… and he will direct your paths.
What does that mean?
You might remember this phrase, the last section of a passage from Proverbs about God’s tender promise to lead us into wisdom.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you the path to take.
(Proverbs 3:5-6, New Living Translation)
But the promise of divine leading must be more than a frilly font posted on social media. So let’s be blunt. How does God show us which path to take?
We might hope to find a celestial post-it note stuck to our bedroom mirror when we wake up – laying out steps 1, 2 & 3 – but no. That’s not how God works.
And trust me – he’s not a one-trick pony, using the same method for everyone. He knows what you need. He knows how you’re wired. He will creatively and personally reveal his wisdom to you as you seek it. As you seek Him.
We have a wonderful promise: the Light of the World can usher in the dawn of a new day. A new way of thinking. Of living. But how do the lights come on?
I look back to the events of 1980 as an important reminder of God’s compassionate revealing of his counsel. It was a milestone year: finishing seminary, interviewing for ministry position at churches, and most importantly – making a decision about marriage.
As the year began, I had firm plans for the summer: fly to Chicago and convince my former girlfriend she made a mistake. She broke up with me as she finished her language training the previous summer, just prior to a one-year mission in Africa.
It was a great plan … before my encounter with four untils.
Until I met and fell in love with Linda (who is now my wife).
Until I was given the gift of counseling.
Until I prayed and pondered, going deep for multiple rounds of both.
Until I watched a 1951 movie, I’d Climb the Highest Mountain.
My part-time, six-month stint as Youth Pastor at Eagle Rock Covenant Church began on February 3, 1980. After worship I was introduced to Linda, and had coffee with her ten days later at Bob’s Big Boy. (Anyone remember those?) Soon there was a place for me at the table at her family’s weekly Sunday dinners of roast beef & mashed potatoes.
Linda and I talked frequently, but early on I shared my summer plans. Therefore, we became friends without a future (or so I thought).
As my Pastoral Counseling class concluded one day in late February, we were introduced to Dr. Newton Maloney, one of the Professors at Fuller Seminary’s School of Psychology. He told us that good counselors have also been counseled, thus experiencing the other side of therapy. Made sense to me.
He also informed us that the graduating Ph.D. candidates needed clinical hours for licensing. We were offered free counseling for the following quarter – twice a week for ten weeks. As the spring quarter commenced, so did my relationship with Ed Borycz, the counselor to whom I was assigned.
But I figured our sessions would be short and friendly, as I had already pronounced myself well and healthy. Nothing to talk about, right?
I was wrong. Way wrong.
From day one, it became obvious that I needed help. I began to understand why my girlfriend had walked away. But I also realized that if I had married her, I would have fallen into a common pattern: men often marry someone who reminds them of their mom.
Oh my. No thanks.
I loved Linda. She loved me. We became best friends. I felt so comfortable with her, and our hours together flowed so smoothly. Easy peasy, right?
Nope. In my mind, Linda didn’t check all the boxes for the roles of a pastor’s wife. What would she do as my partner in ministry?
She played the piano a little, but not enough to lead congregational singing. Amazing ability with young children but no interest in directing the ministry. Speaking on the platform and into microphones – no thanks.
But the problem was in my mind, not with Linda. I’m sure you can see the folly in my thinking, but I couldn’t. I’m embarrassed now, but such was the state of my twenty-five-year-old mind. All those spring months, with my M.Div degree just around the corner and a ministry position secured for the fall, I thought I knew what I needed.
But clarity avoided me, even as I prayed and pondered. Until.
On Tuesday of graduation week from Fuller Seminary, with no projects or assignments to complete, I did something out of character. After making myself some lunch, I sat down to watch afternoon TV, and landed upon a movie made in 1951, I’d Climb the Highest Mountain. Why? I honestly don’t know, other than a movie about a Pastor and his wife seemed worthwhile.
William Thompson and his new wife Mary begin to serve a small, rural congregation in the Blue Ridge mountains of Georgia. The movie centers around Mary’s transformation, with her eventually coming to a new understanding of herself and of her faith. The movie concludes with her personal confession to her husband – which I’ve never forgotten.
Now I know that you were called to preach, just as sure as I was called to love you. And that’s a wonderful thing to know.
When I heard Mary speak that line, something in my head said to me: Are you paying attention?
Yes, I was.
The movie ended, but a new period of life began for me, as I reflected on the past six months and beyond. Within the next hour, I called Linda at work, and my first words were: it’s not a question of if, but when. She knew exactly what I meant, and we were both so excited about our future together.
Yes, I know the obvious question. Do I believe that God directs people to watch movies in order to receive a word from him? It’s a fair question, but it misses the point.
Let’s stay with our original question – how does God direct our paths?
I’m going to answer it by asking the question from a different angle. To whom does God give wisdom about the paths they should take?
He directs the paths of…
… those who are actively seeking his wisdom. You know the verse: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.**
… those who are paying attention, and are listening to numerous possible channels of wisdom: scripture, nature, wise counsel, the inner voice of the Holy Spirit, and yes, the arts: songs, stories, books and movies.
… those who are patient, who are willing to wait on God’s timing. It took six months of learning not to depend on my own understanding, quoting again the wisdom of Proverbs. Maybe I should say I was un-learning – the key to discerning the paths God calls us to take. Which leads us into the last one.
… those who are willing to accept God’s wisdom and change their ways to align with his. This takes humility. This takes courage. But to receive something with both hands, you must drop what you’ve previously been holding.
If you’d like to watch the movie, you can find it here. It’s worth it, especially to understand the full confession Mary gives to William at the closing scenes, in which she declares: I didn’t realize how selfish and limited I was. But now I know better.
But now I know better. Walking with God, walking in his ways – that’s an adventure marked by making that declaration over and over, for the rest of your days.
I used to ______, but now I know better.
When’s the last time you made that statement?
Benediction of Blessing
May you actively seek God’s guidance on your life decisions.
May you willingly exchange your past life for what he reveals to you.
May you delight in the joy of walking with him and in his ways.
* Many translations translate this passage literally, thus retaining an ancient figure of speech: and he will make your paths straight. I like the modern equivalent better.
** Matthew 7:7
Light in the darkness: Photo by John Towner on Unsplash
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All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version, NIV. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. TM