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When you are very eager to please God, it’s only natural that you want to be 100% sure that you’re doing exactly what He wants all of the time. In an effort to secure that kind of assurance, it’s very easy to fall into a habit of casting lots or routinely asking God for clear signs before you decide on a course of action. And yet once you start trying to get God to confirm your decisions before you act on them, you will quickly discover that He starts refusing to do so. Perhaps He does speak to you through signs the first few times. But soon He’ll stop speaking to you through them. If that doesn’t deter you from trying to use them, then He’ll start intentionally deceiving you. For example, in a fit of frustration, you might ask, “God, if You love me, then make this coin land heads up,” and instead God will cause it to land heads down or do whatever else you’ve set up as your “no” signal. A couple of rounds of this treatment, and you’ll lose all confidence in casting lots as you pitch into a period of frustration and doubt. So why does God do this? Why does He intentionally frustrate your efforts to get clear direction from Him? Isn’t He supposed to be judging you by your motivations? Yes, He does. Then why doesn’t He appreciate the fact that you’re sincerely trying to please Him by being clear about what He wants? He does appreciate it, and He’s expressing His appreciation by frustrating the heck out of you when you try to get clear leading from Him. Well, what kind of sense does this make? This is what we’re going to talk about in this post.
Whenever you find yourself being driven up the wall by God’s nonsensical antics, it helps to step back and look at the big picture. Often what’s happening in these moments is that you and God are going for two different goals. When you sincerely care about pleasing God, you can be sure that His aggravating behavior is being motivated by a desire to strengthen your relationship with Him. Well, you’re focused on the same goal, and you’re pretty sure that your method is the most effective one. In your mind, some clear direction will ensure that you don’t veer off course. But God disagrees. He says that your ability to trust Him is far more important than your ability to understand Him. Let’s now use an analogy to understand the difference between these two things.
Imagine yourself walking down a wide dirt path with Jesus. Everything’s going great until you come to a fork in the road. In front of you, the path splits into two separate paths: one veers off to the right, the other veers off to the left. There is no option to keep going straight: you’ll have to turn. Now it’s just a question of which way.
You look at Jesus and ask, “Which way do You want me to go?”
He says, “Trust Me.”
You say, “I do trust You, and I want to please You, so tell me what You want.”
He just smiles patiently and stares at you without answering.
Now you’re getting frustrated. “Come on, Jesus, just tell me what You want. You know I’ll do whatever You say.”
“I know You will,” He replies.
“Then tell me what You want,” you insist but He just smiles that irritating smile. Now you’re getting upset. “Why aren’t You leading me? I thought You were my Shepherd! What kind of Shepherd lets His sheep just wander off a cliff?”
“I am leading you,” He says.
“No, You’re not, You’re just standing here refusing to give me a simple answer to a simple question: which way do You want me to go?”
“You need to trust Me,” He replies, and now you’re really upset. But why? Well, stress is usually motivated by one of two things: fear or pain. In this situation, you’re assuming that if you choose the wrong road, Jesus will get mad at you and punish you. You’re feeling like there is enormous pressure on you to make a choice that you don’t have the wisdom to make. You can’t read God’s mind, so why is He expecting you to? Why is He just setting you up to fail? Why is He risking your whole relationship by insisting that you make this call? Doesn’t He want you to succeed with Him? Are you hearing the fear in these questions?
To understand why God often refuses to give us clear direction in life we need to take a hard look at our reasons for wanting it. Relating to God is a totally different deal than relating to another human who is as limited and ignorant as you are. When God calls us into a relationship with Him, He is not inviting us into a partnership. Before we even knew of His existence, He was intimately involved in our lives, guiding our steps, and carefully orchestrating our circumstances to lead us into opportunities that would motivate us to make choices which would benefit our souls. None of this changes just because we suddenly become aware of His existence. The care continues. The level of involvement is the same as it’s always been. God does not introduce Himself to us so that we can begin to share the responsibilities of caring for ourselves.
It is the goal of human parents to teach their children to learn how to care for themselves. There is only a brief period of time in which humans are considered truly helpless and thus nothing is required of them. But in our relationships with God, we never leave the helpless, infant stage. He never scales back His care of us, nor does He ever teach us to rely on our own wisdom instead of His. To experience the kind of joy and peace that God wants us to have, we must learn how to grow comfortable being utterly dependent on Him, and we must learn to stop feeling threatened by our perpetual blindness and ignorance.
When a human infant is lying in his crib, he is at the mercy of his caretakers. If they don’t return to him to check on his condition and provide him with fresh food and clothes, he is going to be in a crisis. In this world we learn the hard way that human caretakers can’t always be counted on. They leave us. They forget about us. They demand the impossible from us. But God is not a human. He never leaves. He never forgets. He never expects more from us than we have. In our path analogy, the reason Jesus isn’t giving you clear direction is that He is forcing you to practice depending on Him to be the good Caretaker that He says He is. Jesus never punishes anyone for not having information which He hasn’t given them. He doesn’t expect people to read His mind. He will never give you the resources you would have to have to live independently of Him. As you stand at that crossroads stressing about your lack of clear instruction, you’re stressing over threats which do not really exist. Suppose you head down a road only to end up in some sort of crisis—does that mean you did it wrong? Does that mean Jesus has abandoned you because you made a choice He disapproves of? No, because this isn’t the kind of Caretaker He is. Jesus leads you into trouble on purpose, because it is a trouble He knows you need to experience in order to reach the next stage of maturity. Because Jesus is who He is, you simply don’t need to know the master plan or see your life ten steps in advance. He knows the plan. He controls the plan, and He is a good Creator.
When we’re anxious to please God, we want clear instructions from Him because we think that clear commands are essential to keeping us on the right path. But no, God is who keeps us on the path, not our logical grasp of His agenda for us. Often without meaning to we assume that our conscious cooperation and understanding is a critical part of God being able to execute His plan well. As you stand at the crossroads, you imagine that Jesus has a particular preference in mind about which path He wants you to go down. Indeed He does, but does He really need to share that preference out loud with you in order to see that you choose the right path? Of course not. He’s God, He controls every aspect of your being. When God does not give you a clear command, it’s because He wants you to leave the responsibility for making the best choice in His capable hands. He wants you to trust Him with ensuring that your life is unfolding the way that He wants it to. He wants you to stop trying to take on responsibilities that He is never going to allocate to you.
So what do you should you do when you come to that fork in the road? You ask Jesus if He has any direction He wants to give you. When He does not give you any, you just pick one. It won’t matter which one you pick, because He will ensure that you choose the one that He wants. When God does not give you clear direction it’s because He wants you to stop focusing on following directions and understanding the plan. Instead, He wants you to practice resting in the relief of knowing it is not your responsibility to have wisdom in life. When God wants you to practice obeying Him, He will set up opportunities for you to do so by bringing you to another fork in the road and giving you clear direction on which path He wants you to take. In such moments, you’ll have the opportunity to practice obedience and submission to Him by going down the road that He indicates. But where there is no direction, you need to be open to learning an entirely different lesson.
God knows how to communicate His will to us. He knows how to make Himself heard. So when all you’re hearing is silence or when you find yourself feeling hopelessly muddled about something, you need to stop looking for an opportunity to practice obedience, because that’s not the lesson. When we are already practicing right soul attitudes, God doesn’t feel the need to pepper us with constant commands. Instead we will find Him shifting us into a different pattern—one in which we find ourselves navigating through a stream of options in which no one choice is being flagged as the correct one. This is how God helps us develop greater trust and dependency: by putting us in situations where we are acutely aware that we do not have the wisdom we need to make the right choices.
It is a fabulous exercise for the maturing soul to be forced to choose among a series of options when none of those options feel totally right. In such cases, we feel like we’re bumbling around in a dark room. It feels terribly inefficient and guaranteed to result in us missing the mark. And yet with God in that darkness with us, there is no reason to assume that we have wandered off the best course. Given His great love for us, His great faithfulness, and His desire for us to experience His best, why should we panic just because we can no longer see where we’re going? We don’t need to see anything. We don’t need to be trying to prepare for worst case scenarios. We don’t need to understand the purpose of why He has led us into this particular dark room at this particular moment. We just need to know that He is with us, that He is for us, and that He is more than capable of keeping us on course. So you see, God gives us directions to give us the opportunity to practice obedience and submission. But He withholds directions to give us the opportunity to practice trust. Trust is vital to experiencing deep soul joy, rest, and peace, thus the more we mature, the more He will push us to develop our trust in Him.
To develop a close bond with God, you must mature in many areas. Obedience is only one of those areas, yet the Church has a way of emphasizing obedience until it is all we think about. Yet your relationship with God is so much more than Him commanding and you obeying. He wants personal communion with you, not just an obedient robot. If you’re ever going to know what intimacy with Him is, then it is vital that He not tell you what to do every moment of your life. Instead, you need Him to set you up in plenty of situations where the ramifications of your decision seem life-altering, the wisest course of action seems totally uncertain, and He is utterly silent. It is in these moments that you will have the opportunity to practice leaning on Him the way that you must learn to if you’re ever going to know Him well.
God will never be less than God in your life. He will never scale back His care of you. Instead, He will teach you to consciously depend on Him to greater and greater degrees. In your relationships with other humans, too much dependency on other people is guaranteed to destroy any chance for a positive bond. But in your relationship with God, the goal is to learn how to develop absolute trust, absolute dependency, and absolute confidence in His faithfulness to you. We don’t get there overnight, and we don’t get there without having countless meltdowns at countless forks in the road as we panic over His refusal to give us some clear instruction. But once we become open to practicing something other than obedience, and once we learn to start boldly forging ahead and trusting that He will keep us on track, then our dynamic with Him begins to change in fabulous ways.
Practicing Dependency: Appreciating the Wisdom of God
Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t: Finding Peace in the Midst of Moral Dilemmas