Glistening stars swirled around the night sky as I lay over the radiating golden sands staring out into the heavens. The air hung in silence, only broken by the warm desert breeze and the occasional snorting of nearby camels. The otherworldly beautify of this rugged place was tranquil and captivating. Far away from the familiar customs of civilization, I was lost amidst the rolling dunes and the brilliant skies above. Laying there, staring out beyond the heavens, I would not have expected to find such immaculate beauty of God’s design among the seemingly mundane and barren. There, among that desolate beauty, I cannot help but reflect upon the path that led me there…
Welcome to the Journey
“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”
-Proverbs 16:9 ESV
Several years have come and gone since my time in the deserts of the Middle East, and all the while life continues to be one ever growing adventure. I’ve always been an inquisitive soul and rife for adventure! As a child, I often asked my parents to explain how things functioned. ‘Why’ was always a common question from my tiny self. Not the vindictive or petulant ‘why,’ but the awestruck ‘why’ of a child that was constantly awed by the wonder of nature, technology, and human behavior. While I may be romanticizing the breadth by which my childhood-self could comprehend or articulate such things… that sense of curiosity continued to expand.
“The wilderness must be explored,” exclaimed Russell the (nearly) senior wilderness explorer to the elderly Mr. Fredricksen. Pixar’s UP holds a very dear place in my life, as it captures (as only Pixar can) some of the foundational and emotional connections to my childhood. You see, my family enjoyed traveling together wherever we could in a day. Whether it was to visit family, visit small Texas towns, or to just drive away from home, we were always on an adventure. In the days before smartphones, global positioning devices, and smart cars… if you took a wrong turn or failed to have the most precious of commodities —a paper road map — you were sufficiently lost. Not in my family however! If you took a wrong turn or found yourself somewhere other than where you intended to be… You were on an adventure! An opportunity to see something unexpected. Experiencing something you didn’t know you were not hoping for. Discovering a hidden beauty that would have gone unnoticed had some causation brought you to its doorstep. Thus, as Texas found itself frozen over, I found myself reflecting — Where I am. How I got here. How absolutely everything in my life defies every expectation that I had — and was struck with a revelation. Is this not the Christian life?
I don’t know about you, but I never anticipated being here I am in life. I never anticipated the struggles, the heartbreak, the pain, the suffering. I also would have never anticipated the immense joys, the forged friendships, the beauties of God’s handiwork in my life. At times, I felt lost. Aimless. Purposeless. I felt crushed. Broken. Helpless. I was never lost… I was merely on an adventure. On the map that is my life I may have felt lost in a sea of people, things, places, and circumstances, but I was never beyond God’s sight! I was exactly where He intended me to be. Did He allow me to experience suffering that I was unprepared to handle? Absolutely. Did He leave me alone to suffer through it on my own? Absolutely not, He was with me. Sharing in my anguish all while ushering me forth to something more beautiful than I could have ever anticipated.
Proverbs tells us that we plan our own way according to our own desires, but it God who guides our steps (emphasis mine). If I were completely left to my own devices, I could not tell you where I would likely be today… If every passion of my heart were left to burn in its fleeting way, I’d very likely be chasing every whim and fruitless endeavor. I very likely would not be satisfied by whatever it is that I would be doing. Thus revealing the shortcomings of our own ambitions: they’re shortsighted. Perhaps I’m the only one who has experienced this (though this notion that I am the only one who has observed this suggests that others, too, have experienced similar observations), but when we make plans for ourselves those plans very seldom account for setbacks, failures, and the unexpected. Our plans are straight paths. Our plans are the ideal. The cause of this disparity between what we expect and what is more feasible stems from the fleeting nature of our hearts. We plan, but only for what we expect to happen (or more accurately, what we want to happen). This way of thinking leads to disappointment, frustration, and stagnation. What’s the point of trying when every (selfish) endeavor we commit ourselves to results in disappointment? We plan, but God guides.
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”Proverbs 4:23 (NIV)
On their own, our hearts are shortsighted. We miss the very real dangers that threaten our precious idyllic plans. Our shortsightedness, however, is not lost on God. How many times did Israel, having witnessed firsthand the power and majesty of God, reject God’s instructions because they were so shortsighted? How many times have we? Countlessly. Yet, despite our shortcomings, God is still at work — even in the midst of a global pandemic. He is still at work in your life, even if you can’t see where at the moment. Time and time again throughout scripture, God tells us that He is working in the areas that we cannot see. Speaking through the prophets, God told Israel that they are about to experience something painful, but that there is purpose in this pain. He tells them, “I know the plans that I have for you… to give you hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11, emphasis mine).” In the days leading to His arrest and death, Jesus told His disciples, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will (John 13:7 ESV).” In these moments, God’s words speak to the journey that we find ourselves on. Our plans in the midst of His bigger, better plan. He encourages us in the moment — the here and now — that while we may not understand in the moment He is working all things out.
God is guiding you to where He has called you! You are not alone on this path He has set you upon! The question that lingers then… are you aligning your heart to where God is leading? Do your plans match His plans? Oooph! Ultimately, God has complete sovereign control of all things, but He has given you agency. He has allowed you to make decisions for yourself. You can choose anything that you want, but He still calls you to align your life to His will. This reality presents a very serious implication: you can choose to live in the calling God has bestowed upon you or you can deny the calling. We plan. He guides. Sometimes that calling that God has given you will lead you to some wildly uncomfortable places. Your calling may be so daunting that you don’t even know where to begin. Time and time again God reminds us that we can trust Him to lead us to the places He has called us. We may not understand, but we will sometime later.
Life is messy, there’s no doubt about that. When you take the wrong turn or have an opportunity fall apart you may, as I have, feel lost among the broken pieces of hopes and dreams. Yet, there is a rugged beauty amidst those broken pieces. A beauty that comes from a wretched, bloodied cross on which a savior came to turn those broken pieces into something grand. A beautiful vessel in which His message is carried. There is an awe and wonder unlike anything else in this universe when somebody’s life is radically transformed by the sacrifice Christ paid for them. Far more beautiful than precious gems is the life of a believer fully surrendered before the almighty God! Our lives begun before we met Christ, but not before Christ met us. My life began at the moment of conception, but my journey started the moment I surrendered my life to God.
You see, it’s not a destination. It’s not the house with white picket fence. It’s not the spouse. It’s not the sports car. The wealth. The 70 inch OLED TV. The summer house. The cabin in the mountains. Life is the adventure of growing deeper in your faith, stewarding the mission Christ bestowed upon you, and caring for those God has placed around you. Make no mistake, there are good, wonderful blessings found as we continue forth with our adventure that is life, but the mission… The goal beyond every other goal, is to steward the message of the Gospel before God’s people. Leaning into God as we navigate life’s troubles. Clinging onto God as we walk through crippling grief. Seeking God’s face in the midst of depression. Crying out praises to God in the face of insurmountable adversity. Bearing testimony to who God is from the depths of being. No one said the journey would be easy, but we know the one who goes before us.
I am not trailblazer, but I know the God who goes before me is an all-consuming fire. There is a certain confidence and trust that comes to you in a moment of affliction when you know that God is with you. In my grief, I had nothing left within me. I wanted to give everything up by my own agency, yet something clung to hope, trust, and love in who God is. Tiny, yet dense, that hope that I know comes only from the Holy Spirit held true to the Father and kept with me through my agony. If you’ve been around a while, you know this about me, but I am an idealist. I like efficiency. I strive for clear, calculated processes. I’ve had to lose that part of myself. Life is not ideal, nor do I want to portray the Christian life in that way because following Christ means facing far more than we know how to handle. Yet, as I’ve said, we are never alone on this adventure. This journey is not ideal, but it is exactly what is necessary to mold us into Christlikeness.
Absolutely nothing that has occurred in my life was apart of my plans. Not. One. Part. Today, as I reflect back upon the path that I’ve worn to this place in life has been marked by God’s sustaining. He has been entirely necessary to shaping my life into what it is today. I can, without a shadow of a doubt, say that I am all the better for His leading in my life! I’ve found friends that have become family. I’ve found a community to call home. I’ve been given a calling for ministry. I’ve learned what it means to love unconditionally. I’ve learned how to be compassionate. To be humble. To have a desire to constantly learn. To strive for excellence in all things. The path to get here has been a journey. One full of twists and turns. Thrills and scares. Hope and despair. Yet, through it all, I’ve come to know my God far better than I ever thought imaginable! Life is an adventure, we’re never truly lost when God is our constant companion. Who knows where He’ll take you?!
All I know is that I will choose to enjoy the journey God has set before me.