But, there are also times when I feel confident that I know the way — that I know the will of God — at least reasonably well.
Psalm 25:4,5 suggests that I really don’t know the way unless I seek to know it. It further suggests that the process of seeking God’s will may take me some time and effort.
Verses 4 and 5 show us the positive value of these times of waiting: it’s a time to seek God’s will and direction.
דְּרָכֶיךָ יְהוָה הוֹדִיעֵנִי אֹרְחוֹתֶיךָ לַמְּדֵנִי הַדְרִיכֵנִי בַאֲמִתֶּךָ וְלַמְּדֵנִי כִּי־אַתָּה אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׁעִי אוֹתְךָ קִוִּיתִי כָּל־הַיּוֹם
“Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.” (Psalms 25:4,5 NRSV.)
Praying such a prayer assumes that the way ahead is not known. (Just as praying “thy will be done” assumes God’s will is not otherwise being done.) Maybe, whether I feel I know the way or not is irrelevant. I need to seek God’s wisdom. I need patience. I need deeper trust. I won’t know God’s ways or God’s path unless I seek.
Adam Clarke comments:
The psalmist wishes to know God’s way, to be taught his path, and to be led into his truth. He cannot discern this way unless God show it; he cannot learn the path unless God teach it; and he cannot walk in God’s truth unless God lead him: and even then, unless God continue to teach, he shall never fully learn the lessons of his salvation; therefore he adds, ‘Lead me in thy truth, and teach me;’ ver. 5. That he may get this showing, teaching, and leading, he comes to God, as the ‘God of his salvation;’ and that he may not lose his labour, he “waits on him all the day.” Many lose the benefit of their earnest prayers, because they do not persevere in them. They pray for a time; get remiss or discouraged; restrain prayer; and thus lose all that was already wrought for and in them.
Don’t I just follow my heart? There is great value in that. Certainly. But, Christians have always affirmed that there is another component to guidance. God speaks. God reveals. God has become known to us in Jesus Christ. There is a Word from God. I need to listen. I need to pay attention.
This is why the Bible is so important. It’s why we continue to read and meditate on this ancient and culturally strange old book. We desire to be lead and guided and taught through those who have previously experienced God’s leadership and guidance. We see the Bible as a connected story culminating in the revelation of God in Christ. Thus, it’s disparate parts and voices have coherence — they all play their part in the story of Christ.
But, I find I don’t “get it” without prayer. The study of the Bible cannot be for me merely an academic and doctrinal study. I cannot simply go rummaging through the Bible to find verses that support my personal ideas and prejudices. I must open my heart. I must come expectantly. I must be open to the possibility that God may say something new to me.
I find I don’t “get it” without my brothers and sisters in Christ. I’m not on my own — a part of a great community of faith. Voices from the past and the present need to enlighten, guide and correct me.
And, however well I may think I know God’s ways and God’s paths, there is always more to learn. I never really get past the point of praying: “Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.”
John Wesley restates it this way: “Teach me my duty, and cause me to keep close to it, notwithstanding all temptations.”
If I feel I’ve lost my way — well, that’s not such a bad thing. It may cause me to seek. It may cause me to look within myself. It may cause me to look outside myself — to my brothers and sisters in Christ, and to the Scriptures, and to times of silence and prayer.
In these ways I “wait upon the Lord” — a discipline that requires patience. The Hebrew/Aramaic to English Dictionary to the Zondervan NIV Exhaustive Concordance says that the Hebrew term קָוָה can mean: “to hope for, wait for, look for.”
In times when common advice might be: ‘Don’t just sit there, do something!’ the Bible says to us the opposite: ‘Don’t just do something, sit there!’ Wait upon the Lord. This is the truest expression of our hope in God.
Yes, it is uncomfortable when we feel we’ve lost our way.
It is far worse to think we know the way when we don’t.
A Prayer for Guidance
by Thomas Merton
My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not sense the road ahead of me.
Nor do I really know myself,
And the fact that I think I am following your will
Does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
Does in fact please you.
And I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this,
You will lead me by the right road
Though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always,
Though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
And you will never leave me to face my struggles alone.