by Leah Fuller
On a recent expedition, I found myself sitting atop a ridge in the black of night with a group of missionaries. The Leaders-of-the-Day were pouring over their map, having sent scouts into the darkness to see if they could find evidence that might help them identify where they were. The stress for the leaders was reaching a peak as I walked over and asked Ariel what was happening. Tears sprung to her eyes as she related how they had been counting paces and thought they knew where they were, but now they weren’t so sure. As her words spilled out, I could see the fear in her eyes. “What are you afraid of?” I asked, sensing this might be one of those moments in which God was working His mysterious transformation. She stared ahead blankly and confessed, “I don’t know how to move forward when I can’t see where I’m going.”
Her words hung in the air as I processed how very real the situation was. This was no game. It was real life, and for Ariel, the lack of control and the inability to see what lay ahead were leading her to lose trust in the map, the compass, her ability to lead the group, and God. I took a moment to pray with Ariel and Jonas that God would help them to know the next step. When we finished praying, they began to draw on the skills we had taught them, and with some “helpful” questions from my co-leader, they figured out where they were. In the dead of night, these two who had been frozen in fear by the darkness shrouding their sight just a few hours earlier were able to lead the group into a peaceful valley where a beautiful campsite next to a gentle stream awaited.
When God works in His mysterious ways, we can at times feel disoriented and confused. He often doesn’t lay out the entire plan for us to see, rather He chooses to reveal to us only the next step. The unknown lying beyond that step could lead us to shrink back in fear, or it could create curiosity and intrigue, a sense of expectation. Too often we find ourselves feeling just like Ariel and Jonas did on that night. Not knowing what is just beyond what we can see directly in front of us, we shrink back in fear. What lies beyond can feel fearsome and may require the release of some special treasure, comfort, or Illusion of control that we have assumed we had.
I was reading somewhere recently that craftsmen—those who take up a trade or occupation requiring specialized skill—must by nature embrace mystery. The reason for this is that while a potter, for example, will start out intending to create something beautiful, there is still an element of the clay or glaze that they cannot control. I have experienced this as I have applied my hand to the potter’s wheel. Each time I fire a piece, I quiver with excitement over the end result and stand in awe and delight when the colors run together, responding to the extreme heat of the furnace in ways I could never have predicted. The inability to predict the outcome or to know for certain what I can expect is what leads to the curiosity that courses through my body as I wait for the furnace to cool.
As an instructor, I find myself regularly praying for and urging participants to take the “next step,” even as they feel uncertain. It is in moments like these, the ones I could have never predicted when building the itinerary, that I find myself leaning forward with expectation and curiosity and wondering how God will work out His divine plan. It is not a question of if God will work out His plan as much as when or how He will shed light on a place of invitation that reaches deeply into my being. These are the moments I must hold with open hand before the Lord, trusting that He will make Himself known and show us the way forward. This mystery is what causes me as an instructor to lean forward with anticipation, watching and waiting with faith that the struggle to produce perseverance, character, and a hope that does not disappoint (Romans 5:3-5 paraphrased). The apostle Paul spoke often of the mystery made known to us through Christ’s suffering and glory. He assures us that lessons learned through “…slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison…” (2 Corinthians 4:17 ESV).
If I’m being totally honest, I am finding that I can mostly trust this process. And yet, there are moments all along the trail of life where I also wrestle with doubt, fear, and uncertainty about what may lie ahead. I am convicted by how often I find myself to be the one frozen and fearing what the future may hold. I also find myself at times resisting the invitation to move away from comfort and control and step into the adventurous way of Jesus. And yet, as Paul reminds us so often, the “mystery,” which can feel so fearsome, has been “revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:26-27 ESV).
We have already been given the sight we so crave! Christ revealed to us the end of the story when He died and rose again. We may not know exactly how He will invite us to places of vulnerability and trust along the way, but we can hold fast to “the hope of glory!”
Come along side us as we journey in and out of the wilderness, discovering our Creator in creation.