Waiting for direction
When I left the airport it was already past 10:00 p.m., and I was looking forward to getting settled into the hotel for the night. The day had been long. I was tired from leaving home, driving to Tampa, parking the car, taking the shuttle to the airport, navigating security, boarding a flight, switching planes in Atlanta, boarding another flight, arriving in Manchester, New Hampshire, and getting my rental car for the ride to the hotel.
In the parking garage at the airport, I pulled up the map app on my phone and typed in the address to the Motel 6. It took a moment for the GPS to load, but soon the directions to the hotel were displayed on the screen. I set the phone to start navigating, and in the darkness of the car I heard the automated voice say, “Turn left onto Airport Road.” I turned out of the parking lot and onto the road exiting the airport.
That was when it happened the first time. I had set the phone where I could see the map of the road as I was driving. The little navigation arrow is supposed to show you where you are on the map and let you know where your next turn will be. But as I looked at the screen, nothing was happening. The little arrow was frozen still. The map was not refreshing. I was quickly coming to a roundabout and I could only guess which direction I was supposed to go without the aide of the GPS. I turned right, hoping it was correct. But a few moments later the GPS came back to life and told me to turn around at the next possible opportunity. I was going in the wrong direction. I turned the car around and drove back to the traffic circle. This time I exited the proper road and followed it along, still trying to make my way to the motel.
Unfortunately, this scenario was repeated over and over again. Clearly something was wrong either with my phone or the map app. Every mile or so I would hear an automated voice drone, “GPS signal is lost.” I had no idea where I was going. I would pull off the road, reset the phone, get the GPS to connect again, and start back on my journey. This happened over and over again. Frustration grew with every delay. I was helpless without the directions. I was tired. I just wanted to get to the hotel, but I was completely lost without some guidance along the way. Finally, I sat in the car on the side of the road and in exasperation I spoke to God.
“You know, God, this is great,” I said. “This is exactly how I feel in my relationship with you. I keep coming to you for direction, and I am not talking about the motel. I’m talking about my relationship with you. I don’t know the way I should go. All I keep hearing is, ‘GPS signal is lost.’ I keep feeling like I am disconnected. I try to reconnect with you, but the next thing I know I feel lost again. All I want is direction, so this is perfect, just perfect.”
As I sat on the side of the road with the engine idling, I imagined somewhere in the heavens, God smiled, not in a mean way, but in an all-knowing kind of understanding of my situation. You see, this is not the first time he has heard this prayer. He has heard it for centuries.
In fact, if you look back about 5,000 years you can hear a similar prayer spoken by Moses as he led the people of Israel through the wilderness. They were following God. God even made the path extremely clear by providing a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire during the night to hover over them. When the pillar moved, they moved. When the pillar stood still, the people stayed put. This is how Moses describes it:
“And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people” (Exodus 13:21-22, ESV).
But even with this dramatic display of the presence of God directing them, Moses still got frustrated with God. Moses didn’t just need physical direction; he needed direction on how to lead the entire nation. You may remember that Moses and the Lord used to speak face to face as a man speaks with a friend. It was a remarkable relationship. But even with this kind of connection with God, Moses still gets frustrated. On one occasion Moses said to God, “See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people” (Exodus 33:12-13, ESV, emphasis added).
Can you hear the frustration in his voice? I can. Because sometimes that is how I feel as well. I believe God has shown his favor on my life. I believe he has given me the gift of his presence so clearly in my life. I relish my relationship with him. Yet sometimes I feel frustrated and cry out, “Please, show me now your ways! Show me the path. I need your direction.”
Look also at the final phrase in Moses’ statement. “Consider too that this nation is your people.” When I read that, I nearly laughed out loud. It is as if Moses is saying to God, “Oh, and by the way, this whole ‘Nation of Israel’ thing, that was your idea, not mine.” That’s funny!
I think it makes me laugh because at the core of it, sometimes that’s how I see my life and ministry as well. It may surprise you to know that I could gladly quit the ministry, buy a sailboat, and sail off into the sunset. Really. I do this ministry thing only because I believe it is what God has called me to do. So in times of waiting, I tend to want to say with Moses, “Oh, and by the way, this whole ministry thing was your idea.”
Gratefully, God understands our weaknesses. I am thankful for his patience when mine is failing. God patiently listens to Moses’ complaint and then answers with a simple phrase.
“My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (Exodus 33:14, ESV).
Moses replies, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”
And the LORD said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.”
Moses said, “Please show me your glory” (Exodus 33:15-18, ESV).
I am aware that I am quoting a lot of text from this passage. But I have shared this for a reason. A subtle shift happens here in this dialog, and if we are not careful we can miss it. But it is very, very important.
In the beginning of his conversation with God, Moses cries, “Please, show me your ways. Give me direction!” God patiently reminds Moses that his presence will go with him and that he will give him rest.
Upon understanding the presence of God is with him, Moses changes his request. This time he asks God to show him his glory. It is an understated but important shift. Moses was reminded that the presence of God was with him. When he remembers this, he no longer cares where he is going or how he is going to get there. He only cares about who is going with him. He only wants to see his glory. “Please,” he says, “show me your glory. Show me who you are. I want to know you.”
Friend, it is possible that God leads us to wait in order to bring us to the place where we long only to know him more, to see his glory unveiled in our lives. We desire to know his direction for our lives. But instead of giving us direction, he leads us to the place where we care less about where we are going and instead focus on who is going with us. In reality, where we are going really doesn’t matter, only that he goes with us.
I am reminded of Jesus. Remember that he was God in the flesh, the same God who sat and talked with Moses face to face, who walked among us and breathed the air that we breathe.
Thomas, one of the disciples, was speaking with Jesus. “Lord,” he said, “we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
Jesus said to him, “I am the way…” (John 13:5-6, ESV).
This, I believe, is the conclusion to the matter. In our moments of weakness when we feel like we are sitting on the side of the road waiting for direction, God comes to us and reminds us that he is near. In our awareness of his presence, suddenly the direction we are going becomes unimportant. He himself is the way. He is enough. He is sufficient. Because I know him who is The Way, I no longer need to know the way.
My friend, God knows exactly where you are. In his wisdom, he sees the entire landscape set out around you. Better than that little arrow on the GPS, he knows where you are. He is not disconnected from you. In fact, it is quite the opposite. He is with you. It is possible that he has allowed you to be in a place of waiting so that you will find that his presence is enough. When you find his presence is near, then you know he is there with you in the waiting. Find him to be enough. Find that his presence is more important than anything you could be doing. Rest in him. Come to the place where you cry out for his glory instead of his direction.
I eventually made it to the hotel. What should have taken 20 minutes to drive took me almost an hour. But I did finally make it. Along the way I did learn an important truth. When you’re waiting for direction, where you are going is less important than who is going with you.
This article was originally published in the August 2014 Newsletter.