The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. (Deuteronomy 31.8)
Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” (Isaiah 30.21)
Out and About
We’re fortunate to live in a neighborhood where virtually everything we need is within a mile’s radius. Several times a week one or both of us compile a list of errands and head off to get them done on foot. When someone calls for the one who’s away, the other says, “He’s out and about.” If the caller asks when he’ll be back, the answer is usually “I’m not sure exactly.” It’s not uncommon to remember other things we need and get them as well. There are also favorite haunts along the way—bookshops, art dealers, home accessory boutiques, clothing stores etc.—we can’t resist browsing through. Finally, having lived here for nearly two decades, it’s possible we may bump into an old friend we’ve not seen in years. That leads to an extended curbside conversation or cup of coffee. Sometimes we can be out and about for hours without realizing it.
Walt’s better than I at sticking to a plan. Once I’m out and about, I tend to wander. The fresh air, serene side streets, and sounds of birdsong and children at play—music that never reaches our high-rise windows—carry me away. I treasure these mini-excursions as chances for my mind to wander. Many times they sneak up on me. I leave my route on a whim and find I’m being refreshed. Often my wanderings put me in step with God’s presence. My roaming thoughts fixate on a passage of Scripture. Or they lead to stream-of-consciousness meditation and prayer. Or they unearth a song that speaks to me. Occasionally, something I see prompts these reactions, as if it were placed there for my benefit. And the real beauty of it: if I planned to be out and about for this purpose, it’s unlikely I’d experience anything I’ve described. In my eagerness to see what I set out to find, I’d find what I want to see and miss what I need to discover.
Willing to Wander
I’m convinced the same principle applies to Lent’s figurative journey. Everything we need or want is within walking range. We start out with an agenda—a set of objectives we hope to achieve. Walking with God tops the list. Yet many of us who’ve lived in Christ for years may be overly familiar with the territory. Being out and about raises prospects we’ll get caught up with distractions that delay our progress. We know the wilderness so well we forget it’s for wandering.
How much we gain from our excursion is directly proportional to our willingness to be drawn off the beaten path of ritualized observance and routine obligation. Remember, Jesus’s desert odyssey wasn’t rooted in dogma or tradition. Luke 4.1 makes this plain: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert.” Note: in the desert, not simply into the desert. From start to finish, where He went and what He found were Spirit-led. If we follow Christ’s example, we too must yield to the Spirit. We too must be willing to wander. We too must let our plans and expectations go so we can be receptive to divine guidance. If we do this, we will emulate Christ in every way because, as Romans 8.14 tells us, “those who are led by Spirit of God are sons of God.”
Our desire to walk with God is worthy. At the same time, if we permit that goal to dominate our thoughts we may end up only finding what we want to see, instead of seeing everything He wants us to find. When we follow the Spirit, we discover something altogether amazing. God is The Walker and we are wanderers. He finds us and walks with us. And He has a most peculiar stride. His steps surround us, in front, at our side, and from behind. “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you,” Deuteronomy 31.8 says. For those concerned about who’s got their backs, Isaiah 30.21 confirms there’s no cause for worry: “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’”
God walks ahead to prompt our attention to truths He wants us to discover. He paves our way with subtle reminders and stark revelations. He walks next to us to quell anxieties about winding up lost and alone in the desert’s uncharted landscape. He walks behind us to offer guidance if we lose our sense of direction or question whether we’re really following the Spirit. “You’re doing fine,” He whispers. “Keep going. I’m with you.” When God walks with us, He’s more than our traveling companion. He’s our habitation. “In him we live and move and have our being,” Paul preaches in Acts 17.28, adding, “We are his offspring,” i.e., children of God led by His Spirit. We have entered this wilderness in hopes of walking with God, quite possibly never stopping to consider He’s all around us, walking with us. Once we understand this, we can take Deuteronomy’s advice at face value: “Do not fear; do not be discouraged.” We wander. God walks. It’s the best of all possible worlds. We discover more than we hoped to find and He keeps us safe and sure.When God walks with us, He surrounds us. He prompts our attention to what we should see. He ensures our safety. And He whispers assurance we’re following His Spirit’s direction.
(Tomorrow: Clean and New)