The Clearer Path


Tony Woodlief tells us that the answer to feeling spiritually lost is surprisingly simple: Listen to God’s voice.

It’s never helped my faith one bit to worry over how I compare to others. Unfortunately, that truth rarely stops me from envying the lives of Christians who seem to have it all together—good marriages, well-behaved children, stable jobs, positive attitudes. I watch them live their good lives and ask myself why I can’t be more like them.

How good it must feel, I tell myself, to be there. No deep worry or doubt, no secret sin gnawing at the heart, no days or nights of crying out questions to God and receiving the dread silence in reply.

What we learn, however, when we get to know those seemingly perfect people in our churches, is that nobody’s faith is perfect. They may bear their struggles with brighter faces, or keep their nagging doubts and sins better covered, but they feel no closer to perfection than the rest of us.

Anyone who imagines he’s worked out his salvation satisfactorily, in fact, who has no “fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12), well, he may be even more lost than us gossipers and lusters and worriers. At least we have our nagging consciences, after all, to remind us of the great divide between our sullied lives and God’s holiness.

For it is a wide gulf, yet we are each of us called along a path of sanctification into the very midst of God’s holiness. At times this seems hopeless, falling back as we do—as I do—into my persistent sin, my distractions, my feelings of weakness and futility and weariness.

We are called along this path all the same, our good works “prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). But it is such a long walk, isn’t it? A long and wearying walk, and at times we look behind ourselves and see only failure; we look ahead and imagine more failure to come, and we search out the heart of God to ask, Why me? Why have You arranged for so many people to depend on me? Why have You allowed this sin to be my struggle? Why do You expect me to keep journeying on this life’s path when I am so very tired?

We ask why and we ask where. Where, Lord, does it end? What is Your purpose in this illness, this joblessness, this rebellious child?

More than once, I’ve tried to bargain with God—asking Him to just show me where I’m going, and I’ll give up asking why. A journey can seem endless, after all, without a map to tell us how close we are to our final destination.

Scripture says, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God” (Rom. 8:28). But that doesn’t mean we always get to know when the good will emerge, or where life’s raging river will deposit us.

So we are, every one of us, searching. We are searching, some of us, for the path we once knew, because we have lost our way. We may be in church, we may be in a small group, we may even be in our Bibles every day, but we can feel lost all the same. It is exactly the same feeling we had as small children, when we looked up from our play and couldn’t see our mother or father. Some of us feel lost, and the bitter irony is that the more we seem to “have it together,” the harder it can be to ask for help.

Others of us feel lost, and everyone knows we need help, but we imagine we are too weary to do the work. Too weary to resist the call of that bottle, that pornography, that comforting fury, that inappropriate relationship. We feel too weary to pray, too fearful of the silence that results from having shunned God in our hearts. Deep within ourselves, we are still searching for God, if only because He calls to us: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27).

We who feel lost still hear God’s whisper, and we search for it even as we run from it. I imagine that whatever else hell is like, it is also like this—the heartrending urge to rush into the arms of God, and yet a debilitating terror at doing so, because it means we must forfeit the miserable little lives we’ve crafted for ourselves.

I have been “stuck” in my faith, and I have been lost; and each time, my instinct is to blame God for not speaking more clearly. If He would just tell me what to do, I say to myself, then of course I would do it. When my heart is in that stubborn place, I go through the motions of prayer and Bible reading, but it does no good. I can’t hear a thing—not a single thing—and I tell myself the lie that God has gone silent.

We live the life to which we are called, not by staring off in the distance, wondering when we’ll get “there,” but in realizing that “there” is “here.”

“Take heed what you hear,” Christ says. “With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you; and to you who hear, more will be given” (Mark 4:24 NKJV).

We are called along a path, and because we are faithless, we are prone to sit down along the way, like stubborn toddlers, because we can’t see the end. Maybe one reason we can’t see further along the path of faith is because we don’t pay enough attention to where we are right now. We hear, Christ tells us, as we listen. We can’t expect a richer faith, a clearer path, unless we are taking into our hearts those words of God that we already understand.

Words like: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).

Words like: “Just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you” (Col. 3:13).

Words like: “You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land” (Deut. 15:11).

Some of us call out for God’s guidance, and yet we haven’t heeded the lessons we learned in Sunday school. There is so much wisdom in the Bible, so much instruction from a loving Father, but we cannot hear it until we begin to heed the words we’ve already received.

I have often stood on the path, demanding to know from God what my next step is, not realizing that He’s already told me. Love my neighbor. Visit those in prison. Give of myself to “the least of these.” I don’t know how to move forward, because I don’t know how to live rightly where I am. I’m calling out, but I stop up my ears against the reply. I cannot hear because I do not listen.

We live the life to which we are called, not by staring off in the distance, wondering when we’ll get “there,” but in realizing that “there” is “here,” just as the kingdom of heaven is at hand. The kingdom is at hand because Christ is Immanuel—God with us—which means we needn’t get there because He has come here. He is here and He is speaking. And if we will just live out what our Sunday school teachers taught us, this world and our very lives will be transformed. That is the promise.


This article was selected from In Touch magazine.

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