I knew almost immediately that something was wrong last week. I was heading consistently downhill when I was supposed to be climbing Saddle Peak. And when the trail dead-ended into a housing tract, I knew I had made a mistake. Hey, nothing gets past the steel-trap mind of this experienced hiker! 🙂
As I retraced my steps, I took a couple of side-trails to see if I had made a wrong turn. The first detour led to a paved road – wrong again. I then came to a promising fork in the trail, and paused to make a decision. Do I explore this new option, or give up and head back to the car? Although it was hot, I was feeling pretty good, so I turned left to see where this trail would take me.
Within a few hundred yards, I was glad for my decision. I found myself in a shady canyon with massive oak branches reaching across the trail. I even found a bench, where I rested for a bit and did some reading. The worship music on my iPad was inspiring, and the prayer time was sweet. I never did find Saddle Peak (rain check on that climb), but the hike was salvaged, and some important lessons were confirmed:
My chosen destination is not necessarily where God wants me to go.
I can’t tell you how many times this has proven true in my life. When I was in seminary preparing to pastor American churches, I never expected to be a missionary in West Africa. When we were in Cameroon, we had no clue that we would later spend nine years ministering in France. And my plans to serve in France until retirement (and one day play with my French grandchildren) were set aside twelve years ago to come back to Southern California. I don’t regret a single one of these important changes. I have yet to see one of my 5-year-plans come true, but I’m confident that God has been OK with that. In fact, I’m confident that He is responsible for it.
My family is smiling as they read that phrase, because this has not always been my philosophy. I’m known for declaring that “the fun starts when you get there,” and begrudging even the occasional bathroom stop on a long trip (yeah, that was a problem for a man with a wife and two daughters). But I’ve changed – I hope I’ve grown. The process now matters to me far more than the destination.
My level of fitness determines how well I respond to surprises.
Weekly hikes of up to ten miles, plus three 50-minute sessions per week on the elliptical machine at the gym, have put me in the best cardiovascular condition of my life. So while I was a little frustrated on that hike, I wasn’t tired – if I had been, I doubt I would have had the energy for that last left turn. I find the same to be true of the surprises God brings into my life. I handle them much better when I am spiritually fit, fed well by study of His word and refreshed by good time with Him. When my spiritual tank is empty, I am more likely to see insurmountable obstacles where I should see opportunities, and fall into complaining when I ought to be exploring.
When Murf and I were preparing to head out to Cameroon over 25 years ago, we chose Proverbs 16:9 as our theme verse: “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” It was true then, and it’s true now. It’s true when I’m hiking, and it’s true when I’m not.
I cling to that thought, though I do often need to be reminded of it.
If you would like to have future Sabbath Thoughts posts sent automatically to you as an e-mail, click “follow” in the lower right corner of your browser window.