In preparation for our sabbatical I asked my friends to pray for us that God would give us clarity. In my mind I wanted clarity for the future, but that’s not what I really needed–I needed a deeper level of trust.
Yes, we did need clarity of mind so we could clearly hear the directions of the Father as he saw fit to give them to us, and for that I am thankful. What we wanted was a clear and detailed road map, but what we got was a deeper trust in God.
It amazes me how clearly God communicates. We had been in Europe for all of one week when, in my son-in-law’s study in Cavazalle, Italy, I saw on his shelf a book with just one word on the spline, “Manning.” Being a Peyton Manning fan, the word caught my attention, but I quickly realized that this Manning was most likely the author, Brennan Manning, who had written a number of books including The Ragamuffin Gospel. Having read some of his works, and having had my intellect and spirit challenged by him in the past, I pulled the book from the shelf. The title of the book was Ruthless Trust: The Ragamuffin’s Path to God (2002, HarperCollins).
I began to scan the pages and when I reached page 5 all of the air went out of my lungs. It was one of those moments when you are certain God is telling you something. Here are the words that captured my attention:
When the brilliant ethicist John Kavanaugh went to work for three months at “the house of the dying” in Calcutta, he was seeking a clear answer as to how best to spend the rest of his life. On the first morning there he met Mother Teresa. She asked, “And what can I do for you?” Kavanaugh asked her to pray for him.
“What do you want me to pray for?” she asked. He voiced the request that he had borne thousands of miles from the United States: “Pray that I have clarity.”
She said firmly, “No, I will not do that.” When he asked her why, she said, “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.” When Kavanaugh commented that she always seemed to have the clarity he longed for, she laughed and said, “I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.”
After reading those words, I sat on the edge of the bed in silence for a long time. The placement of this book was not a coincidence or an accident, it was a divine convergence. Every day, Donna and I had prayed for clarity. Now, for sure, we did need clarity, but not clarity for the future, we simply needed clarity of mind so we could listen to the heartbeat of the Father. What we really needed was trust to obey that heartbeat.
Trust? I thought I had learned to trust God. Both of us had. We have both experienced loss and pain and we have continued to trust God even when it was difficult to do so. Trust? For the weeks following, Donna and I pondered this message of trust vs. clarity.
When we trust God we only need clarity for the next step. Trust enables us to step into God’s future without the details. The only clarity necessary for obedience is to simply and clearly understand the next directive. I do not have to know the end game, in fact, I WILL NOT know the end game, only the next play.
Oh yeah, I know that a lot of leaders thrive on a complete and comprehensive vision, and I’m good with that, I wish I had a detailed road map that comprehensively covers everything between now and my last breath; but for me, for us, God is calling us to trust him and be willing to take steps without the benefit of the knowledge of every step thereafter. You see, there are things in our hearts that are very clear, I clearly know the next steps God is asking us to take, but they are only next steps. I know where I hope the steps lead, I think I know where they will lead, but I am bound to obediently take the next steps and trust God to direct the eventual path. God consistently tells us to be obedient, do what he is asking, and to trust that the path will lead us where he wants us to be. And we have to trust that where the path takes us will be a good path.
We are stepping out into God’s preferred future.
We are trusting that with each successive step, the next steps will be clear.
We are only accountable to do what we know to do.
Obedience is doing what we know to do, even when we don’t know all of the details.
Trust is not having to understand.
Years ago, when I was a boy, in church we sang a song. We sang it so often that it was impressed upon my heart. A man named James Wells wrote the song in 1918, and it is engraved on my heart. We would lift up our voices and sing:
I care not today what the morrow may bring,
If shadow or sunshine or rain,
The Lord I know ruleth o’er everything,
And all of my worries are vain.
Living by faith in Jesus above,
Trusting, confiding in His great love;
From all harm safe in His sheltering arm,
I’m living by faith and feel no alarm.