed to give it to? I wondered as our train pulled into the station. Or did I miss the instructions in the first place?
I’ve been pondering this mystery ever since—not just the Bible carry-on, but other times I’ve apparently misheard God over the course of my faith journey, times that have left more significant damage than a sore back. What am I supposed to make of those times I’ve stepped out in faith and everything dead-ended unceremoniously…or blew up in my face?
Then I came across this story, taken from Elisabeth Elliot’s book These Strange Ashes:
One day Jesus said to his disciples: “I’d like you to carry a stone for me.” He didn’t give any explanation.
So the disciples looked around for a stone to carry, and Peter, being the practical sort, sought out the smallest stone he could possibly find. After all, Jesus didn’t give any regulation for weight and size! So he put it in his pocket.
Jesus then said: “Follow Me.” He led them on a journey.
About noontime Jesus had everyone sit down. He waved his hands and all the stones turned to bread. He said, “Now it’s time for lunch.”
In a few seconds, Peter’s lunch was over. When lunch was done Jesus told them to stand up.
He said again, “I’d like you to carry a stone for me.”
This time Peter said, “Aha! Now I get it!” So he looked around and saw a small boulder. He hoisted it on his back and it was painful, it made him stagger. But he said, “I can’t wait for supper.”
Jesus then said: “Follow Me.” He led them on a journey, with Peter barely being able to keep up.
Around supper time Jesus led them to the side of a river. He said, “Now everyone throw your stones into the water.” They did.
Then he said, “Follow Me,” and began to walk.
Peter and the others looked at him dumbfounded.
Jesus sighed and said, “Don’t you remember what I asked you to do? Who were you carrying the stone for?”
The story got me to wondering: maybe it wasn’t that I’d misheard after all. Maybe the truth is that obedience is a reward in itself. Maybe I was supposed to carry this load for Jesus, even if I never understand why. Just because he asked me to.
What if sometimes God just wants to see if I’m willing to say yes?
What burden are you carrying right now?
What would it look like to be obedient, even when you don’t know why you have to carry such a heavy load?