Finding the Lord’s way forward during times of transition and uncertainty tests our discernment and our patience. May these simple but far reaching principles and anecdotes help us to persevere at these times and so find ‘log jams’ parting and the flow of the Spirit leading us on beyond.
Log Jams, loaded questions and going back to the fork in the road
You will have heard the saying, ‘You can’t steer a parked car.’ Whilst wisdom often consists in waiting until matters become clear, there are all too many other occasions when people sit around ‘waiting’ for something to come along when they could usefully have been embarking on all manner of projects – and discovering the Lord’s enabling and anointing in the process. So what are we to do when we find ourselves needing to choose whether to wait for further directions or to take one of several available paths?
In Latin questions are introduced either using the word nonne or num, the one presupposing the answer ‘yes,’ and the other ‘no.’ A principle I have often found helpful on those occasions when I am not getting any immediate answer to my question, ‘Lord what should I do about . . .’ is to ask a ‘loaded’ question.
Here’s a simple example. You want to go to a particular place or meeting, and as you don’t appear to have received any specific answer to the question, ‘Should I go Lord?’ you respectfully ‘frontload’ your conversation with the Lord, and say, ‘Ok, Lord, this course of action appears the most sensible to me; unless You show me differently, I’m going!’
Self-centred people might be tempted to distort this principle to justify doing purely what they what they want to do, but if our hearts are truly open to the Lord, it is usually safe to weight questions in this way, trusting that if we are in danger of going off course, the Lord has promised that we will hear a voice behind us saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it.’ (Is. 30:21)
Again and again we will find the logjam parting and the waters starting to flow again. Glory!
Many choices come our way from day to day and even hour to hour, and the way we respond to them plays its part in determining not only our immediate effectiveness, but how much spiritual authority the Lord can entrust us with.
Going back to the fork in the road when we make wrong decisions
I love it when the Lord speaks and leads clearly – but we still have to respond! The other day I was driving along to go and get something from a shop when I felt the Lord telling me really clearly to turn around and to head somewhere different immediately. For once I didn’t do the ‘typical male driver thing’ and object to retracing my steps but did an immediate U turn. I was just in time for what turned out to be a most significant encounter. Thank You, Lord!
But what about those occasions when we have set off in a particular direction but subsequently come to realise that we may not have made the best choice? Even if there was nothing actually ‘sinful’ about our decision, we may still need to ‘repent’ – that is, to change our mind and to turn around. The question then is how willing we are to act on such discernment and to head back to the point where we took that wrong decision. to be sure, it requires some humility to reverse direction in this way – especially if the matter is in the public domain – but how much better is than that ploughing on and just ignoring the matter? Merely hoping that things will turn out all right in the end is rarely the wisest option!
I often find when I make wrong decisions that it is either because I failed to consult the Lord sufficiently about it, or because I relied too heavily on one strand of guidance. No matter how strongly we may feel something, it is always good, wherever possible, to allow time for the Lord to ‘tally and triangulate’ and to confirm important decisions in several different ways! At that point it may be helpful to liken this to going back to the fork in the road and taking the other path.
For instance, after Dad’s passing I was trying very hard to find the right person or place to rehome Dad’s lovely organ. The matter was a pressing one because the letting agents insisted on having the house clear before putting it up for rent. Nothing felt quite right until one day I was at the recycling tip, where I started chatting with a man the Lord had pointed out to me. He happened to be the Director of Education at a College for children with special needs. When I asked him if he would like the organ as a gift he was delighted! By ‘coincidence’, it also happened, for the one and only time ever in my life, that I had a lorry with a tailgate with me, and so was able to transport the organ straight to the college. As it turned out, however, the young people in his school would not have made particularly good use of it – but a few weeks later the lovely Music Director of Malvern Priory, who is also the senior organist, moved into Dad’s old home. We soon discovered it had always been his dearest wish to possess such an instrument!
Time to eat a dose of humble pie and to go back to the College Director. He willingly gifted the organ back again, as he graciously put it, ‘to so worthy a cause.’ With the help of a friend with a Transit Van, four of us bent our backs to return it to its original home in Dad’s house, where it is now being played by a highly trained musician who sends out multitudes of You tube recordings of it!
But this would not have happened if I had been unwilling to make considerable efforts to ‘go back to the fork in the road’ and make the necessary course redirection!
Are you facing a situation where you may need to engage reverse gear concerning some decision that you made too hastily? Anything is better than to pursue something that is second best or even wrong, for it will be sure to limit you, and to forestall purposes which the Lord could otherwise have brought about.
Sometimes we have to pass through transitional times . . .
Forks in the road are rather like the letter Y, where we can either go to the left or to the right. Sometimes, however, what we are facing may be more like an H-shaped junction – in which case a ‘bridging’ step will be required for us to be able to continue our journey on the proper path. Once again we will not fare well if we continue ploughing our furrow if the Lord is actually calling for a change. We often balk at this, however, for fear of what others will think or say if we do indeed embark on some radical new course – like King Zedekiah who heard the Lord calling him through the prophet Jeremiah to comply with Babylonian demands, but who feared the leaders of his own people too much to do so (Jer. 38:17-21).
I have lost count of the number of times when the Lord has asked Ros and I to make the crossing on the narrow path between the two uprights of the letter H in order to accomplish what the Lord was asking us to do – even though this often flew in the face of what others were hoping and expecting from us.
When our daughter Ruth was at junior school, we had a strong sense that she was not where the Lord wanted her to be. Since there were no places available at the only other school in our Shropshire town, however, there was nothing we could do but pray. The only person we shared this with was my PA. A few weeks later, at Spring Harvest, she happened to overhear a man saying that they had a lovely house, which they would love to open to someone who would benefit from attending the local Christian school ‘but who could not afford the distance on a daily basis.’
What are the odds again such an encounter? Within a few weeks it had all been arranged, and Ruth, who was nearly nine at the time, moved to stay with this dear family in Worcester from Monday to Friday. When she felt a bit tearful at this thought, the Lord reassured her that this was His will, and promised that He would dry her eyes. When she reached up to brush away the tears she found that her eyes were already dry. Ruth benefited greatly from attending a school that was, in many ways, more like a Bible college.
As so often in these sort of situations, the waiting period between recognising that Ruth was not on the best educational path for her and finding the Lord’s way forward felt like being in limbo. But He already knew what He had in mind to do and wonderfully found a way to bring His purposes to pass.
May each one of us have the persistence to wait and pray – and then the courage to step out when the Lord is telling us to find ways to bridge the journey from one side of the letter H to the other, and so embark on the new path beyond.