Tag Archives: Guidance

Path and Purpose

Path and Purpose (CaD 1 Sam 20) Wayfarer

So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the Lord call David’s enemies to account.”

“As long as the son of Jesse lives on this earth, neither you nor your kingdom will be established. Now send someone to bring him to me, for he must die!”
1 Samuel 20:16, 31 (NIV)

Along my life journey, I’ve been aware of the paths on which I was led. God’s hand has guided my steps. In a few cases, the direction and guidance were as unmistakable as an exit sign on the interstate. In most cases, I was simply moving forward step-by-step, and it’s only in looking back that I realize that I was being led the entire time.

A strong sense of purpose is one of the tell-tale motivations of an Enneagram Type Four, so I get that I may sense it more deeply and recognize it more clearly than those who are motivated in other ways. I believe deeply that every life has purpose which may also be the reason I observe and consider the paths I see others taking.

I have always observed with fascination when children’s paths and purpose are placed upon them by parents and family. I have observed some individuals whose life was tyrannized by parents who demanded their children walk the path prescribed for them. It appears to be more common when family legacies, businesses, and kingdoms are involved and at stake. How fascinating it’s been to watch England’s Prince Harry try to separate from the royal family while living off the privilege of the very life he says he wants nothing to do with.

But those are the big examples. They come in quiet, everyday examples as well. I know at least one individual who was specifically raised to take over the family business, a fate for which he had no desire and for which he was never really suited. He eventually attempted to commit suicide.

What I found fascinating in today’s chapter was the motivations of father and son, Saul and Jonathan, which bring the story to a climactic event. King Saul is trying to have David killed, and he tells Jonathan that he’s doing it to preserve the throne and kingdom for Jonathan himself. And, I tend to believe that it’s more about Saul’s self-centered pride than it is about an altruistic desire for his son’s future. Jonathan, meanwhile, knows that his father is a poor leader, knows that David is God’s anointed, and appears to approach the situation with a desire for God’s purposes to prevail. Jonathan makes a covenant with “the house of David,” meaning that he is choosing loyalty to David and his descendants. He is abdicating any “right” to ascend his father’s throne.

This has me thinking back to my own path in life, and to my own choices as a parent. I’m blessed that my parents allowed me to choose my own way and placed little, or no, expectations on me (Thanks, Dad and Mom! I’m grateful.). Likewise, my heart’s desire for both Taylor and Madison was that they follow the path God had for each of them. I’ve always tried to provide guidance and wisdom, but I always believed that my role as a parent was to steward them to become the person God intended for them to be, not tyrannically demanding they become the person I envisioned or desired for them to be. I’ve discovered that entrusting my children to God doesn’t end with choosing a college or a major. It’s a life-long process.

In the quiet this morning, I am so respectful of the choice Jonathan made. Breaking with family, especially a son choosing against his own father, can be incredibly difficult. With the covenant he makes in today’s chapter, Jonathan seals his father’s fate, as well as his own, and his descendants. In so doing, he opens the path to God’s stated purposes and the eventual ascendence of David.

But the story isn’t finished. As I’ve experienced in my own life, sometimes God’s purposes take years to germinate, take root, and grow before the fruit appears. Saul is still on the throne. David is now headed into the wilderness, living life on the lam. God’s path almost always leads through the wilderness. I’m looking forward to following David and reminding myself why.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Predicate

The Predicate (CaD Ps 23) Wayfarer

The Lord is my shepherd…
Psalm 23:1 (NRSVCE)

What is there to say about, arguably, the most well-known passage of the Great Story? Books have been written about it. It is recited incessantly by millions of believers every day. I think it may have been read at every funeral I’ve ever attended. Our local gathering of Jesus’ followers did an entire series of messages on it. It has been explained, dissected, put to music, memorized, and printed on more trinkets, bookmarks, and wall plaques than any other text of the Great Story.

In the quiet this morning, as I meditated on the text, my soul landed on the opening five words: The Lord is my shepherd….

That’s the phrase that gets quickly forgotten when I recite it. I want to get to the green pastures and quiet waters part, because my soul desperately needs rest. I want to get to the restoration of soul because weariness seems to be its constant reality. I want to get to that comforting part, though I don’t know how a staff could do that. I just know that I really want to be comforted in the midst of a world that churns and blares with endless messages that create fear, anxiety, confusion, and depression in me. I want to get to the goodness and mercy, because I secretly hold in my faults, mistakes, flaws, and insecurities and the guilt, the shame, is sometimes debilitating.

As I read through David’s most well-known lyrics for the millionth time, this is what comes to mind. Everything described from the rest to the restoration, the anointing, the overflow of blessing, the kindness, the mercy, the homecoming, and safe dwelling, all of it is predicated on this One Thing: The Lord is my Shepherd.

But, is He?

Who is Shepherding me?

Is it possible that I could be allowing myself to be “shepherded” by another human being, a religious institution, a teacher, a university, a parent, a government, a political party, a screen, a device, a drug, a drink, a dream, a job, an appetite, or a cause?

Is it possible that the weariness, anxiety, fear, neediness, aimlessness, guilt, and shame which makes Psalm 23 so meaningful stems from the fact that I’m really just trying to “shepherd” myself?

This poured out onto my morning pages this morning:

Lord, I surrender to you my ego,
with all its insatiable neediness for security and affirmation.
I surrender to you Lord, my body,
with all of its insatiable appetites desiring indulgence.
Lord, I surrender to you my thoughts,
with all the destructive recordings that loop incessantly which no one sees or hears, the toxic things I feed it, and the worthless things on which it insistently dwells.
I surrender to you, Lord, my being,
which you created for your glory and not my fame or well-being.
Lord, I surrender to you control,
which I foolishly cling to in my doubt and disillusionment.
Lord, I surrender to you all that I possess,
and with it, the deceptive notion that I possess anything
for there is nothing I possess that does not threaten to possess me.
I surrender to you, Lord, my money,
and with it, the masquerade that tells me this world has anything of eternal value that could possibly be purchased.

Lord, be my Shepherd.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

An Observation

At the highest point along the way,
    where the paths meet, she takes her stand;
beside the gate leading into the city,
    at the entrance, she cries aloud…

Proverbs 8:2-3 (NIV)

I saw an individual the other day in a coffee shop.

I live in a small town, so this person is not strange to me. I know the story. I’ve heard it first hand from this person. I’ve heard other versions of it from this person’s loved ones and friends.

The story reads like a tragedy. Ill-fortune has been this person’s plight. Tragedy seems have followed them on the path, and they have been a victim of circumstance at every turn. Broken relationships lie in their wake along with failed opportunities and countless fruitless attempts at sustained, gainful employment. Addiction, according to the story, has been this persons constant companion though I honestly can’t tell if this is actually true, or if it’s simply a convenient excuse for the chaotic mess of the individual’s life.

In today’s chapter, Lady Wisdom makes clear that she is never hidden. She doesn’t lurk where others can’t find her. She is on the heights where she can bee seen from miles around. She is at the crossroads where traffic is heavy. She is there in public at the gates of the city where everyone passes by. She cries out like a street preacher on his soap box.

Along this life journey, I’ve come to realize that Wisdom is omnipresent. It’s always there for the taking. In every temptation, Wisdom is there to provide good counsel. In every mistake, Wisdom is there with meaningful instruction. In the dark valley of every tragedy, Wisdom is present with guidance and directions towards Light that is waiting just a little further up the road. I’ve not always listened to her, but I’d like to believe that I’ve gotten better at it the further I’ve progressed.

I have observed that Wisdom is never hidden, except for those who are spiritually blind and those who choose to ignore her. Temptations, tragedies, foolish mistakes, and the painful bedlam of our own poor choices are common waypoints on every human being’s life journey. It appears to me that those who listen to Wisdom learn from circumstance and allow these things to inform future thoughts, choices, and behavior. Those who choose to remain blind to her presence and deaf to her words tend to remain in the dark valley with tragedy, excuse and blame as a trio of companions.

Lord, have mercy.

The Slippery Sweet-Spot Between Acting and Waiting

Moses answered them, “Wait until I find out what the Lord commands concerning you.”
Numbers 9:8 (NIV)

There are many forks in life’s road. There’s no avoiding it. It just is what it is.

Where do I go to school?
Should I marry him/her?
Do I speak out or hold my tongue?
Should I take this job that’s been offered to me or hold out for the job I really want? 
Should we rent or should we buy?
Do I invest in new or get by with used?
Should we stay or should we go?

As we traverse the Book of Numbers there is a pattern or repetition that many readers don’t catch. The phrase “The Lord said to Moses” is used repeatedly. In fact, it’s used over 50 times. In today’s chapter, some of the people bring Moses a question about how to handle an exceptional circumstance regarding the Passover celebration. Moses simply says he’ll check with God and God provides a seemingly quick answer.

We then go on to read in today’s chapter that the decision of going or staying was miraculously provided for the ancient Hebrews. According to the story there was a cloud that hovered over their traveling tent temple which gave them indication whether God wanted them to move or stay put. When the cloud remained over the tent they stayed put. If the cloud lifted they broke camp and moved.

Wow, I’d love it if God’s guidance and direction were that easy for me to see. At the same time, I have to acknowledge that this may have been the only easy thing in the experience of the Hebrews. I’m quite sure I’d struggle living the life of an ancient nomad wandering in the desert with a couple million cousins.

I have discovered along life’s road that there is a slippery sweet-spot of tension between discernment and decision. We live in an age when time is measured in nanoseconds and we are used to getting things “on demand.” I perceive that the virtues of patience, peace and prayer are increasingly found in short supply in our culture. At the same time, I have known many followers of Jesus who take so long to “prayerfully consider” decisions that they make no progress in their respective  journeys.

This morning I find myself once again seeking to both find and hold the tension between acting and waiting. I don’t want to be so quick to make decisions that I forget to pray for guidance and to give wise consideration to options and potential consequences. At the same time, I don’t want to become paralyzed waiting for some divine sign when there is a clear need to act judiciously and with expedience.

Asking and Seeking Daily

ch_davidso David inquired of God: “Shall I go and attack the Philistines? Will you deliver them into my hands?” 1 Chronicles 14:10a (NIV)

Wendy and I spend a fair amount of time in conversation about our lives. We give consideration to where we’ve been, where we’re at, and where we’re going. In our prayers we ask for guidance and in our day we attempt to be mindful of seeking answers. We are sometimes surprised by the result.

In 2007, Wendy and I purchased my parents place on Lake of the Ozarks. It has been a special place for our family for many years. Wendy and I wanted to continue that legacy for the next generation. We prayed about building a new house on the property that would be large enough for larger gatherings of friends and family, and began making plans. By the spring of 2009 the plans were laid and we were ready to proceed with construction, but the great recession had hit the economy hard. The banks cinched up their purse strings. Timing and circumstance seemed to provide a resounding answer of “No” to our prayers for God’s blessing and provision for the project. Disappointed, we scuttled our plans and moved on.

Several months later, on a rainy October morning, I was driving to a meeting in Des Moines when my cell phone rang. It was a loan officer from New Century Bank in Belleville, Kansas and he said he’d received a loan proposal from our contractor at the lake. He liked what he saw, he said, and he was presenting it to the bank’s loan committee that afternoon. On the drive home from Des Moines that afternoon, my cell phone rang again. This time it was the bank President. “I’ve got your proposal for a construction loan to build a house on Lake of the Ozarks,” he said. “We’d like to loan you the money to make this happen!

Not believing what I was hearing, I mentioned the recession, the plummeting housing prices, and all the other excuses we’d heard from banks who’d found the proposal for a second home too risky amidst the worst economy since the Great Depression. “What happens if we get this house built and the housing prices have fallen to the place that it’s not worth what we need it to be worth?” I asked the bank’s president.

Well then,” he said without skipping a beat, “We’ll just have to live with each other for a while, won’t we?”

When I arrived home, I pulled up the website for this little bank in nowhere Kansas that I’d never heard of. I read:

The name New Century Bank is taken from the beginning of the first century AD from the event that changed the world, the birth of Jesus Christ. The star in our logo represents the Star of Bethlehem that announced the birth of Jesus. Faith gives us Life” What is faith?… It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see. (1) Conviction is Faith in the Present and Hope is Faith in the Future. Our Hope is for your life in the future and that of our Community. If we help you build your life our community will benefit. “It is through faith that a righteous person has life. Our purpose is to be an example of this Hope by standing for something greater than we are… by being a servant to you and the community. We can model our banking services with this purpose as well. Our emphasis is not on the banking product, but how it is delivered and how it benefits you. We offer hope for our customers through Faith Based Financial Counseling.

The loan papers were signed a few days later and construction began immediately.

One of the things that marked David as a “man after God’s own heart” was the fact that he was constantly mindful of God in his decisions and actions. In David’s day it was common for kings and rulers to claim themselves to be gods and make their people worship them. David was the antithesis of that. He lived by a different set of rules. While not perfect, David consistently humbled himself and sought God’s guidance and blessing.

Wendy and I have tried to emulate that spirit in our own lives. The story I’ve just shared is an example of how God can dramatically provide the answer we sought after. The truth is that often the answers don’t make themselves so readily apparent. Sometimes we are left waiting for an answer that never seems to come. Other times the answer is not at all what we wanted or wished for, and that creates intense internal struggles.

We still keep seeking. We still keep asking. We still keep trusting.

That’s what faith is all about.

Peace Amidst the Crazy

WildernessOnce again David inquired of the Lord, and the Lord answered him….
1 Samuel 23:4 (NIV)

The story of the outlaw David and King Saul continues. Saul and the army of Israel are on the march looking for David and his rag tag contingent of outcasts. In chapter 22 David had about 400 men, in today’s chapter his numbers had grown to about 600. Whenever there is good intelligence of David’s whereabouts Saul goes after him. David and his men are constantly on the move, camping out from place to place in the remote areas of Judah like the picture in this post. He even wrote a song about this specific period of time. It’s known today as Psalm 54. I would give it a better title like “Backroad Blues.”

Beneath the story line, we continue to see an underlying theme of contrast between David and Saul. Consider that in today’s chapter we find David constantly looking to God for guidance:

  • [David] inquired of the Lord, saying, “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?” (vs 2)
  • Once again David inquired of the Lord (vs 4)
  • [David asked ] “Will Saul come down, as your servant has heard? Lord, God of Israel, tell your servant.” (vs 11)
  • Again David asked [God], “Will the citizens of Keilah surrender me and my men to Saul?” (vs 12)

Even the song David wrote at this moment in time has, as it’s central lyric, a clear expression of David’s reliance on God’s provision:

Surely God is my help;
    the Lord is the one who sustains me

Contrast this with Saul who continues to go his own way. He seeks out spies. He depends on rumors. He seeks out any solid intelligence he can gather about David’s whereabouts. The one thing that that we never read is, “and Saul inquired of the Lord.”

As I look back across my own life journey, I can see God’s hand at work guiding my path. As I have written on more than one occasion, I am nowhere near the place in life I had envisioned when I set out on this faith journey 35 years ago. And yet, all along the way I have actively sought divine guidance in choosing my path. Even my restless wanderings from the straight and narrow path included many conversations with God. I am thoroughly convinced that I am right in the place where I am supposed to be, though I don’t have the time nor space in this blog post to share all of the reasons for my assurance. Buy me a cup of coffee or a beer sometime and I’ll be happy to tell you my stories.

Today, I am reminded of the person I wish to be. I wish to be a person of simple and active faith like David. It’s doesn’t always lead to comfortable places or situations, but I have found that it always leads to a place of inner peace amidst stressful circumstance. I would rather be on the run, hiding in the caves of En Gedi with the assurance of God’s presence, then living in a comfortable palace without Him.

Leadership Lessons from the King-Elect

English: Samuel Blesses Saul (1Sam. 9:17) Русс...
Samuel Blesses Saul (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So they all went to Gilgal, and in a solemn ceremony before the Lord they made Saul king. Then they offered peace offerings to the Lord, and Saul and all the Israelites were filled with joy. 1 Samuel 11:15 (NLT)

Ever since I was voted Captain of the Woodlawn Elementary School Safety Patrol, I have found myself in various positions of leadership throughout my life journey. Along the way, I have found leadership to be a paradoxical enterprise as I have succeeded and failed as a leader in different arenas.

Leadership is at once simple and infinitely complex. Leaders who seem tailor made for a particular time and place will fail miserably when placed in different circumstances. There is a dynamic of chemistry between a leader and the group he or she leads which is difficult to capture and quantify. I always find it fascinating to watch the merry-go-round of coaches in major league sports. A coach can lead one team to the championship and fail miserably with the next team they lead.

As I read this story of the newly appointed leader of Israel this morning, I paid particular attention to the qualities of his leadership. Saul, the king-elect, is impressing me with his leadership:

  • “Saul had been plowing a field with his oxen” We find Saul hard at work in the field, providing for his family. No hint of entitlement here. He’s working hard like everyone else. Just like Jesus taught, if you want to lead you need to be willing to serve – and Saul was hard at it.
  • “Then the Spirit of God came powerfully upon Saul” God is at work in Saul’s life. There is a divine connection which has a direct correlation to Saul’s decisions and actions. I have found that leaders who are willing to submit themselves to divine authority, who humbly seek divine guidance, and who will faithfully execute divine direction will avoid many of the snares which lead to failure.
  • “He took two oxen and cut them into pieces and sent the messengers to carry them throughout Israel” There was no hesitation. Saul acted decisively. Anyone in leadership has experienced the truth of Solomon’s ecclesiastical wisdom regarding time. There is a time to ponder, and there is a time to act and a good leader has the wisdom to know what time it is.
  • “This is what will happen to the oxen of anyone who refuses to follow Saul and Samuel into battle!” Notice that Saul did not take all of the authority for himself, but acknowledges that priestly leadership of Samuel. There is humility in having an honest understanding of your place. Saul is not striving to stand alone as king of the mountain, but is willing to acknowledge that his leadership as king is shared with God’s appointed priest.
  • But Saul replied, “No one will be executed today, for today the Lord has rescued Israel!” Once again Saul shows real sensitivity to God’s provision and blessing. Unlike the kings of his day who would solidify their place by having enemies or those who threatened their leadership killed as public spectacle, Saul reserves judgment and honors God by showing mercy and grace.
  • Then they offered peace offerings to the Lord, and Saul and all the Israelites were filled with joy. The nation, and Saul as their newly appointed leader, experience success on multiple levels. They have won a victory over enemies who threatened their lives and well-being. They have secured the deliverance of their own people. Saul has shown himself a capable leader spiritually and militarily. Together, everyone experiences the joy of success.

It is not a bad start for Saul. Today, I’m measuring myself against the things that made Saul successful in his early career and trying to humbly make an honest assessment of my own leadership with regard to marriage, family, business, and community. I have come to the believe that truly successful leaders are ever diligent at improving their serve.

Chapter-a-Day Numbers 9

source: Flickr & aaron geller

Moses said, “Give me some time; I’ll find out what God says in your circumstances.” Numbers 9:8 (MSG)

My wife hates making decisions. Even on small, seemingly insignificant choices she can brood and meditate for long periods of time. When it comes to major decisions her contemplative hesitation can, at times, feel like paralysis to me. I am aware, however, that God often uses our spouse’s contrasting personality to teach us lessons we need for our own journey.

In a market driven, consumerist culture I find myself constantly having things pushed at me. Between television, e-mail, internet, smartphones, and iPads it’s easy to get swept up in every fad and trend. The latest, greatest, newest, and most improved products and services that appeal to every individual appetite are at our fingertips 24/7/365 and if I’m not careful I can make foolish decisions on a whim with a tap on my touchpad.

Observing Wendy think through her choices has taught me the wisdom of patience. Often, she will put off a purchase and discovers that she really didn’t need it in the first place. Other times, I’ve watched her methodically think through all of the positives and negatives only to unearth a negative that would have ultimately disappointed her.

I was struck by Moses’ response to the people in today’s chapter. “Give me some time.” It reminded me that even Jesus made a habit of going off to a mountain to spend long periods of time in prayer and contemplation. Today, I’m reminded that taking time to make decisions is a good thing. Seeking guidance through prayer leads to wise choices. I can give you a long list of snap decisions I’ve made which didn’t end up so well.

Chapter-a-Day 1 Chronicles 14

2010 05 03 Playhouse Construction Weekend 005 God answered, “This time don’t attack head-on; circle around and come at them out of the balsam grove. When you hear a sound like shuffling feet in the tops of the balsams, attack; God will be two steps ahead of you….” 1 Chronicles 14:14b-15a (MSG)

We just finished a(nother) weekend of construction on the lower level of our playhouse at the lake. We had a stellar crew helping us with doors, flooring, and electrical work. I am, admittedly, not a real do-it-yourself guy. I can do some basics with a hammer and screwdriver, but I’m pretty clueless when it comes to some of the intricacies of construction.

One of the blessings of this project has been having family and friends who know what they are doing helping out. As we’ve worked on this project, I have often come to a point in the project where I’m perplexed. Many times I’ve gone to my dad or one of my knowledgeable friends with a question and have heard in response, “Yeah, I noticed that and I’ve been thinking about it. I think what we need to do is….” It’s been amazing to have people two steps ahead of me, looking out for my best interest and sharing their wisdom.

Daily taking time to seek God’s guidance and wisdom in the perplexing steps my journey, there is something comforting in the knowledge that He is two steps ahead of me, looking out for my best interest, and willing to guide me.

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 42

Many paths from which to choose. "But I'll take the hand of those who don't know the way, who can't see where they're going. I'll be a personal guide to them, directing them through unknown country. I'll be right there to show them what roads to take, make sure they don't fall into the ditch. These are the things I'll be doing for them— sticking with them, not leaving them for a minute." Isaiah 42:16 (MSG)

There are mornings when I wake up and set out with no clear sense of direction, but with an overwhelming sense of burden. Everything seems muddled and the road ahead seems to branch off in a million different directions. I feel the need to take three or four different paths today because of competing demands. Which way do I go first? Which path should take precedent? If I take that path, will it eventually merge with the others? Maybe this is the wrong way to start.

This is why I regularly find it beneficial to start the day in a little quiet time with God and His Message. I regularly find God speaks directly into my circumstances and my need through which ever chapter we're reading.

I'm headed off into the day, but I know God has a hold of my hand. He is directing me. He won't leave me for a second.

Thanks for the reminder, God. I needed it today.

  Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and wheatfields