by Marjorie George
I laughed out loud when I saw the sign out front at Western Hills Christian Church:
BEEN ASKING FOR
The writers of the Old Testament took seriously the importance of signs: The sun stood still at Joshua’s command (Joshua 10:12-14); water flowed from a rock when Moses struck it (Exodus 17:5, 7); the Red Sea parted so God’s people could cross (Exodus 14:22).
By these signs, the people knew that God loved them the best and was on their side.
The followers of John the Baptist wanted a sign. “Are you the one?” they asked Christ. “Go tell John what you see,” replied Jesus: “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them” (Luke 7:20-22).
“Give me a sign, Lord,” we plead. “Tell me what to do. Show me which way to go.”
Renee Miller, in her essay A Life of Discernment, says, “Life in its plenitude is always presenting us with new and different options to which we must respond.” However, she adds, the great challenge of discernment “is that we will reduce it to nothing more than achieving a result – getting a question answered – making a choice – coming to a decision.”
Faced with having to make a decision in her own life, writes Miller, she spent years trying to hone in on the right thing to do. “But I couldn’t seem to gain any clarity about the way forward,” she says. One day she was lamenting to her son about her frustration in the discernment process. “Why don’t you just keep doing what you’re doing until it’s time to do something else?” he responded.
That’s it, you see. We tend to think of the spiritual journey as a single, discernible path – our task being to find it, pounce on it, and stick to it with dogged determination, no matter how thick the brush we have to chop our way through or how many the boulders we stumble on. Get my machete.
But I do not think that is the way of the journey. The paths to God are many and varied, broad at places and then again narrow, sometimes marked with lovely little signs with which all the plants are named (note to self: study up on what poison ivy looks like) but more often a vast expanse of open field and us not knowing how to get across it or even enter it.
Even Christ, when asked for a sign, replied enigmatically, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign; but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah” referring to his impending death and resurrection (Mathew 12:39).
When in doubt, go back to square one. In the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of our journeys, one thing beckons us forward – loving God and loving our neighbor. When all that we do, when all of our decisions, when all that we seek is guided by this Great Commandment, we can be sure we are on the right path. At any moment, at any decision, the question to ask is: “Is this the life-giving thing to do? Does this lead me to love God more and serve my neighbor better?”
Will we always get it right? Noooooo. Do we ask the Holy Spirit for help and guidance? We do. Will we make mistakes? Yep. But our God is a loving God, and through his Spirit he will gently guide us back to the right path if we let him. For the helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father has sent, will teach us all things (John 14:26).
Thanks for the reminder, Western Hills Christian Church. I needed that sign.
Marjorie George is editor of ReflectionsOnline and Reflections magazine. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. We welcome your comments and conversation.
Read Renee Miller’s entire essay:
The Spring/summer 2013 issue of Reflections magazine is now online with a focus on the Holy Spirit. Click here to read the entire issue or individual articles.