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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

"I Didn't Sign Up For This" (Aaron Sharp)

TITLE: I Didn't Sign Up for This!: Navigating Life's Detours
AUTHOR: Aaron Sharp
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House Publishers, 2012, (224 pages).

Life is full of detours. Many of us are ready to testify that not all Plan As work. Often, there is disappointment after disappointment causing even the most pious Christians to ask "Why God?" For some Christians, they tend to think that the Biblical characters have it better. Wrong. According to Aaron Sharp, there is a long list of "detoured lives that grace the pages of Scripture." We think of Job, Abraham, Joseph, and even David. Then there are the different kings of Israel and Judah. In this book, Sharp chooses to focus on the character of Elijah, calling him one who has traveled the most detours in his life on earth. The point is: when God leads, God is absolutely free to use our normal paths or to use detours in ways that He sees fit. We just need to keep trusting Him, even when we only have one fast emptying tank of gas left.  Before plunging into the life of Elijah, Sharp gives some helpful instructions on how to manage expectations, dealing with emotions, and coping with feelings of isolation.Now, what are the detours of Elijah's life?

Based on 1 Kings 19, Sharp guides readers through a series of emotional upheavals that Elijah faced during his time on earth. First, there is the temptation of comparison. When Elijah starts to ask if he is not better than his fathers, it comes at a point when he feels down. Amid the bravery and the courage, the prophet has even been accused of hypocrisy. Instead of recognizing the problem of his predicament is because of the evil leadership, he starts to ponder about his own sense of worth, which is completely out of sync with God's will for him. Second, during times of stress and busyness, we tend to lack a desire for self-care. During the detour, God takes care of Elijah, as God provides nourishment and food for him for a physical rest. Instead of embarking on a non-stop work until you drop scenario, God forces Elijah to rest well so that he can live stronger for another day. Unfortunately, there are times in which well-meaning servants try to find a way out of the detour instead of taking a break. Often, this is when the cancerous effect of spiritual burnout starts. Sharp then gives an 8-part spiral of rest for readers to consider. Third, detours can often be taken as opportunities to go back to basics. His taking 40 days to travel to Mount Horeb is a great reminder of how God had led Moses in the past. It is a powerful symbol of hope and assurance that it is the same God who had led Abraham and Moses, is also leading Elijah. Indeed, we often need to retrace our steps to our earlier spiritual awakening, when we feel spiritual lethargy. It can even be a way to help us navigate our way out of our theological or life's puzzles. Four, there is a need to beware of our sense of reality during a detour. We need to discern what is real and unreal. Using the story of the WWII's use of a ghost army to deceive the enemies, Sharp warns us about fuzziness in our thinking when we are down in the trenches. It takes God to wake Elijah up by asking the most basic questions of reality. "What are you doing here, Elijah?" Indeed, when we are caught in a mire, or trapped in an unexpected situation, we need to go back to the fundamentals. For anyone serving God, a disappointment may very well be a chance to ask again: "Who are we serving and why?" In detours, asking basic questions is more important than making dramatic and risky decisions. Five, for anyone on a detour, he is frantically asking for directions and will desperately seek understanding.  It is during this time that imperfect understanding can be very frustrating. The servant of God will be best to consider that God knows best; that God's grace is bigger than any detour; that God is strong and we are weak; trusting God; and depending on God to provide a helper when appropriate. Six, in a detour, we are also reminded that the world does not revolve around ourselves. It is God that we are serving, and it is God that all things ought to revolve around, including our sense of direction and purpose. Seven, detours give us a glimpse of God in a very special way. Smack in the 1 Kings 19 passage is a special literary structure often used in Hebrew writings: chiasm. The central point in the whole passage is Elijah glimpsing the presence and person of God. This makes all the difference. It is in this perspective of God, where we get a deeper sense of the God instead of the good works, of the Lover amid the loving acts, of the Guide of all guides, of the Director of all directions. For God is able to redeem us from all kinds of ups and downs; all manner of detours; and all kinds of challenging situations. We may not get all of our ways right, but God can redeem us in spite of our weaknesses.

So What?

This book is deeply encouraging and uplifting. It reminds us again that any Christian ministry is never about us, but always about God. It is also a compassionate look that during times of disappointments and unmet expectations, God is there with us and for us. In a detour, we are given an opportunity to deal with our imperfections, our inner demons, our unrealistic expectations, our theological misgivings, our trust and hope, and how we can be strengthened from doubt to faith. Aaron Sharp has brilliantly articulated the life of Elijah with powerful stories and interesting anecdotes, making this book not only an enjoyable read, but an immensely comforting book about hope and trust in God. What I find most rewarding is that personal take on what ministry is all about. As much as Christian workers and people in ministry like to claim that they are working for God, very often, it is God equipping us all to serve God in ways that God knows best. Even when our Plan A's do not work according to our expectations, each detour is often a way that God is using to draw us closer to Him; that we can learn to sense again that we need God, that God knows best, that God desires to manifest his presence to us, especially when we feel down and out.

If you are serving God in any capacity, pick up this book and read. You never know. This book may very well either save you from the next burnt-out experience or to guide you through the valley of darkness.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Discovery House Publishers and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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