My friend Bruce Reinhardt has a unique way of communicating through metaphors. He’s the one who taught me this phrase to describe when God is preparing us for a major change. “We can look back and see that the Lord was loosening our tent stakes.”
I have long ago lost count of the number of times I have used that imagery. It especially speaks to people who tend to think their “tents” (translation: lives) are anchored in concrete.
If your heart’s still lost somewhere on Walton’s Mountain or you’re still imagining working at that same location until you’re shipped off to the retirement home you may need to wake up for this one. We’re not just living in a mobile society. We’re living in a changing one.
Fact is, you may actually be less mobile and still have multiple changes. As of this year I have lived in Lubbock, Texas longer than anywhere in my life – 16 years. But I’ve drawn paychecks from 16 different places. Not all full-time, of course. But the point is, many of those had to do with changes that were handed to me that I didn’t ask for. And not all of them involved leaving a place of employment.
What did happen, though, is that in most of those cases, God started loosening my tent stakes prior to leaving, if I paid attention.
So how can you tell if God is preparing you for a significant change – either in location, employment, or something else?
1. Strong sense of spiritual leadership.
Start with God! Many times He may be preparing you for change by giving you a vision for new direction, or making it clear that your current circumstances were about to change. He routinely did that for people in both the Old and New Testaments, and used some interesting means to communicate it. Pay attention to how He speaks to you.
2. Mental fatigue/boredom.
Some situations, some jobs reach their limit either due to the strain they put on you or to the fact that they’re no longer challenging. Sometimes the work hasn’t changed – you have. Maybe that’s God’s way of saying that a change is (or should be) on the horizon.
3. Restlessness or lack of fulfillment
Sometimes you may find an enormous inner restlessness doing something that a few weeks earlier you raved about. This happened to me when I moved from youth ministry to being a senior pastor many years ago. In a matter of months I went from absolutely loving what I did to climbing the proverbial wall. Fortunately I had some friends who helped me see what was happening.
4. Clash of the will
Sometimes God loosens your tent stakes as a point of surrender. It’s not that you’re moving or changing so much as it’s that he wants your willingness. The theme song for many traditional Christians is, “I Shall Not Be Moved.” God says, “Oh really?”
Sometimes health issues – yours or someone else’s – make it clear that a change is imminent. This is often hard to accept because it seems so out of your control. But it is what it is. The most important thing to realize at this point is that you aren’t just moving from somewhere or something, but to somewhere, and God’s plans to give you a future and a hope are no less meaningful in your destination than they are in your past.
Have you ever noticed how grandbabies put new tires on Grandma’s car? I often joke that new grandparents are the most useless people in church life because they’re always headed to see those grandkids. But sometimes the changes are more profound than that. The death or move of a close family member may signal that changes are on the horizon for you.
I grew up in a place my dad believed in for raising kids – to the degree that he turned down promotions and left employers to stay where we were. He would often say, “I ain’t movin’ my kids north of Montgomery, Alabama (we lived in Mobile). So, surprise, surprise – just before I graduated from college, my parents moved to Oak Ridge, Tennessee. His brook had dried up, so to speak in Mobile, and that’s where the money was at the time. It was both a move for survival and for blessing.
And then… and then!… years after that he moved to Waterville, Maine! Even spent a winter there! Why? That’s where the job took him. Something that once had the feel of being permanent and lasting suddenly vaporized, and his one opening was somewhere north of sanity. Some of his fondest memories are of the time and relationships he experienced there.
Sometimes you don’t leave a community – the community leaves you. This is true for neighborhood communities, or sometimes even church communities. One day you may wake up to realize, this isn’t home anymore. Sometimes that’s due to a change in relationships. Sometimes it’s due to a change in leadership. Be careful, here, though, because you can be deceived. Sometimes people think “God is leading them to change” because they’re too offended or afraid to face conflict. Fear alone is no reason to bail out.
Did you know that 40 states have petitioned the White House to secede from the Union? Louisiana and Texas were first, followed by Alabama. All it takes, apparently, is 25,000 signatures for the petition to be considered.
Sometimes, on rare occasions, issues may arise that make it intolerable to remain where you are. Maybe it’s an ethical issue related to the place where you work. Get a new employer. Sometimes it has to do with the effects certain friends have on your life or recovery. Get new friends. Again, be careful here. Make sure this is not just an instance of you running from problems. You may often find that you take the problems with you – that you are the biggest issue you face.
As always, take these guidelines with care and caution. God “loosening your tent stakes” is not the same thing as you actually changing or moving. It could simply be an exercise in preparedness and faith. Just keep your eyes open and your heart tuned.