The first trail—as in, an unpeopled, into the wilderness, marked-by-blazes-instead-of-a-worn-path trail—I remember taking was to the petrified forest in Yellowstone. I was fourteen, with my family, on our second visit to the park, and we’d finally stopped believing that we would be consumed by a bear if we left the crowded boardwalks and entered the quiet woods.
It was not an easy hike. Oh, the walking part was fine. It was the finding the destination part that was the problem.
Some trails through the wilderness are worn dirt paths, threadbare lines leading from where you’ve been to where you want to go. Some are forked and branched in such a way that it’s difficult to discern which will take you to your destination and which will lead you exactly nowhere. And some consist of a starting point and a series of blazes suspended on tree trunks. Usually a faded version of safety orange, these small, metal, rectangular flags mostly offer reassurance that no, you haven’t lost your way—yet–more than they instill confidence that you’ll end up where you’re trying to go.
At that time, the way to the petrified forest was such a trail. (And here’s a little confession: We didn’t find it that day, it didn’t make my list of favorite hikes, and I never attempted it again.)
When it comes to navigating the landscape of life by faith, I want an unmistakable path through the wilderness, one featuring a worn dirt trail completely unreliant on those bothersome blazes, one so obvious it would be impossible to get lost because it’s easy to see where to go and what to do: follow the path. But you and I both know that’s not how walking by faith works. There are no simple steps. There is no formula to follow.
If you’ve read around here long, you probably know I don’t love this. Sometimes, especially when life is hard, I wouldn’t mind if it could be as simple as “Walk by Faith in Five Easy Steps” or “One Simple Formula for Walking by Faith.” But it’s not.
There’s just walking, making our way through the circumstances of the life we’ve been given, not by what we can see or perceive but by faith in God—in who He is and in His goodness, grace, mercy, and love. This, my friends, is no easy thing. The circumstances that make up the landscape of life—yours and mine—are often not what we would choose. Chosen or not, they are where we, in the words of Oswald Chambers, “work out” (or maybe walk out) the salvation that “God works in.” They are the terrain where we take those sometimes shaky steps of faith—not because we can see but because God does.
Our sight is limited. We have, according to Madeleine L’Engle, “a view.” Narrow. Partial. Limited. But God, she says, has view. Sweeping. Whole. Sufficient.
My family’s been traveling some tough terrain these past few months, topography I would never choose. The landscape involves pain and waiting and more questions than answers and I don’t like it. But in the midst of it all, a lingering phrase from a sermon heard long ago hovers just ahead on the horizon–a blaze posted twenty-five years back, one that’s helping me find my way forward today: God knows the end at the beginning. All that’s left for us is to walk through it.
All that’s left?
All that’s left. Even on tough terrain. Even on a poorly marked path. Even in the valley of the shadow of overwhelming uncertainty and too many questions.
Maybe you’re facing some tough terrain today. Maybe you’re walking through an open meadow but the way is vague to the point of invisibility. And maybe, like me, you need this reminder: It isn’t really the trail we’re following. We’re following God. He’s promised to light the path. He’s committed to walk with us. And He is good.
Pause | Ponder the path | Press on: Take a look at the terrain you’re traveling. What is one true thing you can remind yourself of today to help you navigate it by faith?