To make the road obvious

I have no sense of direction on road trips or in buildings or anywhere. Even if the sun is visible and someone tells me which direction I’m going, I can’t tell you which way I’m heading without careful contemplation. So as you can imagine, Google Maps is my friend, and that has special meaning this morning.

As you’re reading this, I’m driving by myself to Estes Park. My best friend got married this past weekend, and now I’m heading out on a week-long sabbatical of sorts. I’ve been this way before, though, so there’s not much chance that I’ll get lost.

I’m stepping back from normal life for a little while, taking a road trip with Jesus, because it’s time for me to take a good, long look at life, the universe, and everything.

At some points in our lives, I think it’s a good idea to reevaluate the decisions we’ve made, to make sure that we’re still heading in the direction God wants. It’s the same reason you carry a compass when you go hiking.

God asks us to follow Him, but if we don’t stop sometimes to make sure we’re still on the right path, we run the risk of wandering off.

My life verse has always been Proverbs 3:5-6, and I’ve always found it to be true. I can make my own plans as much as I want, but ultimately God is the one in control of my life. How foolish would I be if I tried to do things my own way?

But I do. Often.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5-6That’s why I have my compass, Proverbs 3:5-6 — Trust God, even when life doesn’t make sense, and He’ll make your path obvious.

A few other versions of the Bible translate verse 6 to be: “he will make your paths straight.”

But I think I love the Amplified version the best:

In all your ways know and acknowledge and recognize Him, and He will make your paths straight and smooth [removing obstacles that block your way].

How awesome is that?

That’s the kind of awesome I need in my crazy, confused, stressful life, to know for sure that the direction I’m walking is the one God wants for me. That’s the sweet spot, where I want to live.

So that’s what this week is about. Refocusing. Getting centered on God’s Word again. Making sure that I’m following Jesus’ road the way I’m supposed to, not trusting my own interpretation of life, but instead trusting His.

That’s the hard part, because I like to make sense of life. I like to fit the scattered pieces of life into a neat portrait, like a jigsaw puzzle coming together. But life can’t make sense without Jesus. It’s hard enough to make sense of it with Him, I wouldn’t even want to try without Him.

Life can't make sense without Jesus. - A.C. WilliamsSo in those moments where you need to check your directions, remember your compass. Remember that trusting your own understanding won’t help you conquer the trouble life throws at you. Instead, trust what God says. Do what God says. And keep your eyes peeled for the road God wants you on, because as long as you’re relying on His directions, the road you’re supposed to be walking will become obvious.

That’s a promise.

Beautiful jar of canned pickles at the Kansas State Fair, Hutchinson, KS

Show me the pickles!

I hate not having the answers, but even more than that, I hate revealing to other people that I don’t know the answers. I won’t even ask for directions in the grocery store. Even if I spend an extra five minutes looking for that jar of pickles, I’d rather find it myself than demonstrate to someone that I don’t know where to find it. Isn’t that silly?

It’s probably my pride, which is something I struggle with constantly. I’m the clever one, the smart one, the one who always has everything under control, and I can’t find the pickles at the grocery store? Really? How embarrassing is that?

Now other clever, brilliant people I know can’t find the pickles either, but they don’t have a problem asking anyway. And if you think about it, which is a sign of actual intelligence? Asking where the pickles are? Or making a show wandering up and down the grocery store looking for it, where everyone can see you?

Beautiful jar of canned pickles at the Kansas State Fair, Hutchinson, KS

Beautiful jar of canned pickles at the Kansas State Fair, Hutchinson, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 9:9.

Instruct the wise,
    and they will be even wiser.
Teach the righteous,
    and they will learn even more.

Last night, I got to have coffee with a wonderful new friend. It was a great time of encouragement, and I got the opportunity to ask questions about a very large, as-of-yet-unrevealed adventure I’m going to be embarking on this year. The thing about this adventure/project? I’ve never done anything like it before. I’ve never even come close to doing anything like this before, and for the first time ever I am completely at a loss of how to proceed. Oh yeah, I know the basics. I know the simple outline of how to do it, but the details? The possible pitfalls? The way to manage success or failure? It’s all new.

Not knowing what to do and being honest about it is new for me. Not to say that I always know what I’m doing. That’s rarely the case. But I never ever openly admit that I don’t know what the next step is.

But this is important. This is something I feel like God is calling me to do, and I want to do it right. I want to make wise choices, so I want to talk to people who have previous experience, even if that means I have to reveal that I don’t have a clue what I’m doing.

Throughout our conversation last night, I kept thinking about this verse. This is the kind of person I want to be, which is ironic because this is very much the message series that my pastor is speaking on right now. Wisdom. Getting more wisdom. Being wise. Being teachable. I want to be teachable. I want to be the kind of person who can learn new things, but to be that kind of person I have to admit (to myself and others) that I need instruction.

There’s a funny scene in The Forbidden Kingdom, a funny Kung-Fu movie with Jackie Chan and Jet Li, where the little teenage tag along is asking questions about Kung-Fu. Jackie Chan’s character has agreed to train him, but this crazy kid is so full of things he thinks he knows that he’s not learning anything. I think it’s relevant to this topic today.

If you want to be wise, truly wise, you have to admit that you don’t have all the answers. Trying to come off like you know everything just demonstrates how little you actually know. Wise people want to be wiser. Wise people never stop learning, so that means they have to be willing to admit they need help.

That’s what I’m working on. Being open about how little I actually know, asking for help when I need it, and not being afraid to admit that I don’t know the answers.

But I probably still won’t ask for directions at the grocery store, because–well–spending a little extra time walking around is probably good for me anyway.

Sign on the Galveston Ferry, crossing between Galveston Beach and Jamaica Beach - Texas

Life’s too short to waste wandering the grocery store

There’s a popular stereotype that men hate asking for directions. Sitcoms have played with the concept for years, and in many instances it’s true. I don’t really know any guys who will voluntarily ask for directions. But it’s not just limited to men. I hate asking for directions. I’d much rather find my own way.

As I was posting about how poor my sense of direction is yesterday, I got to chuckling about my own proclivities to wander around until I find landmarks that look familiar. Would it be easier to ask someone which way I should go? Absolutely. But do I do it? Absolutely not! I won’t even ask for directions in a grocery store. I’d rather find it myself, even if that requires that I spend a lot more time and effort.

Maybe that’s pride. I don’t know. And maybe spending too much time looking for peanut butter isn’t a big deal, but if you get into the habit of refusing to ask for directions in the small things, it won’t be long before you refuse to ask for directions in bigger things.

Sign on the Galveston Ferry, crossing between Galveston Beach and Jamaica Beach - Texas

Sign on the Galveston Ferry, crossing between Galveston Beach and Jamaica Beach, Texas

Today’s verse is Psalm 25:12.

Who are those who fear the Lord?
    He will show them the path they should choose.

I hate asking for directions for anything. Does anyone else feel that way? I don’t know if that’s a pride thing or not, but that’s me. I want people to know that I’m not high maintenance, that I can figure things out on my own without bothering them. So I’d rather not ask for directions, especially if it’s something I can think through logically.

However, there are some things in life that nobody can figure out. Sometimes things happen to us that don’t make sense without asking for God’s help. We get hurt. People we love get hurt or sick. We lose our jobs. We face all sorts of trials and tests and challenges, and if we refuse to ask for God’s direction at times like that, there’s a good chance we’ll take a wrong turn.

It’s not that we’d be hopelessly lost. No one is hopelessly lost when it comes to God. But we may end up making a lot more trouble for ourselves if we insist on going our own way. And it’s not that we don’t want God in our lives. We just want to make our own decisions, we want to go our own way, we want to do things ourselves. And on one hand, I don’t suppose there’s anything wrong with that. But think about the toddlers who insist on dressing themselves before they know how. They end up with clothes on backwards and shoes on wrong. Not dangerous but kind of silly. But how often are independent-minded toddlers satisfied with just dressing themselves? They want to do everything, and they want to do it on their own. Sure. Cute. But what would happen if you let that toddler drive the car or walk to the store or work in the kitchen?

A parent who lets their little child do things like that wouldn’t be called a very good parent. Why? I mean, aren’t you supposed to encourage independence? Aren’t you supposed to let kids explore who they are? Well, I guess. But is it a good idea to let them experience things they aren’t ready for, things they don’t understand? Of course not. A toddler driving a car? That’s a terrible idea! Not only could they get themselves killed but they could hurt other people around them.

Are we so different when we demand to live life our own way in spite of listening to what God has told us?

Refusing to listen to God is pride. Refusing to accept God’s directions, even though they’ve been plain to us, is pride. And pride is always dangerous, no matter what form it takes. If you’re refusing to take God at His Word because you think you know better, you’re just asking for trouble.

So stop fighting Him and start listening. Trust me, it’s not as bas as you think. And it really is a time saver. God wants the best for us. He’s not trying to squash our fun. He just wants to prevent us from making mistakes that will plague us for the rest of our lives. The good thing about asking for directions is that you can get where you need to be faster. You can accomplish more. Isn’t that better? After all, life is really too short to waste time wandering around the grocery store searching for peanut butter when all you have to do is ask for it.

Distant, lonely tree in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Enduring when God is silent

I like instructions. I don’t always read them, but it’s comforting to know they’re there in case I need them. So what happens when the instructions don’t make sense? A friend was telling me over the weekend that her husband bought her a desk and assembled it for her, but the instructions were missing pages. So putting the desk together was a nightmare. What happens when you’re missing the instructions and the things you thought would be easy turn into something difficult?

That’s a silly example, but many of us run into that question a larger scale when we’re trying to live. We lose our instructions or we encounter a situation where the instructions no longer seem relevant, and we ask God for guidance. And He doesn’t answer. We ask Him to tell us what do to, and He doesn’t respond. What do you do then? How do you endure when God stops speaking to you?

Distant, lonely tree in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Distant, lonely tree in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Job 13:15.

God might kill me, but I have no other hope.
    I am going to argue my case with him.

Job is one of those people I can’t wait to meet when we get to heaven. He’s one of my heroes. The story basically goes that Job was one of the wealthiest men at the time, but he was also one of the most righteous. He was a God follower, and he wasn’t afraid if everyone knew it. And God pointed him out to Satan one day, telling him about how no one could match Job. So Satan made a deal with God that he could convince Job to turn against God, and God allowed him to attack Job. Overnight, Job lost everything. His wealth. His family. His status. Everything that mattered to him was taken, and he was left with a bitter wife and friends who turned against him.

Job is a big book. It’s 42 chapters, probably the oldest book in the Bible, and the majority of it is Job questioning, until God starts answering. But God doesn’t answer right away, and Job is left to puzzle through all the horrible things that have happened to him without God explaining it.

Have you ever been there? Have you ever had to suffer through circumstances that you didn’t deserve? Okay, let’s be honest. Most of the time the really bad stuff we encounter usually has some root cause in our lifestyle or our choices or our past, and it’s our own actions bringing the trouble to our doorstep. But have you ever really run into situations where you have to suffer through difficult things and you didn’t do anything to deserve them? I have. I know others who have too. And it’s in those moments where I have been really tempted to get upset at God.

I mean, why would He let this stuff happen to me? I didn’t do anything to deserve it. Why is He punishing me for things I don’t deserve to be punished for? That’s not fair.

If you’re there, read Job. Because he was there for 41 chapters. We are all in a very different place than Job was. He didn’t have the Book of Job or any of the Bible. None of it had been written down yet. So he had nothing except his experience and his relationship with God to go on. But we have Scripture. We have the Holy Spirit.

And what Scripture will tell you about God’s silence is that it’s never actually there. God is never silent. We just stop listening.

Are you facing troubles today? Are you facing situations that you don’t deserve? Have you asked God to take them away and He isn’t answering? Do this. Go outside and sit down and close your eyes and listen. What do you hear? Do you hear the wind? Do you hear birds singing? Do you hear leaves rustling on trees? Do you hear other people and life in the city?

God doesn’t have to speak in an audible voice for us to know that He’s talking. He speaks through the Bible. He speaks through Creation. He speaks through provision. He speaks through other people in our lives. He’s never silent, but we often let our troubles distract us.

Job was fortunate enough that God responded to him. God spoke to him. And when God was done speaking to him, this is how Job responded in Job 42:1-6:

Then Job replied to the Lord: “I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you. You asked, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’ It is I—and I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things far too wonderful for me. You said, ‘Listen and I will speak! I have some questions for you, and you must answer them.’ I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes. I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.”

We don’t know why God chooses to do the things He does many times, but we know that He is fair and just and good and sovereign, which means He has the right do what He wants with what He made–and that’s everything. We know how the story of Job turned out. God blessed him with twice what he had before, and while Job had endured tremendous suffering, the second half of his life was more blessed than the first ever was.

So if you’re going through difficulty right now, think about Job. It’s okay to question God. It’s okay to wonder. It’s okay to talk to Him, to be honest with Him, to tell Him how you’re feeling, but remember who you’re talking to.

Everyone struggles through dark times. Everyone faces situations that seem unfair. And, yes, it’s frustrating and upsetting. But the more you focus on how God isn’t speaking to you, the quieter He’ll get. But it’s not that He’s speaking softer; you’re turning His volume down.