Amber tentacles mingled with the approaching indigo of dusk and the waves of the Pacific sparkled and reflected the setting sun. Thoughts of sharing an authentic Mexican dinner with my father in Manhattan Beach triggered a growling response in my stomach. My mind’s eye lingered on the far-western horizon and the will of God. Deep down in the depths of my soul, I knew the answers to my prayers. I knew God wanted me to move out west and leave behind the friends, family, and financial security that the Midwest provided. I valued security. More money, closer friends, and a loving family far outweighed the will of God…and the enemy knew it.
It was time for the enemy to act…and when he acts, he does so efficiently and immediately. I instantly prayed that manipulative prayer we all pray when we want to convince God that His purpose for our life isn’t nearly as brilliant as our own. It’s that “Jesus in the Garden Prayer” with a twist:
“My Father, if it is possible, may you change your mind and let me do what I want to do. Not as you will, but as I will.”
Sometimes we throw in a bargaining chip—as if that helps:
“Oh—and by the way—I’ll be your best servant EVER in the future, if you just let me have MY way now.”
I prayed the prayer and the enemy left me…pleased with himself I’m sure. I chose security over the will of God, mounted my stubborn donkey (a.k.a. a burgundy piece of crap Ford Thunderbird courtesy of my car salesman friend Lance), and moved to St. Louis. I chose Eden Seminary over Fuller Seminary simply because it was more secure, less frightening, closer to home, and what I wanted over what God wanted. God wasn’t finished with me and I never changed God’s mind. I was just ignoring Him.
After Balaam resisted Balak’s bribes and recognized that it was more important to dig God than to dig for gold, Balaam began to rationalize with himself and try to manipulate God into letting him accept Balak’s gift and prophesy for him regardless. Balaam decided to pray one last time and God finally agreed to let Balaam go to Balak as long as he only did what God told him to do. On the surface, it seemed as if God changed his mind almost immediately, because when Balaam went with the Moabite officials, God was angry and sent an angel to oppose him. Truthfully, this isn’t a contradiction. God knew Balaam had greedy, selfish intentions all along. Balaam was trying to convince God of his ways while ignoring the true will of God. God was angry and opposed Balaam and Balaam’s selfish ambition. Luckily, Balaam’s donkey had the aptitude to recognize spiritual principalities and froze along the road to Moab—not moving to the right or to the left. Ticked off, Balaam beat his donkey. Fearing the angel of the Lord over his master’s whip, Balaam’s donkey lay down and didn’t move a muscle. So Balaam beat his donkey all the more—resulting in the donkey getting up, turning around, and saying, “What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?” (Numbers 22:28).
Not in the least surprised his donkey was talking to him, Balaam began to argue with his donkey. At this moment, God opens Balaam’s eyes so he can see the angel standing in the road with drawn sword. Through this experience, Balaam realized that he couldn’t oppose the will of God, manipulate God into adhering to his own dreams and wishes, or bargain with God to relinquish His will and plan. From the mouth of his own donkey, Balaam recognized the authority of God and the intransigence of God’s plan and purpose for our lives.
Like Balaam, I disobeyed God and sided with my own ambitions and security. With the enemy satisfied for the time being, God sent his angel to stand right in the middle of Highway 13, and with drawn sword in hand, the angel of the Lord opposed me…blocking my route to St. Louis. My ambition and conviction clouded my discernment and perceptions, but my Thunderbird donkey wasn’t blind to God’s opposition. My Thunderbird paused right there in Higginsville, MO and wouldn’t budge to the left or to the right.
So I beat it.
I beat my Thunderbird donkey, fixed him, and forced him to drive past God’s opposition and continue to St. Louis. Two months later, my donkey lay down under me by dropping its transmission on the 170 freeway.
So I beat it.
Perhaps, if my Thunderbird would have turned around and audibly ask me, “What have I done to you to make you beat me?” I would have recognized God’s opposition. Or, I may have argued with him saying, “Stop being a lemon and I won’t beat you.” I honestly believe I would have been too shocked to argue with my car, but you never know—Balaam wasn’t alarmed at all by his audible beast of burden.
God sent other donkeys to me in St. Louis: depression, loneliness, illness, anxiety, ambivalence, doubt, agnosticism. These donkeys warned me that God opposed my decision. These donkeys alerted me to the enemy’s influence in my decision to ignore God’s will and seek my own desires, pleasures, and securities in the decisions I made. I still have difficulty recognizing the donkeys of my life as they stubbornly warn me of God’s opposition and the enemy’s influence. Our own proclivities often overshadow our discerning spirit. Recognizing them is the first step to discernment. Another aspect of this step is to remember the true prayer of Jesus in the Garden. It’s God’s will, not our own—no matter how tempting it may be to appease our desires and then try to manipulate God to concur.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
—1 Peter 5:6–8