“What brought you to Oxford?”
It’s a natural question we receive often (especially once people hear our foreign accent – most often wrongly guessed as American).
We give a variety of answers, depending on what’s most appropriate to the conversation. But if you were to ask us, and we were to give our fullest most authentic answer, we’d have to respond, “We believe God led our family to come here.”
By this we wouldn’t mean that we heard the audible voice of God, or received our travel specifics on some inspired sheet. But though I can’t approach here an adequate discussion of the potential for God’s leading in the life of any average Christian like us, I can say that this most certainly is our truest answer: We believe God led us here.
God Would Call Us?!
Now you might not believe in the idea of being called by God down a certain path. To the skeptic, it sounds arrogant to suggest – if there were a God – that he, as Creator and Sustainer of all things (!), would then be intimately engaged in the goings-on in the life of one of his devotees. It seems incredulous to suggest that a God of greater than cosmic concern would be so occupied with what, in the grand scheme, must surely be the minutia of one mere human life. Only someone with a tragically self-inflated outlook would suggest otherwise, the skeptic might suggest. And I appreciate that concern.
Surely this position has it right that a God who created and sustains all things is very great indeed – greater than we can tell, and would have concerns far beyond the most expansive reaches of our thought.
But which is greater, a God who could merely hold the seas in the palm of his hand, or One who does no less but also inquires after the falling of a single sparrow? A God who can only count the stars, or One who not only calls them out each by name, but also numbers the very hairs of your head? When we look up into a starlit sky we are overawed and dwarfed by the grandeur, and we may wonder aloud to God, “What is man that you are mindful of him? The son of man that you care for him?” (See Psalm 8:3-4). But the truth is more staggering still: the God whose wonder is witnessed through the telescope is also at work in the marvels seen under the microscope. Clearly such a God is greater still than one whose scope of concern is merely cosmic. So it is not necessarily arrogant to suggest that God is intimately concerned with our life’s path. In fact, it would be proud to suggest otherwise.
Lightyears and Lambs
In the Bible’s varied literature there is a unified witness to a God who is exalted above all, and yet concerned with his people. Isaiah 40 repays even a brief read on this question, where we see pictured in neighbouring verses a God who “tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young” but then in the very next line speaks of God with the question, “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?” (Isaiah 40:11-12).
And on this Oxford adventure we’ve been humbled to re-discover this reality: that God would be so pleased to involve even us in his grand plan, and lead us on in our small part in it. I believe that’s an invitation that stands open for each of us.
Believe me, it would be very difficult indeed to explain how we came to study at doctoral level in one of the world’s great universities apart from reference to God! I got a C+ even in highschool gym class! As you can imagine, my performance in the more rigorously academic classes dropped dismally from there.
But, through a series of unexpected events, I became a Christian at the age of 19 and God changed my life quite dramatically. Formal theological studies were soon to follow. But even then, I never envisioned studies at the doctoral level, let alone leaving our home country to pursue them. After getting married and attending Briercrest College in Saskatchewan for five years, Julie and I returned to our home church, where I was a part of a large pastoral team. We had three children, and I had been on the team by then for seven years. We were speaking with each other and the church about staying for the long term. Then, over the course of a number of months, we were surprised to find an internal stirring that suggested that our plan might not be the plan.
Julie was surprised to hear me say one day, “I think I am meant to resign.” After much thought and prayer and speaking with trusted friends who helped us discern God’s voice, I made that move. The church was incredibly supportive. They even invited me to remain on the pastoral team for another year and a bit after my resignation! And, with no strings attached, they have continued to be our biggest financial supporter on this Oxford adventure, which is incredible. In fact, given discerning God’s leading can be a somewhat subjective experience, hearing his confirmation through the leaders and congregation of the church has been an indispensible part of the journey.
Discerning God’s Leading to Oxford: The Longest Resignation in Church History
In the first 15 minutes of this audio track, I share with the church how we came to sense a call to Oxford. That last 15 are my good friend and colleague Ellis André, then the Senior Pastor of the church, blessing us. You might find this encouraging. I especially appreciate Ellis’ ‘one step at a time’ emphasis at the end:
Just One Thing…
So, what brought us to Oxford? I hope you won’t find it pretentious for us to answer with reference to God’s leading. There’s nothing exceptional about us. But I hope you pick up from our story that we serve a very exceptional God who does incredible things with lives devoted to him and his service.
If you take just one thing from this Oxford adventure of ours, let it be this hearty challenge: Take what you thought your life was about, and give it unreservedly to God. Let him write the story. If our experience is any indication, you’ll be as surprised and thrilled as any as you turn the pages.