Week of June 9
My Guiding Light
I decided to go for a walk through the wooded area of the retreat center in North Carolina. When I started, I reveled in the crescent moon and the few stars that barely broke through the darkness. I paused to watch clouds snake their way across the horizon. Each seemed darker than the one before it, so I took my flashlight.
It was probably stupid to go for a walk at 10:30 at night in a place I'd never been before, even though they had marked the paths well. But I needed to get away from everyone else, to think, pray, and clear my head.
For several minutes, I walked with my mind unfocused. I listened to the discordant sounds of night creatures, breathed deeply, and felt the coolness of the air on my bare arms. Fireflies flickered as they danced before me, and of course, the constant sound of the cicadas kept their beat in the background.
Quite suddenly a cloud layer covered the nascent moon; every shadow dissipated into total darkness. I pulled the flashlight out of my pocket, tripped, dropped the flashlight and landed on my outstretched hands. When I picked myself up, thankful I had only minor scratches on my palms, I retried my flashlight, but it refused to work. Then it struck me: I'd have to walk the rest of the winding trail in inky blackness.
I moved cautiously forward, mostly by feeling the branches of the trees on either side of the path. No matter how straight I tried to walk, I constantly veered to the left. At one point, I laughed to myself as I envisioned myself down on hands and knees, crawling so I could feel the edge of the path.
I stumbled around for perhaps ten minutes, when a bright beam broke through. Apparently, a car had driven up to the retreat house, and the driver forgot to turn off the lights. They made a perfect beacon for me to follow.
"What a difference a light makes," I said aloud as I rushed along the path.
In remembering that incident years later, it occurs to me that the darker the world, the more important it is for us to see a ray of light guiding us along the road. Once in a while, the path becomes so clear we couldn't miss it. More often, we get what would amount to about twelve inches of light on the path ahead. Those twelve inches are just enough to take one step forward.
It reminds of the time the Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land after years of wandering in the wilderness. The priests, who led the vast procession, approached the Jordan when the river was at flood stage. "Yet as soon as the priests who carried the Ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water's edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away..." (Jos 3:15b-16a, NIV).
That's about the way the Guiding Light operates in our lives, no matter how fervently we pray for ten yards or five miles of insight. That bit of guidance is enough to start the decision-making process. But in our impatience, we want it all spelled out before we put our toes into the Jordan.
Sometimes I'm a bit envious of those people who always seem to see six miles ahead and get no surprises in life. No matter how much I pray for guiding light, I seldom see searchlight-strength beams. In fact, if anything, I seem to have less light ahead of me than I did when I was new in the faith.
As I wrote that last sentence, a beam of interior light flashed through my brain. The Christian life means walking by faith, not by sight (see 2 Cor 5:7). Is it possible that having less light on the path may be a way for us to realize that we've grown closer to God? For most of us, it's easier to trust God when everything goes well, when we know what we're doing and where we're going. But what about when we face blackouts, roadblocks, and detour signs?
"Maybe God trusts you enough to let you walk on without a lot of outward guidance," a friend once said when I complained. "Maybe that's divine approval."
Once in a while, there's no light. It's not total darkness, but it's more like a pre-dawn condition. I've been there a few times and so have most of us who seek God's light. No matter which way we look, our eyes see only grayness. "Do I go forward?" we ask. "Turn around? Go to the left?"
For eighteen months, beginning in 1995, I lived in a world of hazy gray, no matter how much light I sought. "What do I do now, Guiding Light?" I prayed one day. After a lengthy silence, I felt emotionally low. I had decisions to make and no sense of direction. I had been walking for months without any beam of light and needed something to guide me. "Just a glimmer, a tiny sliver of light, anything," I asked.
I got nothing except part of a verse I had learned many years ag "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee" (Heb 13:5b, KJV). That wasn't the word I wanted to hear, but it was the message I needed to hear.
The message slowly sank in. God was with me. That was all I needed to know right then.
Sometimes we have to go on without obvious light to guide us. Some days we pray, watching for the Guiding Light to shine, and none comes, so we have to move forward and trust God that we're choosing the right path.
That's scary for people like me. I'm one of those who wants God to direct every part of my life. And it's not easy for me to make my choices without a divine response.
When this happens, maybe it's God's way to say that we're enough in touch with the Guiding Light that we know without having to see the light. We pray for light and it may not always be obvious, but it's there.
Maybe it means the Guiding Light is shining brightly within and not on the pathway.
Once again Jesus spoke to the people. This time he said, "I am the light of the world! Follow me, and you won't be walking in the dark. You will have the light that gives you life." --John 8:12, CEV
I commit myself to follow you-
even when the darkness increases-
because I know you're always with me.
I trust you not to let me walk in darkness. Amen.
For more from Cec, please visit www.cecilmurphey.com.
Cecil Murphey has written more than one hundred books on a variety of topics with an emphasis on Spiritual Growth, Christian Living, Caregiving, and Heaven. He enjoys preaching in churches and speaking and teaching at conferences around the world. To book Cec for your next event, please contact Twila Belk at 563-332-1622.