How do we know God’s leading?
There is a story going around for years now. It is of a particular man who is caught in a flood. He has to go on the roof of his house in order to avoid being washed away by the rising floodwaters. In his desperation, he asks God to help him. Shortly after praying, a man in a boat comes by and asks if he would like to get in and go to safety. The man politely declines his offer and the man goes on to help others in need. The water continues to rise and the man is getting a little nervous as he climbs further up on his roof. He then pleads to God for help once again. As before, a boat soon arrives with two men in it and they ask him to get in. This time as before, the man on the roof declines and so the boat leaves with these gentlemen shaking their heads, as they recede into the distance into the raging waters. The man again pleads for God to help him, and seeing the water is almost upon him climbs to the top of his roof. As twice before, a third boat with help arrives. Once again the man declines the offer and soon he finds that the water has reached his feet and so jumps into the raging current trying desperately to reach shore. He almost makes it, but finds that he has no strength to go farther, and so he drowns. Standing before Jesus the man is upset that his prayers were not answered, and that he lost his life as well. Jesus gently touches him on the shoulder and tells him that he sent three boats to rescue him, but he refused them all. The man sits there in disbelief at that point. Jesus then looks at him and continues, “You wanted me to save you and your house, but I chose to go another direction by sending the boats to rescue only you. My son, you wanted me to work, as you believed that I should have done, not as I wanted you to do. I desire that you walk by faith and listen to my voice. This means that I desire for you to step out in faith and trust in my leadings. Sometimes you will not have the whole picture before you, but I will give to signposts along the way.”
Jonah in the Old Testament (Book of Jonah) was told by God to go and preach salvation to the people of Nineveh. Jonah hated these people and so went the other direction rather than obeying God’s directives. God brought storms into his life on the sea and eventually he was thrown overboard. Jonah was then swallowed by a whale and brought back to do the job God had for him. Jonah still believed that God would destroy the Ninevites after he preached repentance to them, but as we all know, it did not happen. In the end when salvation was preached to the Ninevites, they accepted Jonah’s words and turned their lives around. Jonah was upset by this and lived in unrest because of his belief that God should have worked in the way that he (Jonah) believed God should have done.
I remember an old saying, “ A person must pray for God’s leading, but he must be moving for God to lead.” In other words, a boat in the harbor cannot use its sail if it is anchored to the shore, it must be in the midst of the wind for it to work as it was designed to do. One person once asked me, "A boat can appear to be safe in the harbor when a storm rages out at sea, but is that always true?"
Last week Will and I were watching film footage of the title wave that hit Japan not to long ago. The camera was facing the ship’s harbor, and as the water rose over the protective walls, the ships anchored there were washed inland and damaged severely. If they had been out to sea facing the oncoming rush of water, it appeared that they would have survived easily.
Sometimes we seek the safety of the things around us and ask for God’s leading, but don’t want to leave the security of our familiar settings. While at other times we box God in by asking him to perform a certain way for a definite sign of his leading. Maybe feeling at the time, that it is a sure way we are traveling in the right direction that he has chosen for us. Perhaps though, God wants us to act on faith, and trust that the leading he has given us by the people he brings our way is enough for us to launch our boat out into the storm by faith alone. There is no certainty in going this direction, and sometimes our fears tell us to stay put, but on the other hand, by stepping out in faith we find that it is the safest place to be, in God’s hands. This then is the essence of faith, trust in the midst of uncertainty.