“You have not passed this way before”

I’ve been working my way slowly–laboriously–through the Old Testament and it has been heavy lifting. After 40 years of walking with the Lord, I can still be surprised and learn new things in scripture. I have journaled scores of questions over the past year as I  struggled through my second divorce (again to a Christian man) and wrestled with what appears to be a very tough God in the Pentateuch.

I know he isn’t bothered by my questions or my doubts. Thank God for God.

Today, though, there were no questions. I was in Joshua 3, and I was struck by Joshua’s officers’ injunction to the Israelites before they crossed the Jordan to the promised land:

“…and they commanded the people, saying, ‘When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God with the Levitical priests carrying it, then you shall set out from your place and go after it. However, there shall be between you and it a distance of about 2,000 cubits by measure. Do not come near it, that you may know the way by which you shall go, for you have not passed this way before.'” (Joshua 3:3,4 NASB).

As I wrap up this chapter in my life, I’m often tempted to run ahead…to see what’s next…to navigate my own direction. Lagging behind the Lord breeds impatience and resentment in me. I quote the Proverbs, “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” (16:9), refusing to sit around waiting for a telegram telling me what to do. I yearn to sprint to the next stop, leaving tragedy and grief behind me.

I have not passed this way before.

I had a strange dream the other night. I dreamed I was leaving a very large store, walking through a huge parking lot. As I walked, I could hear a car behind me, but I didn’t think anything of it. But then I heard it close behind me, and as I turned to look, the driver–a young man in a very large old car–bumped me hard enough to knock me on top of the hood.

I sprawled across the hood and screamed, “Please stop! Stop! Please!” He began to accelerate, and I heard people at the entrance to the store shouting at me to jump off. I did before he had the chance to step on the gas.  I continued to run in a straight line away from the store, crying out, “Help me! Won’t someone please help me?” I saw people running toward me, but by then they were hundreds of yards away.

When I awoke, my first thought was that God was showing me something important. Why did I continue to run in a straight line where I was easy to attack? Why not run back toward the car so he had to turn around to follow me? Why not run back toward people who could help me? The message was clear: yes, the enemy will always try to attack me. But I cannot fight alone, and I cannot be oblivious to his attacks.

I have not passed this way before.

Father, help me to stay back a bit–give me the patience to wait and watch as you pass by, “that I may know the way by which I shall go.” In so many areas of my life, you have appointed me to lead. I pave the way, and other follow in my footsteps. But even in my leading, let me learn to be a faithful follower, staying back to see where I should go. I trust you to blaze a trail that, despite the vicissitudes of life and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (and other people’s free will), leads me to the promised land–the place where you are ever present and I am whole.

I may not have passed this way before, Lord, but you have…and I will follow.

 

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