One day, at three o’clock in the morning, the Lord woke me up to spend some time with him. In the middle of the fellowship, he gave me a strange instruction. He asked me to move the settees from my den upstairs into the main living-room downstairs and to move the ones downstairs upstairs.
What was odd about this instruction was that the settees in question were ragged and literally in tatters. Surely, it was not appropriate to put them in the main living-room where we entertain guests.
Nevertheless, I was very excited by the instruction. I felt it could only mean one thing: the Lord was planning to replace the old furniture with new ones. The settees in question were twenty-three years old. We could have replaced them long before then, except that the Lord had taken over our finances and buying new settees did not seem to be one of his priorities.
But now, it seemed, the time had finally come. We were in for a treat. Since we had waited patiently for so long to replace them, I wondered what kind of replacement the Lord would come up with. One thing was certain; they would be fabulous.
I quickly obeyed the instruction. I did not wait until there was someone else awake to help me. All night long, I carried the settees downstairs and arranged them in the living room. I then put the relatively new ones that had been in the living-room upstairs in the den. It was not easy, but I managed to do it all by myself.
Later on, that morning, I explained the situation to my wife. “The Lord has decided to get us new furniture,” I declared with excitement. “In readiness, he has asked that we move the old ones downstairs.”
I expected all this to be accomplished in a matter of days. But days rolled into weeks; and weeks rolled into months, and nothing happened. The Lord seemed to have completely forgotten about the question of our furniture. I became thoroughly confused. Did I get it wrong? Was it not the Lord who told me to move the old furniture downstairs? What exactly is the meaning of this? What is the Lord trying to bring out in all this?
God promised Abram a son. On that basis, he changed his name. “Your name will no longer be Abram,” he said. “From now on, your name shall be called Abraham.” Significantly, Abraham means “father of many nations.” So, let us imagine that Abraham takes out an ad in a newspaper saying: “I, previously known as Abram, now wish to be called Abraham.” This would be all well and good except that everyone knows Abraham does not have even one single child.
Worse still, after God made the promise, he seemed to forget about it; for twenty-five years! What is the point of this? What is supposed to happen to Abraham in the meantime? In the meantime, God has turned him into a laughing stock. Abraham has become a childless “father of many nations.”
Reproach of men
Why does God behave like this? Why is God seemingly determined to make us a reproach of men? Take a look at the complaint of the Psalmist: “I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people. All those who see me ridicule me; they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, ‘He trusted in the LORD, let him rescue him; let him deliver him since he delights in him!” (Psalm 22:6-8).
“God is determined to thwart our purposes in life.”
This has been my experience with the Lord. He deliberately puts me in embarrassing situations. How was I to explain the transition in my life from a highfalutin intellectual to a bible-carrying believer to my old bookworm friends? How could I go from grace to grass in the name of the gospel? How could I end up preaching the gospel with an Oxford university doctorate?
Therefore, for over ten years, I cut off all contacts with my friends. I just could not face them. I was convinced that they would not understand. I was not even the pastor of a big or famous church. All I did was conduct a fellowship with a handful of people in a little corner of Lagos. Moreover, God forbid that I should preach with the enticing words of man’s wisdom in order to attract a big congregation.
The Lord’s injunction concerning my old settees turned out to be an object lesson on my spiritual conversion. The settees became a major eyesore in our living-room. I started dreading people coming to visit us. What would they think? The settees were torn in different places. In some, the underlying foam was clearly visible. Therefore, I stopped inviting people home.
If they came to visit me uninvited, I would go into some elaborate explanation about the furniture, laying the blame squarely at the doorstep of the Holy Spirit. “I’m sorry about the condition of this place, but the Holy Spirit told me to put this twenty-three-year-old furniture bang in the living-room.”
Some looked at me pitifully, convinced that I was the victim of some bizarre deception. But the Lord did not make things any easier. He forbade me from explaining to anyone that he was the one who told me to put the torn furniture in the living-room. Neither could I pray that people would not come to visit me. The same God to whom the prayer would be addressed was the very person clearly determined to embarrass me.
Now here is the rub: why was the Lord doing this to me? I thought I should have been commended for using a settee for over twenty-three years. Instead, the Lord turned this into a reproach for me.
After a few months, it became clear to me that the Lord had no intention of getting us new settees. I reminded him that I actually had not asked him for new ones. He was the one who brought the matter up. Since he was no longer interested, could I please put the old settees back in their original hiding place upstairs? The answer was an emphatic “No.”
The bible says God is love. But I ask you, what kind of love is God? Let me tell you. God’s love is hard and humiliating. He secures our welfare through schemes that are often unpalatable to us. He seems to take delight in disappointing our hopes and in foiling our expectations of grandeur. He is determined to thwart our purposes in life and to make us the reproach of men.
Twenty-five years after he made the promise, God finally gave Abraham a son. The Lord never did forget the promise he made to Abraham. He was simply determined to test his faith.
Twenty-three years of living with the same furniture, and seven months of having torn furniture displayed for all to see in our living-room, the Lord finally instructed me to go to a precise shop where he showed me a new set of settees that were simply beautiful. Moreover, he miraculously provided me with the money to purchase it.