By Jayne Davis
“The road emerged only as I walked it.” — Jurgen Moltmann
One of the most exciting things for me in a coaching conversation is listening for the next question. Rather than coming in with the expert hat on ready, presumably, to solve all of your problems, I am simply listening, deeply listening even, to what you are saying, noticing where you are and hearing where you want to go next. Out of that listening, the next question is framed.
It is a spiritual experience for me because, in those moments, it is much like listening for the voice of God in my own spiritual journey. There is a holy expectancy, a sense that God is present and, given enough room and invitation, God will speak a word into the conversation, directing the next step on the path.
Where I usually get in to trouble, though, is when I want more than the next step. I want the whole picture, the end game, the “ifs, ands or buts.” Don’t we all? If I have a sense of confidence in where this is headed — this decision, this planning process, this conversation — I feel safely buckled in to the driver’s seat, my internal GPS ready to control the route from point A to point B. If I know how this situation is going to turn out, then I can prepare myself — emotionally, physically, financially — for what is ahead, the good, the bad and the ugly, and not be taken by surprise or caught off guard.
But the faith journey doesn’t unfold that way. Not for individuals. Not for congregations. By grace, if we are listening, God is faithful to give us our next step. Sadly, though, absent a divinely detailed map showing where the path leads, many of us won’t take that next step when it is put in front of us. Instead we will:
• Do what we’ve always done.
• Be paralyzed by fear.
• Grasp for golden calves.
When we do what we’ve always done, the scenery never changes. Too often we live our lives trapped in the confines of our own ideas of what is possible because we can’t comprehend the creativity of God’s plans for us. God’s imagination is so much bigger than our own. But his artistry unfolds a little at a time in our lives. Jesus doesn’t say, “Meet me in three years on the corner of Fourth and Main in Jerusalem.” He says, “Follow me. Trust me. Take the next step with me.”
Like a puzzle piece apart from the finished picture on the box cover, that next step may not make sense to us by itself. But invariably, when we are obedient to what we know, however small, new doors and new forks in the road present themselves. It’s not until we take the one step that we can see the next opportunities and choices that are available to us. And they may surprise us.
Many of us are paralyzed by fear in taking a next step. Fear of change, fear of loss, fear that we’ll make a wrong choice, as if we get only one chance to live into God’s will. When I am afraid to ask a particular question in a coaching conversation, I know I am standing on holy ground. There is a sense that something of great value is at stake in the response. To not ask the question, though, is to cut off a path of discovery and potential growth. We do that in our walk with God all the time. There is always a bit of fear in becoming. That is healthy. But shouldn’t we be more afraid of not becoming? Of not living into who and what God is leading us to be and to do?
Instead of being paralyzed by fear, some of us simply get antsy. Rather than wait to discern the next step God has for us, we simply create the reality we want. We grasp for golden calves. The ones we can see, touch and understand. The ones that makes sense to us and typically keep us comfortable. The ones that emerge from the melted gold of our talents, familiarities and limited understanding. The ones that ultimately we bow down to worship. The ones that satisfy only for the moment.
The spiritual practice of taking the next step is not about destination but about trusting the One who leads with the end in mind. It is about believing that the road truly will emerge as you walk it.
In a classic scene in Indiana Jones and the Lost Crusade, Indiana gets to the edge of the cliff. He needs to get to the other side of the divide but there is a deep, dark chasm below. The one thing he has been told to do is to take a step. It is illogical, inconceivable. But as he takes the step, as he leans forward, a bridge emerges. Who could possibly have imagined that there was a bridge?
What next step is God calling you to take? What is a next step for your church?
What needs to happen for you to take that step?
Can you even begin to imagine what new possibilities will emerge when you do?