by Emily Conrad
It’s mid-February, and I’m still trying to figure out what this year will look like in some pretty significant ways. I want to know God’s path for my life, but I’d be satisfied with just knowing what to do with 2020.
God knows, listens, and cares, and yet His plans for me for this year seem impossible to discern in such a dense forest of unknowns.
Admittedly frustrated with what I don’t know about the future, I’ve questioned the path that’s brought me this far. Are the setbacks and disappointments meant to steer me in a different direction than the one I originally felt called to?
Let’s start by what we can’t use as our guide: setbacks and disappointments.
Though He followed the will of the Father, Jesus suffered.
Though the early followers of Christ were right to preach the Gospel, they faced great persecution for doing so.
Hebrews 11 is full of examples of those who lived by faith–and plenty who died for it.
They were stoned, sawed apart, murdered with the sword; they went about in sheepskins and goatskins; they were destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (the world was not worthy of them); they wandered in deserts and mountains and caves and openings in the earth. And these all were commended for their faith, Hebrews 11:37-39a, NET
It’s hard for me to even read what happened to them.
Were they on the wrong path? No. They suffered on the right path.
In this world, we will have trouble.
A battle rages, and evil forces would love believers to quit their callings, fall out of step with the Bible, and drag others along with us.
The right path can, and often does, involve pain.
But, so does the wrong path.
“The rebellious children are as good as dead,” says the Lord,
“those who make plans without consulting me,
who form alliances without consulting my Spirit,
and thereby compound their sin.”
Isaiah 30:1, NET
If pain and difficulty aren’t reliable indicators of whether or not we’re on the right path, how do we know? And how do we know what steps to take next?
I love how the answer is tucked into that same verse.
Who are the rebellious children? The ones who make plans and alliances without consulting God.
We cannot tell if we’re in God’s will or not based on the difficulty of our circumstances, but we can tell by consulting His Spirit.
Examine me, O God, and probe my thoughts.
Test me, and know my concerns.
See if there is any idolatrous way in me,
and lead me in the everlasting way.
Psalm 139:23-24, NET
David’s prayer models a close relationship with God, where he’s willing to hold up his actions, attitudes, and goals to the Lord’s standards. He’s willing to change, and he’s asking to be led.
With this kind of constant communion with God and His Word, we can determine the way to go.
As we examine our ways and seek our next steps, He may reveal to us that we’re off course.
But even as far off as they were in Isaiah 30, God still offered His people hope:
For this reason the Lord is ready to show you mercy;
he sits on his throne, ready to have compassion on you.
Indeed, the Lord is a just God;
all who wait for him in faith will be blessed.
Isaiah 30:18, NET
God offers us the same mercy. We can always turn back to Him, always repent and wait for His leading before we take another step.
And, when we do, we reap this wonderful promise:
You will hear a word spoken behind you, saying,
“This is the correct way, walk in it,”
whether you are heading to the right or the left.
Isaiah 30:21, NET
What a wonderful promise! Oh, how I long to hear that voice so clearly!
Why does direction sometimes seem so elusive?
In my case with this year, I confess my hope to figure out what God wants for me this year is not something that verse promises I’ll get.
Desiring a whole year’s worth of direction at once is like wishing God were a park ranger at the trailhead, handing out maps of the entire course and then sending me on my way. With my detailed map, I’d understand the reason for the hard places, for the pain and trouble. I’d understand long, straight period where nothing seems to change. I’d understand why progress is slow sometimes.
God gives us His Word, which in ways is our map, but it doesn’t reveal this kind of detail, and if I wait for that much information before I move forward, I’ll never move.
Even when we seek Him and listen to His voice, our God isn’t a park ranger. He’s a Shepherd.
He is the Guide who walks every step of the way with me. When I come to a fork, He says, This way.
I obey but soon come to another questionable place. Is this the trail, or a deer path?
Jesus leads one step at a time.
To get to my destination, I need my Shepherd with me, giving constant guidance.
Realizing this, I’m forced to admit that, though I don’t know God’s plan for 2020, I do know the next step to take. He hasn’t left me alone to guess.
He has giving direction. Now, it’s up to me to follow.
The path won’t be painless, but it will lead to victory.
No force of darkness is a match for God. Jesus has overcome this world where we have trouble.
He walks with us, leading and lending His perfect strength.
He restores my strength.
He leads me down the right paths
for the sake of his reputation.
Even when I must walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no danger,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff reassure me.
Psalm 23:3, NET
This path is not painless, but it is worthwhile. The whole way may not be clear, but Jesus is faithful to lead us one step at a time.
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