Every January 1st for the past twenty years, I have been greeted by the same bracing truth as I turn again to the first page of my well-worn flip calendar of Elisabeth Elliot quotes:
Lord, give me a quiet heart
That doesn’t need to understand,
But, confident, walks forward in
The darkness, guided by your hand.
In a sense, everyone steps into the darkness of the unknown at the beginning of a new year, and the more people we love, the more vulnerable we seem to be. We can’t control the choices of others; we can’t foresee the twistings and turnings of the details of our days, of our employment situation, of our health; we can’t shield our loved ones from the forces of nature or the consequences of their actions.
Although Elisabeth was a young woman when she penned these words, she had already grasped an important truth that thrums through my bones at the beginning of every year: we are walking into the unknown, but even so, we can rest in the knowledge – the deep and abiding confidence – that God wants to guide us, and the unknown is well-known to Him.
“Where then does wisdom come from, and where is the source of understanding? God understands the way to it; He alone knows its source; For He can see to the ends of the earth, and He surveys everything under heaven,” Job 28:20, 23, 24 (NEB).
God, in His wisdom, wants to guide us far more than we want to follow! He doesn’t simply e-mail a set of directions to us or give us advice from a distance. He has promised to be a Guide.
I am writing from a place of struggle and questioning at the end of a year that has seen more question marks than exclamation points, more misty fog than lighthouses, and many days in which I wondered if I had taken a wrong turn somewhere. To be honest, when I have a decision to make, I want sky writing. When it’s time to buy a car, I want to see, “Buy the blue Ford,” hanging in the heavens. Notice, however, that whenever supernatural guidance was given in the Bible (pillars of cloud and fire, talking donkeys, angels, dreams, and visions), it was not usually asked for, but came at God’s discretion. He is free to communicate by whatever means He chooses.
With this in mind, I want to read His promises of guidance with confidence and to sense His leading, to trust His working in my life by His Spirit to guide my steps and — perhaps even more important — to set me on the right path when I make a wrong turn.
Providing a list of “tried and true methods for finding the will of God” or prescribing how God will work in a life is presumptuous – and harmful. Our God is in the heavens, and He does whatever He pleases. However, an understanding of how God has worked in the past is helpful in discerning how He may work in the future.
“If any man will do His will, he shall know . . .,” John 7:17. God guides those who obey. If I’m not doing what I know of God’s revealed will, I should not expect further guidance. George MacDonald said, “If any man’s will is to do His will, he shall know . . . Obedience is the opener of eyes.”**
The truth is that much of what God requires of us involves lots of “mundane faithfulness” to daily tasks. David’s harp playing skills that gave him an audience with King Saul were gained in a field watching sheep. Samuel faithfully served in the temple, and I’m sure that Matthew had no idea that he would be called to the life of a disciple on the last day of his tenure as a tax collector.
The prophet Habakkuk made no great claims to a full understanding of the ways of God, but one thing he knew – God has an exquisite sense of timing:
“Then the LORD answered me and said,
‘Write the vision
And make it plain on tablets.
That he may run who reads it.
For the vision is yet for an appointed time;
But at the end it will speak and it will not lie.
Though it tarries, wait for it;
Because it will surely come,
It will not tarry.’” Habakkuk 2:2,3 (NKJV)
Waiting is the hardest assignment of all in the discernment of God’s will. Even Ruth, in all her faithfulness and obedience felt the weight of it and received this counsel from Naomi: “Sit still, my daughter, until you know how the matter will fall,” Ruth 3:18.
We are subject to authority and, indeed, obligated to serve and to be sensitive to one another in the body of Christ. Fulfillment of my responsibilities to the people God has placed in my life has often served as a beacon by which God has guided me. For example, should I accept a speaking engagement that conflicts with an important meeting with the ladies of my own church? Probably not.
A word from an employer, a co-worker, a sibling, a parent, or a friend may be used to influence and guide us. When seeking guidance on a matter, it is wise to take godly counsel and to pray with a sister in Christ, “for where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them,” Matthew 18:20.
It is no accident that every Christian possesses a particular palette of abilities and spiritual gifts. Countless times, I have heard my husband counsel our boys, “Whatever you have in your hand, God will use,” and that’s not a thought that’s original with him. God said the same thing to Moses about a simple rod.
It gets tricky here because we are fallen creatures, barely knowing our own motives, but desires placed prayerfully before God can be a trustworthy guide. The prayer life of the Apostle Paul demonstrates his conviction that it was best to submit his yearnings to God, for even a longing to visit Rome for the establishment of the believers there was made subject to God’s approval.
There was nothing glamorous about the circumstances surrounding Saul being anointed King over Israel. Remember? He was in a predicament because his Father’s donkeys had wandered off. He was out looking them, but what he found instead was God’s servant Samuel who had explicit directives that Saul was to be God’s man on the throne. Our circumstances are part of the “all things” that God promises to work for our good and his glory in Romans 8:28. Often we do not recognize the hand of God until in retrospect we look back on the events of our lives and see how He has led.
Coming into 2016, I want to be attentive to God’s guiding hand, to maintain a quiet heart that waits for Him to shed light on the next step. My prayer is that my confidence in His love will overcome my need for white-knuckle control over the road map; that my “eye-opening” obedience to His directives will enhance my sensitivity to His voice; and that walking into the murky unknown, I will find grace to live in the confidence that waits for the Word of God:
“And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ’This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left,” (Isaiah 30:21 ESV).
This post first appeared at Soli Deo Gloria .
Image credit: Jen Ferguson
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