[If you’re reading along with these, here’s the 7th chapter of “How God Guides.” I’d love to hear from you if you have some comments or questions.]
Above I talked about seeing what God is doing and doing it with him. I didn’t really say anything about how to see what he’s doing, or more specifically what he’s doing “in front you.” Hopefully, the following will clarify.
Though sort of a funny term, a “burden” is when you have a compelling desire to serve God and / or people in some way. It’s a compassion, a pain deep inside of you for something that God wants you to attend to. It’s usually something more than sympathy or even empathy for the hurting people of the world. I think of a burden as something that you feel a call from God to do something about. Sometimes God puts something on our heart so that we’ll partner with him through intercessory prayer. He might put a burden on one person to pray and then a burden on a second individual to act in the power of the Spirit activated through the prayers of the first.
A theoretical situation… We know that God’s heart aches for the poor in Calcutta, so he puts a “burden” in the hearts of a number of people to pray. As they pray, he begins to give a burden to other people to give money to help the poor there. Now he has people praying and others giving, and then he calls other individuals from various places to go to Calcutta and serve. All of these people had “a burden” for the poor of Calcutta, but they weren’t all led by the Holy Spirit to do the same thing with their burden.
An actual situation… We had planted a church in Santa Cruz in 1980, and by 1990 I was sensing the early signs of a call from the Lord (a “burden”) to do something similar in Pacifica just up the coast. I was talking with Mark, one of the church’s elders about it. I was thinking of relocating my family and doing the church plant myself, and I was about to feel Mark out for how he felt about leading our church in Santa Cruz. But Mark thought I was going to ask him to go lead the charge to start the new church, and before I had a chance to clarify my thinking Mark said, “I’m certainly willing to go if God wants me to.” I asked him the operative question, “Oh, that’s not what I had in my mind, but do you have a burden to do that?”
“Umm, no, not really. I just thought that’s what you were going to propose to me, and I wanted to express my willingness to do whatever the Lord would want us to do. But now that you mention it. Umm, ‘The Burden!’ I forgot about the burden! No, I don’t think I do have the burden!”
It turned out that I was the one with the burden to go and he was the one with the burden to stay and lead the existing church in Santa Cruz. We came to that conclusion after many other discussions, prayer times, and meetings with the other church leaders. But ever since then, Mark and I have kidded with each other, “Oh yeah, the burden! I forgot about the burden!”
It occurs to me that the word itself has a negative ring to it. It sounds like something that weighs you down, makes life hard, and slows you up. But I take it to mean that though it does connote a weightiness, it’s a positive thing like ballast in a ship to keep it from overturning in a storm. When I say, “I have a burden” for something, I mean that I feel a sense of God’s concern for something, I have a heaviness inside me for someone or something. To me, a burden is that inkling that God may be putting something from his heart into mine. He seems to want me to at least pray for something or maybe take action on it in some way.
When I found myself 10 years prior with a growing conviction to move to Santa Cruz to plant the church, I’d only been there a few times and knew very little about the area. It had a beach, a boardwalk, and a bunch of old hippies; that’s about all I knew. But there was a weight in my heart that continued to increase, and so I decided to go there for a few days to fast and pray about it. I went to a campground on Deer Creek that I’d visited before, set up camp, and spent a bunch of time asking God in a bunch of different ways if he wanted us to go to Santa Cruz and start a church. The “burden” increased, but I wasn’t yet quite convinced. We decided to take the Fourth of July weekend, camp in the Santa Cruz area, and do some “reconnaissance.” Our naiveté about how to start a church was only trumped by our cluelessness about how full all of the campgrounds and motels would be on that weekend in this beach town (I thought it would be adequate to begin calling the week before)! One of the managers actually laughed when I told him I was looking for a place for the 4th! Just in case, I decided to try one more, and the lady at the KOA Campground said over the phone, “There’s always room for one more!” When we arrived, she’d put us between two tents, which were already between another two tents. We were literally a foot or two from the people next to us on either side. The first night I heard a constant stream of visitors going in and out of the tent to our right. I did my best not to, but I couldn’t help but hear most of their conversations. They were obviously believers in Jesus. I went over the next morning to meet them. This man and wife had just stepped down from the main counter-culture church in town, a ministry that they had planted a decade or so before. In an hour, they chronicled the history of the church culture there over the past 15 years or so! The Lord had put us right next to them, and I mean, “right next to them!”
So, there you have some pretty cool confirmations (and I think they came from the Lord) of “the burden.” For me, it’s often the case that God gives me a burden for something and then, if necessary, he confirms it with other means (like getting a camp spot right next to the right person).
“Do you have faith for it?”
If someone says to me that they have a “burden” for something, I’ll often ask them, “Do you have faith for this? Can you see it coming to pass? Is this something that you feel a confidence in you that God intends to accomplish this thing and use you to make it happen?”
The terminology isn’t important. You might not say it just this way, but the bottom-line is, if God wants something to happen, and wants it to happen in or to or through us, it’s almost always going to entail faith on our part. It’s been my experience that when the Lord puts the faith in my heart for something it might well be that he’s leading me in some way. I don’t want to make this mystical or anything, but when I have faith for something, it’s because I can almost “see” it, which gives me hope for it to happen, and then a desire to do what I can (if anything) to partner with God to bring it to pass.
Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things unseen. Hebrews 11:1
Without faith it’s impossible to please Him. Hebrews 11:6
“According to your faith let it be done to you…” Matthew 9:29
Let him prophesy in proportion to his faith… Romans 12:6
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths. Proverbs 3:5
Among other spiritual gifts, Paul referred to the “gift of faith.” (1 Corinthians 12) My quirky personal definition of this gift is, “The sudden surge of supernatural certainty for a certain situation.” (It’s much more fun when you say it out loud!) I’ve experienced it for someone’s healing, or another’s supernatural provision, or as part of my own inclination to partner with God in some endeavor of his (like giving money, delivering a prophecy to someone, or embarking on a kingdom adventure of some sort). Sometimes I can tell what God wants me to do by the faith I have for something. It’s easier to discern his leading when you detect the faith in your heart for a certain course.
“The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:24
Most things that God wants us to do are way over our heads – outside the realm of human potential. With human capability alone we can’t do the will of God, so we have to trust him to do it in us and through us. So, when he leads us to do something he often gives us the ability to trust his power to do what we can’t. I often figure that if I can by faith “see it,” it might well be something for which he is dropping that faith into my heart because he’s wanting me to participate in this particular thing with him. Faith in my heart could be an indicator of his guidance.