There Is No Roadmap
Before the days of Google Maps and Waze, there was this thing called the Thomas Guide. There wasn't really a training course on how to use it, but there should have been. If you had to get from point A to point B back in the day (and "back in the day" was still the 1990's my friends), you'd start by looking up the street name in the back index with a font size of about 4 points. It would tell you a page number and coordinates on a grid leading you to flip the spiral bound atlas every which way in order to find your destination. And good luck trying to trace the most time efficient route. You were at the mercy of the traffic gods and all sorts of navigational prowess that would have made Galileo proud.
Those days feel Flintstonian compared to where we are at now. I did a road trip up and down the west coast last month and my iPhone had me arriving 600 miles later within ten minutes of their predicted time, including gas stops and bathroom breaks! Comedians can't even use the joke about men never stopping to ask for directions. We simply don't have to anymore. There's a certain privilege of security we have today, knowing exactly where we are going, when we will get there, knowing we will never get lost.
Life is nothing like Google Maps. It's not even like the Thomas Guide. There is no roadmap.
This process of trusting, one day at a time, one step at a time, IS the life of faith. I'm as shocked as you at the times when I think I've been on a streak of faith (yes, I'm streaky), learned my lessons, thinking that the Promised Land is right around the corner, only to be re-routed.
The very presence of God shows up for the Israelites through a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. "By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night." (Exodus 13:21) After coming out of Egypt the Israelites spend their first year at Mount Sinai before they make their first major move.
"On the twentieth day of the second month of the second year, the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle of the covenant law. Then the Israelites set out from the Desert of Sinai and traveled from place to place until the cloud came to rest in the Desert of Paran. They set out, this first time, at the Lord’s command through Moses." Numbers 10:11-13
To summarize the story (don't worry, we will hit all of this ad nauseam in the future), the Israelites come to the border of the Promised Land, so close they can taste it! Twelve spies check out the land for 40 days, Joshua and Caleb say it is great while the other ten tell stories of giants and defeat. Israel loses faith, complains and rebels. Another 39 years to go. Wasn't there a psalm about this? Psalm 13.
"How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?"
There are so many features I love about Google Maps. I love the overview where I can see the entire trip in one glance and can even choose the route I want to take based on whether I want to take freeways, avoid toll roads, or choose the road with the view. I love the step-by-step directions where I know I will be on this road for 1.7 miles before I turn left on this road. It even tells me exactly which lane to be in with a half-mile verbal warning to make sure I'm exactly where I am supposed to be. I like the knowing.
The hard part about our relationship with God is that we don't get the overview, the step-by-step, or how much longer until we get to our destination. There is this dance of trust where I am free to take the next step while simultaneously inviting Him to lead those steps. Give me the cloud or the pillar of fire and this journey would be on autopilot. Piece of cake. I often look at the wilderness generation as a bunch of entitled, faithless, spoiled children. It would have been easy to just follow the cloud or the fire. But they struggled. If I'm honest, I think I would have struggled too, just like I do today. The end of faith should result in guarantees, absolutes, and joyful endings. Tell that to the crew we call the "Heroes of Faith" from Hebrews 11. Faith is difficult.
What the wilderness was to the Israelites in the Old Testament, storms were to the disciples in the New Testament. In John 6, the disciples see Jesus make a meal for 5,000-plus out of a boy's packed lunch. They then board their boat to Capernaum. On the way, the winds hit, they hit a massive storm and think they're dead in the water, literally. They see Jesus coming toward them walking on water and the fear hits an all-time high. He says, "It's me, chill." (my paraphrase) The very next verse, John 6:21 says, "Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading." Did you notice that? IMMEDIATELY, they reached the shore. They were basically right there, but they couldn't see it.
I don't know about you, but in this seemingly endless stretch of wilderness without a roadmap I find myself in, it seems like this may be the best advice I have for myself, and maybe for you. Like the disciples, I need to be willing to take Him along with me. And my guess is, that as I take Him with me, I will find He has been there all along and He never left me for lost in the wilderness.
"Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the desert. By day the pillar of cloud did not cease to guide them on their path, nor the pillar of fire by night to shine on the way they were to take." Nehemiah 9:19
When we don't know where to place our next step, He is there. Fear not.