by Emily Conrad
The tapping prompted my husband to ask if it’d started to rain. He was sitting in an enclosed three-seasons room with his Bible study group. It’d grown dark, so they’d turned on a light, and then tap, tap, tap.
Because he’d left a car window open, he went out and checked, but no rain.
The sound was a crowd of insistent bugs, attempting to get to the light inside.
Tap, tap, tap. All night. They decided to turn out the light while they prayed at the end to cut down on the distraction.
Seconds after they distinguished the light, all the tapping stopped.
The bugs doggedly followed the light. When it left, so did they.
Thousands of years ago, the Israelites operated in a manner similar to those determined bugs.
The book of Exodus closes with this beautiful picture of God’s leading and His people’s faithfulness in following:
But when the cloud was lifted up from the tabernacle, the Israelites would set out on all their journeys; but if the cloud was not lifted up, then they would not journey further until the day it was lifted up. For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, but fire would be on it at night, in plain view of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys. Exodus 40:37-38, NET
God put evidence of His leading in plain view. At night, he did so with fire–light. The Israelites could easily determine when to stay and when to go, and despite unfaithfulness in other ways, in this area they followed God’s lead.
From my sunny writing desk thousands of years later, I envy the ease of determining God’s will in that situation.
Is the cloud there? Great. We stay.
Is the cloud moving on? I’ll pack my bags.
If only determining God’s will came that easily for me.
And yet, the Israelites faced unknowns, too. Numbers 9:20-22 tells us that sometimes, the cloud stayed in one place for just one night, sometimes for a month or more. I don’t see an indication in that passage that they knew in advance how long they’d be in one place.
I like control. I like to know what will happen and when.
Following a cloud no longer seems quite so easy, so maybe it’s a blessing that’s not part of my assignment.
However, as a follower of Jesus, I am still called to follow the light. To stay where He stays, to go when and where He goes.
God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him and yet keep on walking in the darkness, we are lying and not practicing the truth. But if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:5b-7, NET
I need to be as determined as those bugs were to stay in the light. I need to be as faithful in following what Jesus taught as the Israelites were in following that cloud.
In a sense, it should be easy. I have God’s Word, the Bible. I can read His commands, spelled out in black and white (and red), as clearly as the people of Israel could see the cloud or the pillar of fire.
And may I do my best to obey, to live rightly, and honor my God.
In another sense, not everything is black and white. Sometimes, a decision about what to do doesn’t seem to be a moral one, and neither option seems to be more filled with light than the other.
For example, I’m part of a writing organization that hosts a huge conference every year. It’s a wonderful opportunity to pitch my work and to catch up with my writing friends, things I can normally only do online. But, it’s expensive and, though I benefit from going, I’m not sure I benefit justifies the cost this year.
Do I stay or do I go?
No pillar of cloud or fire seems to mark the way.
I can go round and round on decisions like these. I have gone round and round on such decisions.
But as I look back on my most difficult choices (some more far-reaching than deciding about a single conference), I realize they were difficult because I let my fears cast a shadow over my faith.
John tells us that is God light, and He is also love. And perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:16, 18). So, that’s one big vote against fear.
Also, if I fear something enough that I allow it shape my decisions, I’m putting it before God. And the first and greatest commandment is to love God with all of my heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37).
So, if I’m following the light, I cannot let fear control my decisions.
It’s not always easy to admit that’s what happening in my heart. Yet, when I feel deeply conflicted over a decision, I hope to get quicker at stepping back to ask, “What am I afraid of?”
Usually, my first answer is, “Choosing incorrectly.”
At first, that sounds kind of righteous to my ears, yet it over-estimates my power and under-estimates God’s.
What does the Bible say about that fear?
God is all-powerful. He’s working all things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). When I’m genuinely putting Him first as I decide, my choosing one path or another on an issue like attending a conference will not stand in the way of Him accomplishing His purpose for me.
With that fear out of the way, I can circle back to the decision with one less obstacle.
If you want to follow the light in a decision but you’re having trouble locating it, consider what fears might be casting long shadows across your faith. Your decisions and your fears will look different than mine. Even my fears look different in different situations.
Nothing we fear–rejection, financial hardships, career uncertainties, learning curves, physical danger, or anything else–is bigger or more powerful than our God. Let’s let Him, and not our fears, make our decisions.
Not that I mean to make this sound incredibly easy.
Notice how I said “my first answer” to the fear question is usually about choosing incorrectly? Often, I find that even with one fear out of the way, I remain conflicted. I have to start the process over and dig to find out what else is going on in my heart by asking again, “What am I afraid of?”
In the case of the writer’s conference, the truth is, I fear I’ll miss my big break by not attending.
What does the Bible say about that?
My big break in writing (if there is such a thing) will depend entirely on God, not on me doggedly completing some course I’ve mapped out to success (Proverbs 16:9). If, in pride, I act like I can succeed by my own efforts, I’m setting myself up for disappointment, since God exalts the humble who trust in Him rather than themselves. (1 Peter 5:6)
Finally, having examined that fear more closely, I was left with a much easier decision.
The choice I made is taking some faith, and I’d have it no other way. I’m grateful to get to act on my belief that God is who He says He is. That He’s all-powerful and can open any door He’d like. That He’ll fight my battles for me as I follow Him.
If nothing else happens from my decision but this opportunity to trust Him more, I will have won.
Stay or go? Often, those aren’t the important questions. The important question is, “Will I trust my God more than my fears?”
Loving God and loving others are the greatest commandments, so when we choose to love God enough to seek Him and trust Him, we’re walking in the light.
Whatever your situation, coming to a decision may take time. Identifying fears might only be one step toward following the light. There may be other important questions to ask and answer. But, there’s good news. God isn’t like that inaccessible, intermittent porch light.
God isn’t a light. God is light, shining in plain view. Let us seek Him and His will. In all things, let us follow the light.
And the light shines on in the darkness, but the darkness has not mastered it. John 1:5, NET
Then Jesus spoke out again, “I am the light of the world! The one who follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12, NET
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