“There are two river crossings in this race, but if you follow the flags you’ll never be in more than six inches of water,” the race official announced through her megaphone. For a brief moment, I wondered what in the world I had gotten myself into! But as the race kicked off, I could barely contain my excitement. This was my first official “trail race” since my high school cross country days (in Vermont everything was a trail race) and I was ready for 10 miles of adventure!
Upon reaching the first river crossing about 5 miles in, I noticed the people in the water ahead of me were walking very slowly. I wondered why, as this was after all, a race, and the water wasn’t that deep!
As soon as I stepped into the water, though, I found out why: Not only were there lots of loose, unpredictable rocks along the marked route, but all the race traffic had caused the view of these rocks to be completely clouded with mud! Normally, when you’re walking through a stream you can get a rough perception of where your foot is about to land, but in this case, there was no way to tell. Your only option was to have faith that by following the flags you weren’t going to end up soaked!
One of my favorite moments in the Bible is when Joshua and the people of Israel cross the Jordan River, for the first time entering en masse into the Promised Land (Joshua 3). After 40 years of waiting and wandering, God’s guidance to “go” was clear and made even clearer by His promise to miraculously hold back the water so the people could cross on dry land.
But for the priests who were carrying the ark at the front of the line, those first steps must have been uneasy. Joshua 3:15 tells us that the Jordan was “at flood stage” that day – meaning this river was full and moving fast. There was no six-inch-deep path marked out for them and no guarantee that the rushing waters would stop. These steps of faith required them to put their feet down into the unknown at great risk – they were carrying an incredibly valuable possession!
There are so many moments in my days where I wish God’s guidance for me was clearer. If only He would show me exactly what He wants me to do – rather than leave me wondering if the nudge I’m sensing to talk to that person or say yes to that opportunity is all in my head. But recently I’ve been learning that faith isn’t taking a step because the water is clear – faith is taking the step even if it’s not. There are times where, like the Israelite priests, those first steps will lead to a supernatural clearing of the way in front of me, but it’s more likely that every step of obedience is going to be at least a little murky.
As ministry leaders, Tim and I live in constant dependence on the path-marking “flags” of God’s Spirit. This fall, after months of sensing His lead, we made a major shift in the way we do high school small groups. Even though we weren’t 100% sure, we took the risky step of announcing the changes. There were lots of shaky rocks and potential plunges as we reassigned leaders and students to their new groups – but we kept moving. A few weeks later, it was time for a re-shuffle (part of the big change we’ve made) and guess what? The water is still muddy! These are hard decisions, but if we waited until we were 100% sure, we would never move.
About halfway through my first river crossing of the race last Sunday, I got fed up with the murk (and resulting slow pace) of the muddy water and thought, “Surely, this will go faster if I just head over there where I can see the bottom clearly.” I veered a few steps to the left and – you guessed it – ended up taking a waist deep detour I almost had to swim my way out of!
In an instant-gratification obsessed society, it’s hard to wait on the Spirit’s leading and even harder to obey when we don’t see clear, gratifying results. We like the idea of sensing His direction on a regular basis, but it takes more time, practice, and ongoing risk than we’re normally willing to put up with. It’s so tempting to resort to our own ‘common sense’ and take what looks like the easy way around!
He’s got the course marked, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to be muddy. Those nudges I get throughout the day or the things I know I’m called to do because they are clear in His Word are there – the question is, am I willing to obey, even if I’m not sure?