Adam & Eve.
They all ran. For all the same reason. Sin.
They ran from the consequences of their sin.
They ran into the arms of sin.
And they left a trail of destruction behind them.
Adam & Eve realized their sin and immediately hid from Jesus.
Jacob pushed his luck with his family one too many times and had to run for his life.
Moses decided to work out deliverance for his people – it didn’t go well. He ran.
Peter, the strong, loud, brave one, ran and hid, even after saying he’d follow Jesus to his grave.
Adam & Eve experienced the first broken hearts from a failed relationship – their relationship with God.
Jacob hurt and humiliated his father and brother deeply with his selfish behavior.
Moses left everyone behind without a word.
And Peter. Peter betrayed his best friend and mentor. In front of him.
I’m sure that if we were able to ask each of these people if they realized the consequences their choices would have in that moment, they’d say no. They never meant to hurt their family. They never meant to betray anyone. They never meant to cause pain. They never meant to run away. But they did. And their lives were forever changed.
And looking back, I think they’d say that when they ran, they weren’t really running from their family. They weren’t really running from their friends. They weren’t even running from their circumstances. They were trying to run from God.
We all have that gut instinct when things go wrong. Run.
But God went looking for Adam & Eve. And they were reconciled, though it cost lives.
But God chased Jacob and wouldn’t let him rest until he stopped fighting and let God fight for him.
But God met Moses in the wilderness in a burning bush. And Moses said “Yes, Lord.”
But Jesus sought Peter out and forgave him. And Peter proved his love for Jesus by accepting his new task.
God refused to let the runaways get away. He chased them. He spoke to them. He told them it was time to stop running, stop fighting, stop hiding. It was time to surrender. Let God lead.
I believe that God gives every runaway that chance.
It’s a beautiful thing when someone doesn’t have to run away, doesn’t have to find themselves alone, afraid, and overwhelmed to reach that point of surrender. But, sadly, there are many who must go through that pain in order to come to the end of themselves. They’ve trusted in themselves for so long that they’re afraid to trust God. What if He forgets them? What if He fails them? Does He really care about them at all? So they take matters into their own hands – just like Eve, like Jacob, like Moses, and even Peter. But God comes looking. Even when they run, He loves them. Even when the lie, betray, and hurt themselves, others, and even God, He still loves them. He still looks for them. And He gives them another chance.
“Are you tired of running? Are you tired of hurting others as you chase after yourself? Are you tired of your way? Let me take over. I will heal you. I will provide for you. I will fight for you. Let me love you.”
Unfortunately, not everyone who runs away responds to this invitation. I think of Cain, who decided to give God less than God required as an offering. When God rejected his sacrifice, Can became angry. So God went looking for him. “Why are you angry?” He asked. “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door. It desires to have you, but you must master it.” But instead of repenting, instead of surrendering, Cain went out and killed his brother, Abel, who represented God in Cain’s life because of his righteousness and obedience.
People change when the pain of staying the way they are becomes greater than the pain of change.
And sadly, many of us have a high tolerance of pain.
We all start off as a runaway. Some of us just run faster and harder than others; but eventually God catches up with us. And when we surrender, we find freedom. It’s confusing, it’s scary, and it’s beautiful.
And when we finally surrender to God, we all have to “go back.” Like Moses, like Jacob, we have to go back. We have to make things right. Because in our running, we trampled over some people. We didn’t mean to; we regret it deeply. We never intended to cause pain. But we were self-centered, afraid, and on the run. Nothing could stop us. So we go back, and we do what we can to make things right, trusting God to work in those relationships for his glory. And the mercy we receive is beautiful.
Eventually, though, the tables turn and we become the ones who get hurt as our family or friends run away. And it’s inevitable because if we are walking with the Lord, then we represent Him to those in our lives; so when someone is running from God, they’re also running from us. And we become the collateral damage.
But we must remember – they’re running from God, not us.
They’re afraid, alone, and desperate. They’re not thinking about us; they’re thinking about themselves.
So we must let them go.
We must let them get to the end of themselves so that they can finally surrender to God.
We must beg God to catch them, to reach them, and to bring them back.
We must forgive the hurt, and be ready to show mercy when they return.
Because if we don’t forgive others, how can God forgive us?
How quickly we forget the mercy we’ve been shown.
“Forgiveness is a choice to release another person from the obligation that resulted when they hurt you.” – James MacDonald
I consider Onisemus. We don’t know why he ran from Philemon, his owner, but he did. And somehow, God intervened and Onisemus ran smack into Paul. And Onisemus surrendered. No more running. No more fighting.
Paul took him under his wing. He taught him, trained him, and he began to trust him. And then he sent him back. Back to his owner; the one he’d betrayed, the one who had the power to make his life miserable, or even end it. And Onisemus went.
But Paul wrote to Philemon, and I just love what he said.
“For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.”
Sometimes a person has to go away in order to be able to come back – for good.
I see that so much in the type of ministry we have at Lifeline. Fear, the desire for control, and mistrust of people is so deeply rooted in people with addictions and life-dominating problems that it often takes a person leaving Lifeline, leaving the church, and finding themselves, once again, alone and afraid, before they truly begin to understand and finally reach the point of true surrender.
I hear more testimonies from people who didn’t complete the program or left on negative terms who are, years later, serving God and doing right than I do of those who actually graduated.
Because sometimes they have to run one last time.
But God meets them there.
And they finally and forever, surrender.
And eventually, God sends them back.
Sometimes it’s a few months later. Sometimes it’s a year. Sometimes 5 years. But somehow, some way, God brings us together and there’s an opportunity to be reconciled.
And I promise you, if I didn’t remember that their running away wasn’t about me, and if I didn’t know that God chases runaways, then I’d never be able to welcome them back. But it wasn’t about me, and I do know God’s mercy, so I forgive. Because it’s not about me. It’s about them. My job is to love them, to share the truth with them, and be ready to receive them back when they stop fighting. It’s God’s job to actually make them stop fighting.
So if you’re running, I beg you, stop. It’s not worth it. God is so much better at controlling your life than you are. Let Him prove it to you.
And if someone has trampled over you as they run from God, I implore you, forgive. It’s not really about you. God can still reach them. Pray that He will, and be ready to restore them when He does.
In a word: passionate. About Jesus, church, ministry, music, reading, family, friends, and sometimes even iced skinny soy mochas.