“You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy.” (Psalm 16:11)
Singing for pleasure had always been a big part of my life, but when I joined a community performance of Handel’s “Messiah,” it was the first time I’d sung with a conductor.
Pretty soon I learned that I didn’t need to worry about missing my cues – as long as my eyes were fixed on him. Each time he raised his hands and gained our attention before the signal to rise and sing, I found myself leaning forward with a completely new sense of joyful alertness and anticipation.
Contrast that with this year’s “Messiah” sing. No one had expected 290 singers to show up, so the choir spilled off the risers and down onto floor level. That’s where I was. Standing on the floor, at the extreme edge of the choir where I couldn’t hear all the parts, I was lost in a forest of altos, two of whom must have been half a foot taller then I.
Unlike Zaccheus, I had no sycamore tree, so I stood on tiptoe and shifted from side to side, in a vain attempt to see the conductor. With him, I was set free to simply sing with all my heart. Without him, I felt disoriented, hemmed-in, and frustrated.
I can’t think of a better picture of what it means to have (or not have) guidance from my Heavenly Father. Only He sees the depths of my heart and the span of my lifetime, the minds of the people around me, and the very limits of eternity itself. “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” This is what I tap into every time I present myself to Him as a living sacrifice in order to discern His good, acceptable, and perfect will.Romans 11:33, 12:1,2 ESV
But frankly, for me, decisions often feel like more battles to be gotten through, than adventures to enjoy. That’s why I’m grateful for a promise that came my way by “accident.” On my last day of homeschooling, I closed my books and went to my mom. “Quick!” I said teasingly. “This is your last chance to teach me something.” She replied with this verse from the book of Proverbs: “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.”Proverbs 3:6 When it comes to discerning His will, nothing is more powerful than a simple request for wisdom from the One who loves to share it.James 1:5
And that’s how my adventures began.
Seeking the Way
I used to think that guidance would come like a lightning bolt: one day (or even moment) I wouldn’t know God’s will for me, and the next, I would. Well, yes and no. The Hebrew word translated “acknowledge” in the above verse actually includes seeing, recognizing, making myself known to and intimately knowing my God. His guidance is often much slower than I’d wish, but it is certain.Elisabeth Elliot’s book on this subject is entitled God’s Guidance: A Slow and Certain Light.
For ten years, I dreamed about visiting the land of Israel. For six years, I saved tens and twenties in an envelope, wondering if perhaps – just perhaps – God was calling me to go. The setbacks, disappointments and plot twists that came into those years might make a small novel in themselves, but one hot and hazy May afternoon, I stepped off a plane and onto Israeli asphalt.
That’s when I knew that God could get even me to hear His call.
Have you ever read a detective novel? As the story progresses, clue piles upon clue, until the last puzzle piece is finally fitted into place, and the conclusion is unmistakable. That’s the adventure of seeking God’s will.
But what does it look like in everyday life? It often means praying, and then using my God-given common sense: I set my sails towards His wind, and assume He is blowing me in the right direction. For weightier decisions, taking a day of fasting can be a great help. The point isn’t to make myself miserable, but to acknowledge that only one of us in this relationship is omniscient – and it isn’t me. It also gives me time to ask God questions and to quiet my heart for His reply.
Often I won’t receive an answer right away, but if I stay tuned in during the next hours, days and weeks, I begin picking up clues. In the pages of the Bible. In the middle of a church service. Through the advice of a mentor or friend. By unfolding circumstances. With an inexplicable, but unshakable peace in my heart. Sometimes, though much less often than I’d like, through His voice.Isaiah 30:21 (I imagine that’s because He would rather I had another chance to practice trusting Him).
If you’re a detective-story fan, you may also have noticed that sometimes the smallest of facts becomes the most important of clues. Similarly, the events in the story God is writing for my life sometimes have a delayed-release significance.
Nearly eight years ago, my sister was on the phone, requesting information about a writing course. On a whim, she turned to me and asked if I wanted a copy, too. Remembering that my pastor had once suggested I consider further education, I replied, “Uh, sure.” My sister didn’t take that course; I did. Of course, it’s just part of a longer story, sandwiched between hundreds of pages of letter-writing, first as a teen and then as a traveler, but it was a pivotal moment.
Then, I had no serious dreams of becoming a writer. Now it is one of the main ways in which I serve others, one of the main ways in which I see God.
God has so many different methods for getting through to me that if I’m focused on the last one He used, I’ll probably miss the one He’s going to use next. This means I must continually, trustfully fix my eyes and ears on Him. Not a bad place for my attention to be.
Finding the Way
However the guidance comes, I cannot forget to ask whose voice is on the other end of the telephone.1 John 4:1 When Jesus described Himself as the Good Shepherd, He said that His sheep run from unfamiliar voices. They follow Him, however, because they know His voice.John 10
Bedouin shepherds tell of a man who sought one lost ewe where several flocks – hundreds of sheep – met together. Despite the noise and confusion, when he began asking about his ewe, she heard his voice and responded.This story originated with Dr. Timothy Laniak, who spent a year with indigenous shepherds in Bible lands before writing Where Shepherds Watched Their Flocks: Reflections on Biblical Leadership. It’s not great intelligence that enables sheep to recognize their Master’s call. It’s prolonged proximity to Him.
When I first encountered the barren, sculpted hills of the Judean Wilderness, I noticed faint lines tracing their contours in concentric circles from bottom to top. I asked our guide what they were, and she replied that they were tracks left by sheep and goats. I wonder if David had this picture in mind when he wrote of his Good Shepherd, “He leads me in the tracks of righteousness for His name’s sake.” It’s not my merit that places me in the tracks of righteousness. It is part of my Shepherd’s reputation and His very character to get me there.
Though I did know, when I stepped off that plane onto Israeli tarmac, that God had guided me, I now know it in a much deeper way than ever before. I was looking for a little adventure. God planned a much greater adventure, one that includes sacrifice, and growth, and the ongoing transformation of a painfully self-conscious girl into an adventurous, fellowship-loving woman.
It’s easy to think that God’s way is a place, a time or a state of mind. Actually, it’s a Person: If I am with Jesus, I have found the Way. Does seeking God’s guidance mean I am always right? No, He is the guide; I am the disciple, the student, the follower-in-training. Does it mean that my walk through life will be easy and smooth? No, but neither was His.
It would have been beautiful, if I hadn’t been so scared. Our tour bus had just wound down a steep mountain, and parked in front of our goal: Sela. Pillars and columns and masses of solid rock, rising nearly sheer, its face split lengthwise with deep fissures.
We’d done plenty of hiking on this historical geography tour of Jordan, and I’d loved every bit of it, but a newly healed ankle sprain meant I prayed my way up the steep spots. And this was the steepest yet. It was with a great deal of trepidation that I slung my backpack over my shoulder, got out of the bus, and began following our guide toward the base of the mountain.
Ten minutes later, I was close enough to see what had escaped my notice before: a flight of steps cut into the rock. At the end of that easy climb were ancient caves and carvings, and a soaring view of the surrounding mountains. I loved Sela.
All too often in my walk with Jesus, I’m the “Much-Afraid” of Hind’s Feet on High Places,By Hannah Hurnard certain that the mountains ahead will be too difficult for me. I stand still, desperately reminding myself that my God is trustworthy, but unable to move!
Can you guess what He does? He doesn’t stand there pointing to the rough path ahead, and say, “Get going!” No, He says, “Follow Me.” He never calls me to a path which He hasn’t already traveled Himself. Since He (and only He) knows what lies ahead, I can think of no better preparation for the future than learning to recognize His voice now. And when I’m afraid, I need only remember that His call is a call to be with Him.
When two disciples were joined by a mysterious stranger while walking to Emmaus,Luke 24:13-32 life seemed to be going on as normal. But something was happening inside them. It was a slow-dawning realization, but a sure one. Hey, their hearts cried silently, I’m with Jesus!
That’s where I want to be.
Copyright 2009 Elisabeth Adams. All rights reserved.