February 25, 2014

Heart and Soul: Biblical Studies

It's not always easy to find the right path and the right role models in life.

Should we desire to be the next Bill Gates? Should we strive to be the next Mother Teresa? We have an inkling of the character and purpose of God, but we often confuse it with human desire and worldly stature. We walk along confidently, ignoring signs of selfishness that warn us that the path we follow is dangerous and ultimately leads to self-destruction. We trust in ourselves to accomplish the good work that God has for us; we miss the obvious signs; and when we fall, we fall hard. When we are at the bottom, we can hear the familiar whispers telling us “You are not good enough” or “You’ll never be able to get back up.”

Distracting Voices

The voices of defeat—they are always audible in the dark places of our lives. We can’t really make out the faces they come from, but they are right, aren’t they? Will we ever be worthy of serving God? We know our weaknesses, our tempers, and our mistakes.

Yet, even though we ignored the signs, God shows up. In our darkness His light shines through. We doubt; we wonder; then we hope. We cannot—but God can!

When we fall, we fall hard.

He calls our name! “Are you there? I am here!” He exclaims, worried that we won’t hear His voice. Can it be true? “I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, ‘Here I am, here I am,’ to a nation that was not called by my name’ ” (Isa. 65:1).1

Instead, we seem to hear only the catcalls of defeat and miss the beautiful, melodic tone of our Savior’s invitation. He calls, day after day. He doesn’t give up. And when we do hear His voice we often glance up in disbelief. Is that He? Is He calling my name? What could He possibly want with me?

Yet, if we just reply, what wonders would our Lord be able to do for us! “I am here, but it’s dark around me!” we cry. Our Father, our God, our Savior, comes joyfully to us. He reaches into our darkness; His strong arms embrace us; we are safe!

This often is the hardest part for us. As He pulls us into His light, we feel the bruises and hurts of lives lived apart from Him. Our health, our marriages, our children, our work—everything is affected by defeat and separation.

God Is With Us

As we emerge into God’s light, His face glows with happiness, and we note a hint of pain. The Lord suffers with us. He longs to comfort our sorrows, and when we run to Him and accept His grace, He becomes our ultimate caregiver. “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you” (Isa. 66:13). And as he cleans our wounds and wipes our tears, He asks for only one thing: commitment. Can we commit ourselves to the Lord, to His true call into the light? Can we stand on solid ground and know that we must leave our own passions and goals and place them at the foot of the cross? God asks for only that, not because He wants to burden us with rules and limitations, but to give us true happiness and a road without potholes and deadly ditches.

A True March for God

“Now, gentlemen, you know we don’t have much. We don’t have much money. We don’t really have much education, and we don’t have political power. We have only our bodies, and you are asking us to give up the one thing that we have when you say, ‘Don’t march.’ ”2

Martin Luther King, Jr., had discovered his march in life. He wanted to see equality for all. He had seen so much hatred and suffering; yet he was willing to offer his life as a sacrifice to achieve this dream.

What is our march? What drives us to offer it all? Is it our pursuit of happiness or success? Is it our determination to give the best to our children? Is it the drive to prove something to the world, to those around us, or to ourselves?

That burning sensation or cool chill or sense of peace—that is God speaking to you.

The Israelites had been on a long march. Moses had just passed away, and Joshua, their new leader, came with a divine message. After much rebellion God still intended to keep the promise He had made. He was still ready to give His people a new place they could call home.

Surprisingly, however, this new home was occupied. Yet God still had a plan. “Moses my servant is dead,” He said. “Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel” (Joshua 1:2). Many times we question God’s call. We have our own agendas: what marches we must complete, when we must complete them, and how we must carry them out.

For many years I had imagined my calling to be much different from what I am doing. Ironically, my dream and vision was to become a writer—a fiction writer, to be exact. I wanted to tell the story of a Hispanic woman and show the world the richness and beauty of my culture. Not a terribly bad goal in life—nothing destructive or evil. However, this was not God’s plan for my life. After receiving a letter of regret from the university to which I had applied, I knew this was not God’s path for me.

Another dream that turned sour at a young age was my aspiration of becoming a teacher for at-risk kids. I would turn their lives around; I would give them something new to look forward to; I would open their eyes to new possibilities. It was all for God, but again, I started this march with my own agenda. It was not a God-directed march. I did not ask for His blessing or His opinion. After all, my intentions were noble and pure. Needless to say, the teenagers, overtaken by drugs, gangs, poverty, and little to no ambition in life, pushed me to my limits and nearly destroyed me. It was a good cause; it was a worthy march; but not my march, not at that time.

On Holy Ground

How then do we know what our march is? How can we truly discover God’s direction for our lives? To answer this crucial question, we must do as Joshua did. We have to seek the Lord—and listen.

Scripture tells us that the commander of the Lord’s army met Joshua before he began his march. “ ‘Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.’ And Joshua did so” (Joshua 5:15). As we step into the Lord’s holy presence, remember how sacred it is to be met by Him and how holy our time is with Him. As you bow low before God, your Creator, know that it is His voice that you are hearing. That burning sensation or cool chill or sense of peace—that is God speaking. Our time with the Lord is nothing short of seeing His glory face to face.

It may take time, not because of God’s tardiness, but rather because of our unwillingness or inability to listen well before we can start our march.

Through God’s mercy, grace, and great patience, He has slowly been leading me to the path I should be on. It is a daily journey, one I have not finished, but one I know will be noteworthy in the end. Not noteworthy to the world, of course, but noteworthy and of great importance to my Creator and Lord.

Yet, even now, as I journey in the right direction, following God’s marching order, I am sometimes filled with fear of the future and of failure. I imagine the Israelites may have felt the same as they entered a land the Lord had promised them, full of powerful city-states and strong people.

As I move forward in this march the Lord has determined for me, I sometimes cry out in fear to the Lord, wondering what I am doing and if this is what He wants of me. I see only the powerful cities, surrounded by seemingly impenetrable walls. I feel unworthy; I am not qualified; and I don’t always know whether this is the right way. With every word of discouragement, the walls seem stronger, darker, and taller.

Yet God speaks, using ancient words directed to another fearful
child of His. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

When we finally listen to God’s call and wait on Him to tell us where to march or what we are marching for, there is no need for fear. The march is not ours, but the Lord’s.

Then, as you take your first step in the right direction, stay courageous, for God will make the walls fall down (Joshua 6:20). He will come through, again and again, and will be there when you need encouragement, strength, and the ability to look beyond the walls.

“The Lord your God is with you wherever you go” was God’s assurance to Joshua. As we march to God’s tune and in His direction, it is still our promise to claim when the going gets tough.

  1. All Scripture quotations in this article are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
  2. Martin Luther King, to the Chicago City Council, 1966.