Very often we Christians are enamored with understanding God’s “will” for our future. It is kind of like journeying into the city for a day. We start by examining the map to determine the particular roads on which we will drive to reach the destination. We then turn on the radio or check the internet to learn about weather conditions. With a high degree of certitude we can envision how the day will unfold, taking into account challenges and opportunities.
Thankfully, living the life of faith doesn’t work this way. God’s Word is a “lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path” (Ps. 119:105). As an old bishop friend once told me, “Imagine a flood light strapped to the front of a train engine pointing downward toward the tracks. It only illuminates five or six feet ahead. It is NOT a headlight pointed upward shining out into the distance.” This is how God leads, and it is a good thing. Thus, we are given the precious gift of surprise and discovery. Around each turn the Father delivers gracious gifts. These gifts result in delight and before long we realize that the walk of Christian faith is about the process of journeying with Him, not our notions of a particular destination.
Timothy Jones (1955 – ), the author of The Art of Prayer: A Simple Guide and Awake, My Soul, was formerly an editor of Christianity Today. He is now senior associate rector at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Nashville, Tennessee. In the following excerpt from his book, A Place for God, he describes the radical commitment of early Celtic saints who embarked on a life of missionary faith without worldly assurances or visible supports.
“The Celtic saints of earlier centuries made much of the idea of peregrinatio, a difficult-to-translate word that suggests an open-ended journey. It was not uncommon for medieval Irish monks to set out with no destination; they left with only the simple impulse to go and seek, guided by the Holy Spirit. Unlike the pilgrimages to shrines common to medieval lore, writes Esther de Waal, “there [was] no specific end or goal such as that of reaching a . . . holy place that allows the pilgrim at the end of the journey to return home with a sense of mission accomplished.” Rather, the idea was to learn to live as travelers, pilgrims, “guests of the world,” as sixth-century Irishman Saint Columbanus put it. There was to be a creative openness, even if that meant living in a kind of exile so as not to hold too tightly to one’s ambitions and spiritual itinerary. The idea was to leave behind the known and safe to find a truer basis for security.”1
1 Timothy Jones, A Place for God: A Guide to Spiritual Retreats and Retreat Centers (New York: Doubleday Image, 2000), 47.