4 Steps To Knowing God’s Direction

Are you there God? It’s me, Sarah.

During my figure skating years, I would strike deals with God. If I landed the next jump I would take it as a sign that I should talk to a certain boy. Or I would cut a tight circle with my blade on the ice and if I could keep my spin scratches within the boundaries I’d drawn, it would be a sign that I would pass the test I had tomorrow. It was not a particularly accurate system, but I did it more than once, evidencing a confidence in what was little more than an 8-ball in action.

Deciding for myself to be a Christian at 17 didn’t seem to make the direction of God any more clear. I looked for signs and wonders to make it clear for any and everything from where to go to college to where to eat dinner. What path should I take? Which way should I go? What does it all mean?!?!?! While I considered myself to have at least a modicum of discernment, while I thought myself to be right about more or less everything, at the end of the day, just like so many other people, this was a question that plagued me.

When I felt direction, was it God talking or was it me?

Was I just making up the answers to my own questions about His will for my life?

1. Be prepared to shut your mouth. We all know that famous phrase from the backseat, “Are we there yet?” Does it speed the travel time at all? No, of course not. Neither does nagging God. Another well known line is “God gave you one mouth and two ears, so you’ll listen twice as much as you talk.” This is true with our relationship with the maker.

God will listen and it is right to tell Him what’s on your mind, but if you never stop and sit still and quiet, you’re not going to hear anything. Tell God your thoughts and opinions and your hopes and your plans, and then be quiet. Be still and know, friend, know that He is able.

Job lived through some horrible situations and he didn’t curse God, but he got pretty down. He had some friends give him some advice and Job talked and talked and talked. By the time God shows up on the scene to have a word with Job, God has to tell him to Just. Shut. Up. Now of course, God didn’t say “shut up,” because God is more polite than me, but the message was there.

Job 38: 2-3 says God spoke out of the storm and said “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.” Now I know that message, because I’ve heard it loud and clear. I have the tendency to think I know best and there have been more than one occasion where God has in essence said “Who do you think you are? Do you know who I AM? Get ready, because we’re about to have a talk.”  That is not the way you want to start things off with Him.

If you want to hear God’s voice, the first thing you have to do is be quiet.

2. If you want to know what sort of things God will be saying, get in the Word. God will not tell you something that conflicts with what He’s laid out in the Bible. Read it with respect, look for the historical context, look up the original meanings of words, look for the application in your life today and look for the broader meaning for the church at large.

Let’s say you get home to find out your significant other is out. They left you a note on the table that reads “Ran to Food Lion. Getting milk. Be back in 15.” After 10 minutes, you wonder if he can pick up your dry cleaning. You know from the note if he is close to the dry cleaners or far away. You also know that he’s probably already left the store and is almost home since so much time has passed. Because you were given important information and you can use the knowledge you have of the area and the time, you are able to figure out you’re probably going to have to pick up your own slacks.

God gave us the Bible to be a resource, a tool. Though you might see someone decorating their yard with an old plow, or displaying their grandfather’s old saw proudly on the wall of their shed, but that’s not it’s purpose. Tools are made to be used to help us build things. The Bible is a tool to help us build our lives. Use it.

3. Keep a journal. Or some method of documenting that allows you to review what God has done. In high school I heard a youth pastor say, “If it is important, right it down.” That was when I started my first journal. and there have been many years where I didn’t journal with any regularity, but having picked it back up, I’ve been reminded of how important it is.

I have discovered that I am a word hoarder. If I’ve emailed it, written it down, blogged it, or read it, I don’t discard it, I hold on to it so that I can review it again and again and gain from it all over. Keeping a journal, keeping a little hoard of words the documents your days enables you to recognize patterns of His faithfulness as you revisit what God has done for you, taught you, taken you through. And eventually you’ll start to anticipate that God will do these things again and again.

If it is true on a grand scale that “those who don’t learn history are doomed to repeat it,” it is also true for our own lives. There is no historian but you for your days and nights. Perhaps, you will grow up to be well known and influential on the course of the world and someone will right a book on you in retrospect, but that author will be digging through research to discover who you were. You are in your life now. Who better to write it down but you?

While God authors your story, put pen to paper and document it.
Live your history.
Learn your history.
And leave your history behind ready to move on to what God has for you next.

4. Be prepared to accept what He says. Even if you don’t like it.

Seeking after God when you are facing challenges or difficulties or decisions is not the same as chasing Santa. God loves you and wants you to live a life beyond your wildest dreams, but He is most interested in His glory and our gain. And our gain might not look like we think it should.

Our gain may look like a broken car so that we can build a friendship with a mechanic.
Our gain may look like going without so that we can know provision by His hand.
Our gain may look like failure so we are inspired to try harder next time.
Our gain may look like devastation, utter decimation, so that we are hands are so empty they are ready to be filled by His.

Our gain isn’t always new things, promotions, accolades and skinny thighs. His glory IS our gain. When you are ready to do what brings Him the most glory, you will, despite the circumstance, see the most gain where you didn’t expect to find it in the first place.

Knowing where God is leading is possible. God is no created method for predicting the future, like my figure skating 8-ball attempts to divine answers to silly questions. God is ready to walk you straight through your life into His glory and He has a Plan A for your life. He will not be thwarted by a Plan B, but He has a best plan, His plan for you. The best way to walk that path is to tuck in so tightly to His shadow that the only thing you can see are His feet in front of your own, His track before you, and walk therein.

His leading will never disappoint.
His ways are good.
His paths are worth the journey.


The Faith Of My Friend

If we are lucky, we have a friend who has faith that makes you take a step back in awe. If you are friends with Cheryl Binegar, you are lucky, because you have that friend. Cheryl has always impressed me with her reliance, her joy, her care for others and her purity, purity of intention and purity of action.

There was a man in the Bible that most are familiar with, Job, whom God credited like this, “There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” And to that came the response from the terrifying restless wanderer, the acceptance of the challenge “Surely he will curse you.”

My friend is going through a very tough time, helping her parents through incredibly difficult health issues. There is sense of living loss without absence that can walk beside us when we travel with our loved ones as their health fails, and it is unlike anything else I’ve known. I imagine it is unlike anything Cheryl has known either.

She has been support to so many, and my hope is that she is receiving the same measure of support in return, good support. As Job sat wishing he’d never been born after the decimation of everything he loved and valued, his friends saw him from a long way off, saw his trouble and they suffered with him. In Job 2, we read that “they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.”

These well intentioned friends who loved Job started their attempts to comfort him, just by being with him. Just being present. And that was such a good thing. It shows the depth of their care for him, that they would sit with this man who was ceremonially unclean, covered in sores. They could have looked on and said, “I’ll send a nut and fig basket to the friend of ours who we all believed to be the best of the best, but I’m not going near him til he is recovered.” Skin afflictions were viewed as expressions of soul afflictions at that time, so the watching world, seeing Job’s family, livelihood, property, possessions and finally his health could have immediately declared him to finally be exposed for some secret sin and shame. But they don’t. They come to him and they suffer with him.

They must truly love him, but in the many chapters to follow they try talking him through his situation, but in doing so they express their own questions about Job and God, their own doubts, their own fears, and their own sorrow. We’ve all been there. In a dark place with friends who offer advice or commentary that doesn’t suit or may even sting. If you are honest with yourself, you’ve been that friend, not knowing what to say, saying something that comforted you once and seeing the other person’s face change, and you wish you could have said it better. We’ve all said, “I wish I knew what to say.”

I wish I knew what to say.

Cheryl is facing now a difficulty that is recognizable as painful. If you’ve lived what she is living, even a portion of it, then you will, as Job’s friend’s, see her suffering from a long way off and ache for her. If you haven’t experienced sickness in those you love, I know you know it’s terrible, but when I entered into my own experiences with this, I remember clearly sitting with my brother as we shared that we just didn’t understand before. It is a blessing to be outside of that knowledge.

Cheryl is in a beautifully supportive community and has built for herself with her sweet, funny love for everyone she meets a response team who wants to care for her. I’m not even there and I trust that it is so, because I know those lovely people that she has loved in action and I know that they will love her in action in return. But when anyone sits in presence with someone going through what she’s facing, it is natural to accompany commentary as Job’s friends did, with our own doubts, our own fears and our own sorrows.

And the faith of my friend, y’all….

This girl….

Her heart is not just to graciously accept the comfort given, but to share the peace and the comfort she already has.

I want to share this with you, this bit from a Facebook post she made the other day. She says…

“I will end with this. Many of my friends have really struggled with how long my family has been going through this trial. They don’t understand why God wouldn’t just heal her. I will never pretend to understand the Lord’s purpose for allowing this struggle, but I do know that I have seen so much good arise from it. God isn’t my genie in a bottle who grants my wishes. He does love me and my family and never intended for the world to end up so broken. But He has given me what He said He would. That is peace through this and the hope of a future. He doesn’t owe me a comfortable life here. I get that and honor Him through this painful season. 🙏🏼”

Cheryl has peace that passes all understanding, an incredible thing because these trials she faces are outside of reason. So many would be driven to despair, and yet Cheryl, and I believe her parents who are living this, are driven to hope. Not because they are naive, not because they are simple, not because they are fools and not because they are weak.

They are driven to hope, because they have that kind of friend one in the same as the one who they call Savior.

I will tell you, if you have a friend like Cheryl, you are richly blessed.
Cheryl will tell you, if you have a friend like Jesus, you are eternally blessed.

Pray for my friend Cheryl, and for her parents, and for her family. And pray for those supporting her, that they will have eyes that see and ears that hear, so that they too may know peace like she does.

By Faith, I…

The story of Abraham and his journey out from Ur has been one I’ve returned to over and over since the very beginning of our family’s exit from Ohio. There’s been a lot that I feel like I identify with there in that story of a handful of people stepping out and leaving what they know to go out in the world and find where they belong, one foot after the other led by not much more than a few conversations with God.

The Israelites, it seems, were forever building little altars, or big altars, stacks of rocks that whenever anyone saw that pile, they’d remember, this is where God did _____ for them. And I imagine that in a nomadic tribe they wandered back by those stacks from time to time and did revisit those stories. I am so glad for those stacks of rocks, those stories retold so that I could return to them so many many years later and hear what those stories tell us.

I was back with Abraham again this week, listening to a few sermons, reading the passages again, and ready to process the meaning for today. During each class I’ve taken in the past year, we’ve been assigned a sermon to prepare and present, and this week one of my classmates presented on Abraham. While my friend gave his sermon he repeated this passage…

“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”

Don’t I hear that? Don’t you? Oh man, y’all….I am looking forward to that city with foundations, not the one I came from where I struggled to build my own foundations, but the one where I am going, built by Him. I long for it as it applies to my time on Earth and I long for it as it applies to my time in the next life.

When my classmate gave his sermon he read that passage a few times, by faith, Abraham…by faith Abraham….by faith, Abraham…and then he asked “I can’t help but wonder what it might say about you, By faith,…..” and then he named each of us sitting there. I sipped in the air of the room and held a tiny breath til he reached my name.

By faith, Sarah….

I can’t keep moving towards the promise of God if I rely solely on a pile of rocks we made three and a half years ago when we left Ohio. The Israelites piled up the stones and moved on. They reflected and remembered, but they kept moving forward.  When I hear “By faith, Sarah…” because I am still alive it is an action statement. What did I DO because I trusted God at His word? What am I doing today because I believe in what He’s promised? What will I do tomorrow? How can I keep moving forward “by faith?”

There is a purpose and a plan for you, friend.  When you have those times that the action called for by faith is so clear, DO it!!! Do it and then mark it so you can remember it, so you can come back upon the old stories of your life and see, “By faith, I….” Let those moments encourage you to see that when you trusted God to direct your steps, He guided you well, He defended you, He protected you, He provided for you. Build little altars. Keep a journal. Plant something. Mark it so that people will see and remember what God has done. And then travel on, little nomad, because God has a journey ahead of you before He brings you home.

If it’s been a while since you’ve made a stack of stones, consider today, what does God have for me to do?

By faith, Abraham.
By faith, Sarah.
By faith, you.
By faith, I…….

A Rock or A Vine?

Everyone has days where they hit a wall.
Everyone has days where they sit beside someone who is hitting a wall.

We learn from our youth to be rocks, to be strong and hold ourselves up no matter the situation. We can strong our way through anything if we really try. When we know others are in pain, we should be their rock. Be solid and strong, hold their rocks up with our own rocks, strength upon strength we will not topple over. That’s ok…it’s ok to hold someone up. Just maybe though, as we hold rock upon rock we unknowingly build walls.

Maybe we were never intended to be rocks, but rather vines, seeing one another attempting to scale the walls we hit, and to reach out, grab a hold, wrap around, embrace, care and not let go of each other. Not to support by propping up, but to support by allowing the other to grow while you encourage them towards the light. And then, when you are the one hitting the wall, allowing others to pull you into the sun’s warmth, to trust them to allow them to pull your grasp off those walls, to let go and to find a way up and over.

It’s ok to be a rock, I guess. To offer support. But isn’t it better to be a vine?

For my friends hitting their walls today, I am here for the up and over.

To My Friend Who Is Insecure…

Dear Insecure Friend,

If you just had that moment of “Oh, she must mean me!” then I probably do mean you, but I’m not calling you out to shame you.

Yesterday at church we had an artist named Csilla come lead our worship. She also shared music from her new CD titled Honestly. Before she sang the title track from the cd she shared a bit about her own struggles with insecurity and about how God spoke to her heart about her value.

She stepped back into the story of creation, pulling out that repeated phrase that God uses after He created. It was good. God made what He intended to make and then declared that the creation was good, well created, complete, as He intended. In understanding that if God declares “It is good” after creating, then as one of God’s creations, that is declared over each of us, and who are we to challenge God in that declaration. Oh, I heard that, didn’t I, that word she shared and the rising up inside me of a resounding “Amen.”

At some point in college I got a copy of the Audio Adrenaline VHS called Some Kind Of Journey where they brought a few teenagers on tour with them for a week or so and held conversations with them about some of the issues those kids faced in their daily lives. One of the boys in the video was born with one of his arms not fully formed. He was asked about his experience to which he replied, “If I was born with two arms, I wouldn’t be perfect.” He explained that God made him perfect the way he was. God didn’t mess up. God didn’t make a mistake. God formed him perfectly as he was for the plan God had for his life. I remember thinking that was an amazing perspective, one that hit deep in my insecure heart.

It was at that time that I began to see that the root of most of our sin and struggle and hurt is that we don’t believe that God has made us perfect to His purpose in our life. When we try to reform our bodies, our behaviors and our beliefs to reflect what we think is best, we tell God “I don’t believe that your design for me is best.” If what is available to us through Christ is security, then what must be found where we deny Him access is insecurity.

I found myself in college relying heavily on self deprecating humor as an attempt to bond with others. Make fun of me before they could. Talk trash about myself before they could. This meant pointing out my personality flaws and my body flaws, pointing out my failures, declaring “Do you see them yet? You will see them eventually and decide i’m not enough, so I’ll go ahead and tell you about them upfront and we can get along with you rejecting me before I get too attached to a friendship with you.” Humor, defense, insecurity, one than the next and more and more and more.

One evening I was sitting in a room with worship music playing surrounded by many other college kids, kids I wanted to like me but worried I wasn’t cool enough to hang out with. I was thinking about this when I saw this scene play out.

    I was walking down the middle of the street and people were hurling rocks at me. They called out names and fears and mocked me. I saw myself being struck by the projectiles, words and stones, and then I raised my eyes to see the crowd. There every face in the crowd was my own. It was not the world who was dealing so unkindly with me, but myself. Maybe somewhere back behind the crowd of me were cruel people who would hurt me, or maybe there were people back there who could love me, but they would never reach me because I had blocked the path to me, filling it with my own insecurity. Then my viewpoint became one of the crowd and I saw that it was no longer me walking through the center path, breaking down step after step, but instead as I stood there on edge of the road and felt the stone in my hand, prepared to fling it at myself….there in the road was Christ. And there was the crowd of me throwing stones at Him.

It was a moment that changed me. I understood for the first time that as I beat myself down, I was hating that which Jesus loved, hating that which Christ climbed up on the cross and died for. Like Csilla’s message that God creates and declares “It is good.” Like the guy from Some Kind Of Journey saying “If I had two arms, I wouldn’t be perfect.” God didn’t just create me perfectly to His purpose and then leave me to my own devices, He created me and then prepared a way to protect me through Jesus and a way to perfect me though His Holy Spirit.

Looking back on those college days, I’d heard people say my stories were annoying for years so, though I loved writing in high school, those times that I chose to write for the fun of it become more seldom. I would begin stories I told friends by making fun of my story telling ability. As the years went on, I just stopped writing and stopped telling stories to most people. I think out of all the ways I criticized myself, this was the worst offense, because this is a part of my created nature, to tell stories and I bullied myself into stopping.

I can still stand on the side of the road and hurl those stones. I count up page views and likes. I tally comments like it is the number of responses typed out that matter, that maybe my words have no resonance unless the reader tells me so. I write entire entries and leave them unposted, because maybe I’m not saying things in a way that communicates to every person reading the entirety of my point and my person and my thoughts and my theology, like I could even begin to communicate that in 1300 words or less.

I wish I could tell you that I have eternally chased off insecurity, but I think that  insecurity is the darkest root that our humanity hides deep down inside. People might convince themselves they enjoy all kinds of wrong things, relishing in personas of wickedness, I am the baddest _______________ out there. But no one broadcasts “Look at me! I’m the most insecure person in this room!” It is a doorway we bury and deny so that those most hurtful voices can speak into our lives.

 To my insecure friend, we’re all insecure. Let me sit with you and let me talk to you about where I find security. Let me tell you what I know to be true.  Show me your dark buried door, friend. Show me your root. Let me remind you, you are fearfully and wonderfully made. It is good. You are made perfect to His purpose in your life. He has made a way to protect you and perfect you, because He prepared you to be His beloved. You are His beloved, so be….loved.

Love, Me.

P.S. Want to hear that beautiful voice I got to listen to this weekend? Check out Csilla’s Facebook page… https://www.facebook.com/csillamuscanmusic/ This girl’s got pipes.