"David, I will not be mocked; you're going to the sea." I braced myself. If God was doing it, and He said He was, I knew I needed it. But I approached the inevitable change the only way I knew - as punishment from God. I had certainly done something that was displeasing to Him and now I was going to pay the price. I must have broken one of the laws, and even thought I knew which one.
My heart was compliant, but in an arrogant way. Give me your best shot, God, I murmured deep down. And He did. I had no idea of the depth of breaking that was about to take place or the events He would use to drive me into a place of future destiny.
As the first months turned into years, this sea put more and more distance between me and relationships, the activities of life, and, most definitely, ministry as I knew it. I could no longer understand what or why this was happening. I had assumed I knew God the Father because I had prayed the prayer, proclaimed the Kingdom of God at hand, saw the reality of signs and wonders, engaged in a form of remembering the poor, and fought sin. So I had to ask God, "How bad was I?"
The answer was slow in coming. He was going deep. It would take more years than I had anticipated to understand that "going to the sea" was not about broken commandments. I learned it was about a God and a Father who loved me enough to secure me in a safe environment to change me and my presuppositions about Him and His Kingdom because He loves so intensely.
Nebuchadnezzar--an unlikely hero
It's strange how you find an unlikely hero to help you through when the doctor says, "You're clinically depressed," the Spirit says "You're full of the fear of man," and God declares, "Now, I am going to teach you love and faith." In these darkest moments of my journey I came to know a man I had known little about. He was one of the greatest kings of all time, ruling over what was one of the greatest kingdoms of the world of all time. His name was Nebuchadnezzar, and his realm was called Babylon.
Wait. Nebuchadnezzar? A hero? Once upon a time I knew Nebuchadnezzar only as a brutal man who got the punishment he deserved for giving his all to serve the "Babylonian Dream" and making the world worship him and his kingdom above all. This man was bad. The type of man we would not want to see God show mercy or grace to. He deserved punishment, not change, and certainly not restoration.
God saw it differently. He always sees man in a different light than man sees man, and judges differently than our systems would judge. The hall of faith in Hebrews 11 would attest to that. Instead of harshly judging, God chose to begin to reveal Himself to the king through a Jewish captive named Daniel and his friends.
Nebuchadnezzar was impressed with the signs and wonders. He even called Daniel's God the God of gods and Lord of kings. No doubt the king had an experience with God. His words changed. His profession of a God above other gods changed, but his heart never budged. He knew this God through others but had never met Him, never known Him as a relational, loving God like no other god he had ever served. When it came down to it, He could not even acknowledge a greater Kingdom, a supernatural Kingdom over the one he created with his own hands.
I think we all know that acknowledging God, even being doctrinally correct and morally strong, does not represent a heart change on the inside. We can perform in that manner and still be as mean as ever toward others while never knowing God.
But God knows how to get our attention at the deepest heart level. After all, that's all He desires--a man's heart after His heart. He loves us so extravagantly that He will help us come to a place of loving him back, not through laws, but through compassion, graciousness, mercy, being slow to anger and showing forgiveness, the totally supernatural 70 times 7 kind of forgiveness that astounds the world.
God was about to take Nebuchadnezzar on a journey he'd rather not take, into places he'd rather not go. It would take seven years of God-patience, God-breaking, and God-loving to accomplish the change in the safest place for him to be totally transformed: wandering aimlessly over the fields and eating grass as a wild beast; alone with the Creator, where he grasped not only the ultimate cosmic authority of God but His infinite love. God knew that was the only way for him to be totally transformed.
At the end of those seven years Nebuchadnezzar got it, and his sanity was restored. He understood whose dominion was eternal and whose kingdom would endure from generation to generation. God was faithful to His promise to re-center the king, to acquaint him with the magnificent, supernatural, relational reality of the only Kingdom that is unshakeable.
It was impossible for Nebuchadnezzar to change without a very unique, yet loving, intervention. God knew what we couldn't see or know about the man, not as leader of the greatest system of his day, but as a son. He couldn't be reached any other way. It took so long and the measures were so drastic because he was so entangled in the ways of man. God was faithful, loving enough to change a system-driven king's heart. The Creator loves, not punishes. He is a Father of all mankind and loves all of His creation.
Doing whatever it takes for change
It could have been worse, my journey to the sea. I only mowed a lot of grass. Though my presuppositions were strong, I was in a different league. But God in His love would have done whatever it took to change me inside out because my God, I discovered, is jealous for me; He desires that I love him with all. I thought it was punishment for not living up to the high standards I had imposed on myself and others when He was simply showing me the depth of His love.
I have been learning that my life is not about rules, or the "laws and the prophets," or even right or wrong. God will do for us what he did for my newfound hero, Nebuchadnezzar, and we will be forever changed. He'll do whatever it takes to change us into His image, with His DNA expressing itself in our spirits more and more each day; and we will know Him as the One who loves.
Kingdoms will clash around us, but we are secure in His Kingdom. Change is inevitable when we seek after God, and even more when He seeks after us as he did Nebuchadnezzar. The mighty ruler of Babylon ended his reign on earth believing, as his dream prophesied, "that everyone living will know that the High God rules human kingdoms. He arranges kingdom affairs however he wishes, and makes leaders out of losers" (Daniel 4 Message).
Been to the sea lately? Hopefully so. All He wants is all of our love freely given, first to Him and then to our neighbors.
David VanCronkhite firstname.lastname@example.org