A favorite childhood game of years past was one called “Follow the Leader” and although it was straightforward, a good leader also would throw in a few challenges along the way to add to the fun. Following in the game was fun, but when we are not playing a game how difficult is it to follow someone else?
Some might say they are a “natural born leader” and see that as their role and it may well be, they have an abundance of leadership characteristics that others are quick to follow, but ALL of us need to be followers in one situation or another.
But following can be difficult for the best of us if it means going where we would prefer not to go or doing what we would prefer not to do.
What does that look like in our relationship with the Lord?
Before you answer that consider some of the biblical history that is recorded and try to put yourself in the scene without knowing what you know now. Depending on how many of the biblical stories you have read or can recall you may discover more than a few examples that point to how hard it can be to bend our wills to the Lord’s.
Certainly, we find many of those examples in Hebrews 11 that is often called the “Hall of Faith” where we find those who followed in faith without quibbling or certainty about what the outcome would be. These ancestors of ours distinguished themselves by following faithfully.
Faith doesn’t see the outcome and yet follows. Faith keeps looking forward following the Lord, but we see examples of those who didn’t. An easy one is when God sent an angel to help rescue Lot and his wife before He destroyed Sodom. The instructions were explicit – follow and do not look back – but Lot’s wife looked backward as they were leaving town and became a pillar of salt in the bargain.
Times of uncertainty intensify the challenge of following. Few of us would say we liked to wait, but recently I heard a pastor say, “Faith keeps walking in the midst of waiting.”
When the path forward in faith leads into the desert or wilderness, most of us are likely to question if this is really what the Lord intends. We may wonder if it is an enemy trick.
The book of Exodus sees a beleaguered fledgling nation led out of slavery to what all hope will be a better life, an easier life. Instead the path God lays out is through the wilderness. How could that be the right direction? It is not a surprise that many didn’t trust the leadership of Moses and Aaron and even if they followed, it was with grumbling and complaining the whole way.
But not to go the wilderness way would be to miss God’s glory according to Exodus 16:10 (NIV):
“While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud.”
In Susannah Spurgeon’s little devotional, A Basket of Summer Fruit, she reflects on just such a direction:
“Not a likely spot to which one’s eyes would naturally turn for a revelation of the Divine presence! A solitary place, without habitation, or fruitfulness, or beauty; a waste and arid land, where the sun smites by day, and the moon by night; a place where the wild beasts meet, and dragons and owls dwell in safety. Yet such a desert does God choose, in which to reveal Himself; and the watcher sees, amid all this desolation and loneliness, nothing less than “the glory of the Lord.”
Faith follows without knowing the path or even the destination. We see that clearly in the life of Abraham and so many others.
The key to following in faith is what we believe. Believing is what God looks for and honors. And each step of faith gives opportunity to grow in trust as well because we must set aside trust in things we know or have and trust in the character of the One who made and redeemed us.
Look at the words Eugene Peterson uses in The Message in Hebrews 11:6:
“It’s impossible to please God apart from faith. And why? Because anyone who wants to approach God must believe both that he exists and that he cares enough to respond to those who seek him.”
Perhaps the wilderness journey is needed because it is where we come to know the Lord best and also come to know ourselves in ways we never would if the path were easy.
“Do not fear to look toward the wilderness, then, if your God has put you there; for here are the “goings forth” of the Lord from of old, and even thus does He give “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
Susannah Spurgeon in A Basket of Summer Fruit