(Originally posted February 2017)
When my friend Sue and I drove into Canyonlands National Park in southeastern Utah, we were in need of a break. After three days of driving, crowded parks, and catching up on each other’s lives, these introverts needed some quiet time – and Sue’s “Secrets of the National Parks” book showed us exactly where to go.
The trail to the “White Rim Overlook” was a short 8/10 of a mile to a majestic view of the canyon. Most people visiting parks like this head straight for the “famous” views or hikes, so the parking lot for this trail was almost empty. There were no people in sight and it was remarkably quiet – Perfect!
We quickly parked, grabbed our stuff, and headed out. After seeing the sign for the trail, we continued on, following the small rock tower ‘cairns’ that marked the path.
After a few minutes, though, we started having trouble. In our experience thus far, the National Park trails were well marked – at every turn there was a cairn and any place you might be tempted to veer off was blocked off. But this trail was all over the place and the markers seemed few and far between!
At one point our hike came to a halt – we couldn’t see a trail marker anywhere! Since we were not interested in getting lost that day (especially when no one else was around), we had a couple options: Keep moving and risk getting lost or retrace our steps to find the trail again.
I’m not one to give in and go back, so I took the next step in front of me and “Aha!” – there it was. That mere 2 and 1/4 feet (or whatever my stride length is) made all the difference – the next cairn was now in plain sight and we were on our way!
What do you do when you don’t know what to do? I know I have moments every week where I feel at least slightly lost, overwhelmed, or just unsure of what the right choice is. I always wish in that moment that I had someone who could show me – with 100% assurance – what my next step should be.
When Paul prayed for the church at Collosae, he knew that one of the things they needed most was God’s direction and guidance, so he prayed that they would “be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Colossians 1:9). Paul knew that God was the only one with that 100% assurance and His desire was to “fill” His followers with His perspective.
The thing is that it’s not just about knowing what to do – it’s about actually doing it. As Paul went on, he mentioned why God would give the knowledge of His will: “so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him: bearing fruit in every good work” (Colossians 1:10a). The knowledge, wisdom, and understanding they received from God was meant to define their stride as they walked.
And then if they did that, something really cool would happen – they would end up “increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10b). It turns out that it’s a cycle: God gives the knowledge, we act on it, and then He gives us more! “Aha!” Knowing what to do in the unclear only becomes clear after we do what we already know to be true. As Ellicott’s commentary suggests: “Do and thou shalt know”.*
Recently, I was at an event for one of my kids and in my sitting-there-forever-waiting boredom, I opened Facebook (mistake number one). It had already been a stressful day, so I was hoping for some fun pictures of my friends and their families to make me smile (why would I ever think that?). But instead, I clicked on something I never should have clicked on (why do I do these things?) and read words that I could never unread.
I quickly spiraled into panic-mode. I was trapped in a room full of people and I couldn’t get in touch with my husband (who normally calms me down in these moments). I couldn’t stop the words from running over and over in my brain and I felt totally lost – I was overwhelmed and I didn’t know what to do. I prayed and prayed, “God, why is this happening? What do I do? Please help! I need Your peace!”
But a few minutes later, instead of feeling peace, I started feeling like God was telling me to go talk to another mom at the event. “Are you kidding me?” I thought, “I’m a mess! I don’t even know her and You’re expecting me to do this NOW? You give me the peace first and then maybe I’ll do it.” I sat there stubbornly for the next few minutes thinking I must have heard Him wrong – surely He wouldn’t expect this socially-awkward introvert to do something like this on a day like today!
But… I did it anyway. And guess what? Half an hour later I had pretty much forgotten about my stress – I had had a wonderful conversation, learning about someone else’s life instead of focusing on my own, and “Aha!” – it was there that God gave me the peace.
There are so many times that we don’t know what to do – times where we feel lost and overwhelmed and we want God’s help! We want Him to fix the problem or at least show us what we need to do to fix it! Last week, as my friend Emma and I were studying this passage, she said, “Sometimes we just can’t let go of our stressful situations because we don’t think we can move on until it’s all fixed. We have to get THIS taken care of first! But maybe it doesn’t work that way.”
The problem is that God’s “will” is not my happiness and comfort. His will, according to Colossians 1, is Jesus. So instead of the peace we’re expecting, according to author and speaker Jill Briscoe, “He gives you courage”.** And every time I use that courage to obey the next step He has put in front of me, even if it’s just one single stride, and even if it’s in a completely different direction than I first thought, “Aha!” – He opens my eyes up to even more of who He is.
At the end of our White Rim Overlook hike, Sue and I stopped to look at the trail sign that we had blown by in our rush to start the hike. “Aha!” There was a good reason for our confusion – we had taken the wrong path! We assumed the trail went straight ahead when, in reality, it went to the right. Thankfully, in our confusion and wrong turns, the paths had met up and we did not end up on the 2.7 mile “Gooseberry Trail”!
I love these verses from the book of Job: “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?… Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand… Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years!” (Job 38:2, 4 & 21)
In our limited human knowledge and wisdom we tend to think things should be done a certain way – especially when we’re overwhelmed. But when we ask God for His knowledge, we can expect His direction might differ from the way we thought we should go. It may even be completely the opposite!
What situation do you need God’s guidance in today? The word for “understanding” in Colossians 1:9 comes from the idea of two rivers meeting – it means “a putting together in the mind”.*** So ask God to pour into you the knowledge of His will, meet it with a step of obedience, and get ready for the “Aha!” on the other side!