“Never look back unless you are planning to go that way.” —Henry David Thoreau
“Stephen, due to your actions, you have limited God’s opportunities for you.”
That day I questioned, “Did I make the right decision? Was it God calling me to leave this chapter of my life and go a different direction? Or was it my own emotions?”
I felt guilty for taking a different path which led me away from the place I devoted ten years of my life. This leader’s words haunted me as I walked out of his office into an uncertain world.
Many times in my life, the pathway changed. The map no longer worked. God was no longer following my cartography.
How many times do we find God not following our cartography? We spent so much time studying for that one job. We had goals we went for. Yet, how do we feel when the path changes? We may say, “God is leading,” but, deep down, do we feel like we are settling or we have done something wrong to deserve this?
As the paths in my life have twisted and turned, I have learned somethings and still learning things I would like to share with you.
The Individual Race
In the last few months and year, I have witnessed many of my friends from seminary be ordained into the ministry. I remember the days where we swapped notes, vented about frustrating professors, and spoke of future fruit as we dreamed about the path God had us on preparing for ministry.
Fast forward from 2016 to now…
What happened? I can’t think of one person I was in seminary with who isn’t in some sort of full-time, vocational ministry. Well, except one… me. The one who had dreams to be a missionary in France. The one who wrote a 120-page grad project on how to do missions in France. The one who talked about it in every conversation.
God, what did you do? You took me way off of my cartography work! I am now a full-time teacher. I head up the after-school program for 1st-5th graders. I have a piercing, two tattoos, have come out about my struggle with same-sex attraction, lost the familial relationship with my parents and siblings, and now attend a church where my learned theology has crashed. God, what did you do?
He took me on his journey.
The first lesson I had to learn about the Christian walk is that the journey isn’t the same for everyone. Hebrews 12:1 tells us Christ puts a race in front of each one of us. It isn’t the same for everyone. However, it leads to the same place and our companion is the same – the Holy Spirit. Hebrews 11 shows example after example of how different each person’s race is.
God tells the same story, but he doesn’t have us follow the same path. Our story is always about redemption in Jesus, and our individual path is faith.
The Pathway of Faith
When my path began to divert from my friends, they slowly grew faint in the background.
Was it God still directing me or was I following my flesh?
This question swims in our mind constantly when what we know disappears behind us and the horizon isn’t quite visible yet. Has our emotions dictated this path or is it God?
When we are following God for each step of our life, there will be times where the path goes off our cartography. Friends and family will leave. But, following the Spirit will sometimes lead that way.
A path following our emotions will always have sight. A path of faith forces us to take our eyes off of our plans, our friends, our ideas, and focus on the Holy Spirit showing us his glory at each step. II Corinthians 5:7 encourages us to live by faith; not by sight. The pathway of faith means closing our eyes to our visions, our reputations, our expectations, and stepping out to where we know the Spirit is nudging us to.
One of my favorite illustrations of the walk of faith is from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Indy, following the journal through the tests to get the the Holy Grail, finds himself looking at a great abyss separating him from his goal. In order to cross, he needs to take a leap of faith. Watch the Scene Here
So often we find ourselves on a pathway of faith. Our eyes become focused less on the steps away from the certain and more focused on the steps towards Jesus. Our lungs no longer breathe out comfortability. Instead, they breathe in the Breath of Life; the Holy Spirit. Paul and Habakkuk both state that those who live for God will walk and live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17).
The pathway of faith may lead from our comfortable people, plans, and places, but this pathway follows the voice who is for us and is our destination – God.
He is for You
However, this journey isn’t all meadows and sunshine. There are wraiths trying to kill us, wicked witches twisting beautiful poppies into deadly toxins, and sly snakes deceiving. The terrain goes from flat easy paths, to rugged trails tripping with roots, to snow encumbered mountains, to foggy valleys. Each part of the journey leads to places where we may not know how to navigate.
The path may bring a struggle where you feel like God is against you. You feel like giving up, turning around, because your guide is gone. He’s given you something for your destruction.
Believe me, I know this feeling. Being a Christian, married to a woman, and struggling with same-sex attraction feels like your whole self is being rent in two.
God knows all the details of our life. He wrote them all down in our story. He sees where we have been, where we are, and where we are going (Psalm 139:13-16). Yet, why does it seem when we can’t hold onto our cartography we say God is against us?
Is it because we are off our plans? It really shows how much we want to be God when we fight him when he leads us off our dreams and plans.
Scripture tells us that God is actually for us. It is not that God is for us when we get all our wants and desires. He is for us all the time. Romans 8:31, Psalm 56:9, and many other passages all praise God for being for us! He knows the hardships we go through, but he is for you. He is for me. He doesn’t give up on us. He will not see us destroyed. If he made sure that his Son wouldn’t see corruption in the grave, how much more can he do since he is on our side?
All of You
Our race is individually created and planned for us. Our pathway is a journey of faith; not one of sight. Our guide is God, himself, as the Holy Spirit leas us and is for us each step of the way.
What great truths! It makes my heart swell!
We want this journey of a lifetime with abundant life. Yet, how many of us only want a part of us to go? We want the part that is gifted, the spiritual part of us, the parts we think Jesus can use, but not that part we are ashamed of.
It is so difficult to allow all of me to go on this journey. I want to scrape off the parts I am ashamed of in order to follow Jesus. But, he calls me to bring those along. In Luke 9:23, Jesus tells us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. We deny ourselves by denying our image, our reputation, our cartography, and we follow him. However, we must also pick up our cross. A cross isn’t something we parade around like accomplishments on a resume. Our cross is found in the things we want to hide, those things we see as weak, those things which will tear our image apart. Yet, Paul stated in II Corinthians 12:8-10 that our weaknesses are accepted in order to show Christ’s grace, strength, and resurrection power in our life.
What is more powerful? A testimony of someone who has figured it all out? Or the testimony of someone who falls, gets back up, and keeps going? The story of transformation is stronger than the story of perfection, because Christ is the author of transformation.
This is why he wants all of you on this journey. He is going to use all of you to reach others, to bring healing, to show his power to the nations. This can only happen if you take all of you on this journey.
He doesn’t just see the gifts in you. Your Father sees all of you, and he desires all of you.
Do I have it all figured out? No. I do know, however, that the journey I am on has been purposed and planned for me. I must walk it in faith. I must always believe God is for me. I must always give all of me on this journey.
It is a journey I cannot look back, because my journey isn’t back to where God brought me out of. It is forward towards the intimacy of God following the Spirit into the arms of my Savior.
So, stop rejecting the twists and turns. Stop asking God why he doesn’t follow your cartography. Crumple up the map you drew and follow the Spirit each step. You may lose your reputation, but you won’t lose your soul. You may need to start over. You may need to find your community. But, you won’t lose the love of God. You won’t lose the hand of the Savior, and you won’t lose the guiding breath of the Spirit.
Ready to take on the journey?
Don’t look back unless you plan to go back that direction. Instead, give all of yourself to the journey ahead of you and watch God, not only allow your life to shine, but make you burn in the darkness like stars in the sky.
The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step…
A step into the unknown.
A step following the Spirit.
A step in closer intimacy with God.
A step on his perfect journey for you.
Are you ready to take this journey?