Reflection

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September 22

Thursday, September 22nd, 2022

This will be the last post based on The Trail by Ed Underwood. I’d suggest if you want to pursue this look at how to know and follow God’s will that you buy the book. It’s old enough now that you can find it for $5 or less. It obviously take a more in-depth look at God’s will and discerning it.

For this last entry, I’d like to “borrow” from the book the great recap that the author uses one of his characters to make. BTW this is written as a story of a couple who goes backpacking with a crusty, old firefighter turned pastor named Sam. Sam gives these lessons to them along the way. Anyway, here is the recap from pages 177-178.

#1- TRUST. God doesn’t need your strength to guide you, but you do need His strength to recognize His guidance.  Pr. 3:5-6

#2-RELATIONSHIP.  Make sure you’re all in for Jesus. Ps. 25:14

#3- INTIMACY. Stay within the circle of intimacy with God, and trust Him that you’re on the dot of His good and perfect will.  Ps. 139: 23-24

#4- TIMING. Live expectantly; God’s signature on events is timing. Eccl. 3:1

#5- PROTECTION. God’s will is a flashlight, not a crystal ball; walk to the edge of the darkness and wait.  Ps. 119:105

#6- ENCOURAGEMENT. When you wonder if you’re on the right path, ask God for a sign of encouragement.           Ps. 86:17

#7- COMMUNITY. Loners lose their way; trust the guidance of those who love you enough to tell you the truth. Pr.12: 15

#8- GRACE. All is grace; put one foot in front of the other. Pr.16: 9

My take? All is grace. If I follow Jesus with a heart that seeks Him, no matter what I do, He is there. I may bob and weave. I may totter. I may stumble as I follow. I may lose sight of the path. But He will be there for me and with me. He will protect me. He will encourage me when I need it. I need to surround myself with a community, a group/person I can count on to tell me the truth. And then trust that all is grace.

So ends the series of posts on The Trail. I pray it has helped you to clarify some things. I also pray it has challenged you to seek God’s desire (will) for you. I don’t need to say each of us are different, so one size doesn’t fit all. Carve out your own path in following Him.  And remember: All is grace.

The Trail: A Tale about Discovering God's Will

September 21

Wednesday, September 21st, 2022

The final principle is here. But before I give that to you, let’s stop here for a moment to think. Whenever the will of God is talked about, many tend to lean toward the mystical. They look for a “sign” or an “open door” or a “word of knowledge” (cringe), or a dream. Something. Anything.

Meanwhile, many figuratively sit in a chair, put their feet up on the desk, and say, “OK God. Lay it on me.” You know what I mean with that picture. It is way too common for people to simply “hold out” for God to WOW them. Rather than go about their daily business with a heart open to God’s leading, they just sit around and expect it to fall into their lap. It has been my experience that doesn’t happen.

Is that saying God doesn’t surprise us sometimes? No, not at all. But to sit and rely on that is wrong. Unless we are Zechariah who receives a visit from angel in the Temple; or a Mary who receives a personal visit from Gabriel to give her some phenomenal news; or a Paul who had an angel appear in his room and tell him he was to go to Jerusalem; or a Joseph who was warned in a dream to hightail it to Egypt, God simply shows up in our daily activities, a timely word while reading His Word, or some good advice from a friend.

Principle #8 is the final one:

All is grace; put one foot in front of the other.

I’m going to close out this study on God’s will tomorrow. See you then. Until then, remember: All in grace; put one foot in front of the other.

September 20

Tuesday, September 20th, 2022

Have you ever noticed how there are some people who seem to want to be left alone? They don’t need or want any help. They can do it on their own.

Even children.

Who of us has not seen a child rebuff a parent’s help? Moms try to dress their child only for them to say, “I can do it myself.” Not really, but how can one argue with a determined child?

That carries on as the person gets older. They don’t want any help with homework. With solving a problem. With a relationship.

There are also those who just want no human intervention or interaction. Granted, there are time we all need space. But I’m talking about those who prefer to be alone…most of the time, if not permanently. I visited an old friend the other day. I hadn’t seen or heard from him since he dropped off the planet in, I’m guessing, 8 years. I went to his house to say hi and his reaction was sort of rude, to say the least. When I said hi, his words were, “Bill, what are doing here?”  I said, “I was going through a file looking for some papers for a bike rack I was giving (_______) and I came across some papers for the bike hitch you bought for me back in 2012. Your address was there as well as your phone number and email address. I tried the phone and email and they both came back so I thought I would drop by and say hi. I have no agenda. Just to say hi.” His words? “I find that hard to believe (referring to me not having an agenda).”  I even sent him a note this past week reiterating that.

He prefers to live as a hermit with his brother. Sad.  Someday maybe he will realize his need for a friend. But truthfully, some want to be loners.

Tragically, there are Christ-followers who want to be left alone. They want to hide who they really are. Masks weren’t just for COVID. Loners cut themselves off from others, especially from fellow Christ-followers. Whether it is pride or fear or distrust, who knows?

But no follower of Jesus can survive on his/her own.

Principle #7: Loners lose their way; trust the guidance of those who love you enough to tell you the truth.

Are you willing to trust others?

September 19

Monday, September 19th, 2022

I think if we are honest, when we say to someone, “Tell me the truth about me” there are times we aren’t really sure we want to hear the truth. We know all the sayings about a real friend who will tell it to us like it is and will be honest with us, but Man! it hurts no matter who says it.

Our reaction to truth will determine whether that person will ever speak truth to us again. But before you or I get upset when someone tells us the truth about ourselves, consider this verse: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a person who listens to advice is wise.” (Pr. 12:15 NASB2020)

Fool = right in his own eyes

Wise= listens to advice from another

Hmmm. Where does that put me? This opens up several thoughts:

  1. What does that say about me hiding truth from others about me? By others I’m referring to those close to me whom I have permission to speak truth to me.
  2. Have I cut myself off from others by attitude or actions? Have I given the cold shoulder to others or have I hid my real person?

People can’t be honest with me if I hide. If I withdraw. If I cover-up/mask who I am or how I feel.

This actually leads to Principle #7 which I will share tomorrow.

September 15

Thursday, September 15th, 2022

After a day when we contemplated an issue that tested our willingness to trust and surrender (Thanks Ryan S.), let’s move on…to more of the same. 🙂

I think one of the hardest times for many of us is because we may not, or don’t, see the clear path, we have trouble moving forward. Sometimes we act paralyzed. Sometimes we simply hesitate following.

Let me revert to an illustration from the book. Many firefighters survive because they know a key truth: a meadow, brush, or even trees, can only burn one time. Many of them will run to the burn. It seems weird, but it is true. Many firefighters have been saved because they ran to the burn.

That brings up an important point. There is a positive side to adversity. Let’s be honest: most of us would like to avoid adversity. Avoid it like a plague would not be too far off. We see adversity as incongruous to a loving God and that said loving God would place adversity in front of us, let alone have us go through it. We do all we can to avoid it! We are far more interested in what will make us happy; God is far more interested in what will make us holy.

Instead of our natural aversion to pain and adversity, maybe we ought to embrace it. Instead of looking for a way around it, let’s stop trying to avoid it. Suffering can actually give us a greater platform for sharing the truth of God’s love.  Instead of running away, maybe God is saying, “Follow Me into the burn. You may not understand. In fact, you probably won’t. But follow Me anyway and I will lead you to safety. You will get to see what I can do.”

Truth: He does not want us to run ahead of Him; He wants us to follow Him. Even if that following has us meeting adversity.

And for your encouragement this morning, stop and read Psalm 86: 11-13. You’ll be glad you did.

September 14

Wednesday, September 14th, 2022

{Spoiler alert: longer post than normal}

After my September 12 post, Ryan S. responded with the following words:

“I can’t deny that I tried a number of methods to seek God’s will. Though, I have never tried the obvious “fleece method”, I suspect my results would have been similar. Whatever happens, I would find a way to justify my desire. I think if I am honest with myself, I know what I “should” do before even asking most of the time.

The Bible has pretty clear instruction regarding relationships, finances, and our actions. I think if I look close enough, I can find what I am looking for there.
The question really then becomes… Do I like the answer?

When thinking about trying to discern God’s Will, I often come back to the parable of the talents. Seems like a strange connection, but let me see what others think.
God has provided His endless wisdom throughout the Bible. If I choose to live my life according to the His written word in all areas, then perhaps, God would provide me more insight into His unwritten will. I believe He does this through the Holy Spirit living inside us. I think this understanding and knowledge may be shared based on how we handle the direction He has already shared….”

I’d like to give my response by reinforcing what he said. We, as Christ-followers, often underestimate the power and purpose of the Holy Spirit. We freak because of obvious abuses associated with Him. I was in that camp at one time. I was so ignorant of the Spirit and admittedly somewhat naive, that the first time I was in a public worship and someone raised their hands, I broke out in a cold sweat. I was sure some wild stuff was about to happen. It didn’t. In time, I came to study the ministry of the Holy Spirit and was no longer afraid. Eventually, I learned the joy, praise and freedom of raising my hands in worship.

The Holy Spirit is not some mystical force.  He is not some impersonal being. In John 14> 16-18 Jesus gives some important insights into the Holy Spirit:

  • Verse 16– He is our Helper.
  • Verse 17– He is the Spirit of Truth. He is given “human” characteristics. He cannot be seen or touched but He is real.
  • Verse 18– He is Jesus’ representative. Paul calls Him “Christ in You.”
  • Verse 26– Jesus says, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit will teach you all things.” One young man, who eventually left the church with his family for various reasons, always referred to Him as “of Holy Spirit.” Impersonal.  I never had a chance to ask him why he left out the “the” when referring to the Holy Spirit. Jesus does. Anyway…

The Spirit is Jesus in us. He’s our Helper. He is our Guide. As such, He is given a place in our hearts. I/you invite Him to make Himself at home. (In ancient times, the word for “ghost”-the old King James word- meant “invited guest”). I tell Him to make Himself at home in my heart. He leads. He guides. He protects. As I submit my heart and life to Him-hopefully (and ideally) more completely each day-He is able to reveal more of Himself and more of God’s will for my life.

The big question that arises time after time is this: Am I willing to submit to His influence over my life? Am I willing to go where He wants me to go and do what He wants me to do? If so, I do believe (as Ryan says) that God’s will is made clearer, even that which has been hidden. Even then, it may be unveiled a little at a time.

Here’s the kicker though: Even if God does not reveal His will so I can see clearly the path ahead, I must be willing to follow Him regardless. That is the real influence of the Spirit within me. He is within me to give me the strength to do whatever it is God wants me to do.

Your thoughts?

September 13

Tuesday, September 13th, 2022

A recap of the first 5 Principles:

#1- God doesn’t need your strength to guide you, but you do need His strength to recognize His guidance.

#2- Make sure you are all in for Jesus.

#3- Stay within the circle of intimacy with God, and trust Him that you are on the dot of His good and perfect will.

#4- God’s signature on events is timing.

#5- God’s will is a flashlight, not a crystal ball; walk to the edge of the darkness and wait.

Now for Principle #6: Ask for a sign of encouragement.

We all need encouragement from time to time. We all need to be assured we are on the right path. A sign of encouragement is not a fleece.  It is a reassurance, not a bargaining chip.

Stop for a moment and read Psalm 86 (I will come back to it).

There are times we just need to know we are on the right path. Life is full of disappointments and heartaches and when they rear their ugly head, it is good to know God has got our back.  I don’t know about you, but those roadblocks can become stumbling blocks if I allow them to. They can cause me to hesitate, even doubt, I am on God’s path.  This, I believe, is a ploy of the enemy.

What better way to stop forward movement than to put an obstacle in the path of a vehicle? What better way to stop a follower of Jesus from moving forward than to take away his/her assurance that one is following God’s path, to cause hesitation and doubt to arise.

Psalm 86 has some powerful thoughts. Here are a few:

  • Verses 8-10. There is no one like God. He stands alone.
  • Verses 11-13. God will teach us His way. I believe He wants us to focus on His  glory and grace, not on “Am I on the right path or not?”
  • Verses 15-16a. Right or wrong path (maybe less desirable is a better word), God is compassionate and gracious. He doesn’t get angry with us because we chose what turns out to be the wrong path to follow Him. (Not talking about sin here).

There have been times I chose a path (made a decision) I truly believed was the way He wanted me to go. Sometimes I got it right; sometimes I didn’t. But He didn’t turn His back on me either.

To wrap up today’s thoughts, please read verse 17 and take special note of that very first phrase: “Show me a sign of good.” Show me a sign of encouragement is another way to say that.

Note: In yesterday’s responses, Ryan S. asked for feedback on something he said. I encourage you to read what he said then possibly have some thoughts. I plan to give some of my thoughts in tomorrow’s devotion.

September 12

Monday, September 12th, 2022

I don’t suspect I’m alone when I say I have asked for signs. Sort of like Gideon’s fleece in Judges 6. Gideon seemed to be the “least likely to succeed” candidate to lead God’s people vs the Midianites. Gideon thought so as well. His fleece proposition is legendary and has served as a “go to” for many individuals seeking God’s will. The test was/is simple: “If the fleece is wet and the ground dry then I know it is You.” That wasn’t enough so next time around it was “If the fleece is dry and the ground wet then I know it is You.” It happened both times as Gideon proposed.

That “fleece method” has been the way of many over the years. I’m one of them. I now wonder about the wisdom of that. I have learned something about myself: I can make whatever happens to fit my narrative. Many years ago I did that with buying a car. “If this happens then I’ll know.” Well…it happened but there was another glitch. Again, I laid out that fleece and the same thing happened. The third time was the charm. I finagled and bargained until I was convinced the choice was right. I got the car. It was a dumb purchase and it laid the groundwork for misreading God’s will on a number of levels.

I think I would be correct in assuming what I did bordered on superstition. God’s will is a mystery and is not meant to be “found” by conjuring up mystical means. Maybe the important thing to do is to stop looking for “signs” and just start seeking and following God’s guidance.

And that leads me to Principle #6…tomorrow.

September 8

Thursday, September 8th, 2022

In yesterday’s devotion I wrote about Principle #5:

God’s will is a flashlight, not a crystal ball; walk to the edge of the darkness and wait.

That got me thinking how some approach God’s Word (GW) with what I called the “crystal ball” or “floodlight” approach. Before I go any further though, I need to say one or two very important thoughts:

  1. I firmly believe GW is inspired by God and is totally inerrant (without error). I base that on 2 Tim. 3: 14-17, especially verse 16.
  2. I also firmly believe it is God’s primary way of speaking to His people. All things, all claims of people saying, “God told me this or that” must have their foundation in GW. For someone to say, for example, “I killed those people because God told me to” is hogwash and the person is either psychologically delusional or fishing for a reason to justify sin. God will NEVER violate His Word.

With those thoughts in mind, there are those who treat GW like a crystal ball or expect a floodlight to shine down on them with a neon sign and say, “Do this!” Some even expect a floodlight to highlight a verse. You have probably heard the story of the man who used this approach by opening his Bible and pointing to a verse. It said, “Judas went out and hung himself.”  He hurriedly closed his Bible and opened it again and pointed to another verse. It said, “What your hand finds to do do it with all your might.” That wasn’t what he wanted to hear either so he closed his Bible, opened it and pointed and the verse said, “What your hand finds to do, do quickly.”  That is the shotgun approach many take to finding guidance in GW. It is like they are expecting the Bible to be a crystal ball, rub it and all truth will come out. It is like they expect that approach to give them all the insight they need to make a right decision and to know God’s will.

Nope. While I believe GW is living and active, I don’t believe it is a crystal ball telling us what to do and when to do it. God has given each of His children the Holy Spirit and that Spirit leads and guides us. But he will never lead us to act contrary to the Word. God guides us by His Word and shows me the path I am to walk, but there is no neon sigh that lights up, either in GW or in life, which says, “Choose me!”  I go back to my friend’s statement (see August 17 post) where he said, “Bill, choose the one. In any case, even if it is the wrong one, God will not abandon you.”  He was right.

God will never lead us astray. The Holy Spirit will never say, “Go your own way.” Pray. Seek His will. Read His Word for wisdom and guidance and strength to follow. Walk with Him to the edge and wait. To borrow a few lines from The Trail:

If God loves me, then He protects me. He guides me by His Word and shows me the path to walk. A safe path, because He knows where the danger lies. So I walk to the edge of the darkness and wait. (p.110)

God’s Word is a lamp not a crystal ball to rubbed, nor is it a floodlight that will shine down to highlight an action to take. We are given His Spirit and a mind to make decisions that will always be in line with GW.

September 7

Wednesday, September 7th, 2022

Let’s recap Principles 1-4:

#1- God doesn’t need your strength to guide you, but you do need His strength to recognize His guidance.

#2- Make sure you are all in for Jesus.

#3- Stay within the circle of intimacy with God, and trust Him that you are on the dot of His good and perfect will.

#4- God’s signature on events is timing.

That’s the short version. The long version(s) can be found in past blogs beginning with August 15.

One of my favorite chapters in the Bible is Psalm 119.  It’s the long one. Some of my deeply memorized verses from my childhood and on are from that chapter. Here are a few:

  • Psalm 119:9
  • Psalm 119: 11
  • Psalm 119: 37
  • Psalm 119: 105

The interesting thing about Psalm 119 is its mention of God’s Word.  Of the 176 verses, probably less than ten have no mention of God’s Word. It uses different words-laws, statutes, commandments, word, instructions, and others-but they all refer to one grand subject: God’s Word.

Stop for a moment and read verses 105-112. Notice the beginning and ending verses: “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” “I have inclined my heart to perform Your statutes forever, even to the end.” The psalmist says God’s Word is a guiding light, but it’s a lamp or a torch NOT a floodlight or a crystal ball.

I have more to say on what I will the “crystal ball” or “floodlight” approach tomorrow. Until then Principle #5:

God’s Will is a flashlight, not a crystal ball; walk to the edge of the darkness and wait.