How to walk with God when life seems at a standstill
Do you feel as though you have reached an impasse? That your walk with God is stuck? The truth is life is like a laboratory: we learn through the process of living.
We are not spiritually formed by one insight, one experience, or one conversation, though our spiritual awareness may begin that way. Spiritual growth is slow, incremental over time, and happens in relationship with others.
There are no quick fixes—no instantaneous pathways to spiritual maturity. The journey often takes us through a long, torturous path to bring us into “cruciformity”—allowing God to conform our lives to the cross of Christ (Phil. 2:5–8).
God’s shaping hand in the prophet Jeremiah’s life involved so much pain and rejection that I cannot bear to read his story in one sitting. Nonetheless, he states, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight’” (Jer. 9:23–24).
With Jeremiah’s life experience to guide me, I came up with six basic questions to help us learn how to walk with God.
Where am I?
Jeremiah found himself in the midst of an alien culture, surrounded by deceit. The preachers of the day were proclaiming peace when there was no peace. Jeremiah alone was a truth teller in a world where no one wanted the truth. He didn’t know how to interpret his strange and mysterious feelings. He was alone and afraid. Jeremiah replied to the Lord’s calling, saying, “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child” (1:6).
Brutal honesty—especially about ourselves—is hard to face. Objectivity is painful and difficult. Facing the stark reality of who I really am has been one of my greatest challenges. Yet we need to make honest confession in answer to the question “Where am I?”
What is God really asking me? Where am I in my personal life, in my own soul?
How do I see God shaping my life?
In Jeremiah 1, we see that the prophet was aware of God’s plan and purpose for his life. God assured him, “‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you’” (1:5). This statement is also true for each one of us.
God is omnipresent. He is sovereign, and He is always at work. Do you ever wonder as you go about your daily tasks what He is doing to shape your life? Everything—even the circumstances of your birth—were uniquely planned to prepare you for a purpose that only you can fulfill.
While you handle paperwork, make beds, care for children, talk on the phone, read and answer e-mails, or engage in a casual conversation, God is molding you.
Answering this second question may take some time. It may even take years to interpret. Yet in the waiting, ask yourself, Do I really want to know God, or do I just want to be delivered from my present discomfort? Better to ask what God may be doing to bring us into conformity with His plan and purpose for our lives. If we ask, He is sure to answer.
Who am I, and who is God?
Today’s culture is all about “me”: Who am I? What do I want? However, if we are made in God’s image for a purpose, we can’t know ourselves until we know God.
God revealed Himself to Jeremiah and made it clear that without His enabling, Jeremiah could never fulfill his calling (1:17–19). Jeremiah then began to discern who he was and what he was called to do.
God says, “‘I have made you a tester of metals and my people the ore, that you may observe and test their ways’” (6:27). This assignment was impossible—unless Jeremiah had heard and understood God’s interpretation of who he was and who God is. Jeremiah knew the God who declared, “‘[L]et him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me’” (9:24). God delights in revealing His glory in our lives.
C. S. Lewis asserted that there is a “weight of glory” resting on every created being. In Mere Christianity he illustrates this in a wonderful metaphor:
Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.
How do I organize my life?
Question four brings us to a watershed moment. This one calls for action.
Am I willing to disrupt my routine—leave my comfort zone—to reorganize my life so as to bring joy to God? It may be as big as making a career change, or it may have more to do with changing your schedule or the way you spend your money. The ultimate question is “Am I willing?” Or perhaps it is better to ask, “What hinders my willingness?”
Jeremiah heard from God and so can we if only we will listen with an open heart and mind. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart’” (29:11–13).
What is my unique, prophetic calling?
The book of Jeremiah opens with his call to ministry, but the fleshing out of that call is developed through the whole book—throughout his entire life. This has been true in my own life as well.
Some people may not realize their unique call until they reach their 50s or 60s. Coming to a point where we know our calling with certainty is something God begins to shape in us. It is God’s work, usually beyond all imagination.
We move from a general calling to a specific calling to a unique, prophetic calling. For example, a registered nurse is engaged in shift work in a hospital, yet she lacks a deep sense of fulfillment in her job. She begins to explore other possibilities and discovers a calling to join a hospice team where she has opportunities to offer eternal life to the dying.
God nuances our lives through experiences of disappointment, joy, pleasure, and, yes, pain and suffering. He reveals His method of working in lives through Scripture narratives and through our own experiences. They teach us that each person’s story is divinely planned. He invites us to participate in what He is up to in our lives.
“The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him. . . . Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men” (Lam. 3:25, 32–33).
What is my context?
We deal with context—the circumstances of our surroundings—through every stage, age, and season of our lives. And we face context in every realm: cultural, subcultural, emotional, physical, and spiritual and at every level of relationship. Context can influence everything we do all our lives, and it changes—sometimes monthly, sometimes daily.
We are vulnerable. Context has the power to change us for better or for worse. We need to cling to our God, whose love never fails and whose mercies are new every morning, remembering that our context is not limited to the material world. We who know God can live in the world of His Spirit.
We are given the choice to live in the restrictive dimension of the natural world or live free from the bondage of self and bask in the world of God’s glory.
. . . Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware . . .
—Elizabeth Barrett Browning
(from Aurora Leigh)
I hope you will find some guidance in these six questions. Perhaps we should develop the habit of asking them of one another. We cannot remain faithful on our own. We dare not think we can live in isolation and get it right.
Self-deception seems to be the human spirit’s default drive. But God knows this and gives His grace to help us in every aspect of our journey.
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