Lost? Maybe – but Maybe Not

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.

IMG_1369Within 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.

IMG_1386What happens along the trail is more important than what happens when I arrive.

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.

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About Sabbath Thoughts

My name is Mike Gaston. I am a former missionary, a Shepherding Pastor at Heights Church in Prescott, AZ, a happy husband, a spoiled father of two daughters, a proud grandfather, and a recently-convinced pursuer of the benefits of intentional, regular, contemplative, Christ-centered rest. This blog will allow me to share thoughts about Sabbath, as well as thoughts about God and the Christian life that come out of my restful Sabbath moments.
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14 Responses to Lost? Maybe – but Maybe Not

  1. Steve Rowe says:

    I’m always blessed in reading Sabbath Thoughts! Thanks, Mike!

  2. debra petrella says:

    you’re so right on Mike, we plan God directs.

  3. Sherry says:

    Although I read your posts regularly, I have yet taken the time to reply. Thank you for sharing your insights with us. Whether you’re speaking from the pulpit, writing in your blog, sharing an insight on Facebook, or just a quip in the hallway at Grace, I always come away with a good tidbit to ponder! Loved this post…

    Sherry Yoo

  4. Holly Rogers says:

    Thanks again for sharing! Your thoughts brought this verse to mind – Psalm 139:16 – Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. As Jerry Bridges states in his book, “Respectable Sins”, “God does nothing or allows nothing, without a purpose. And His purposes, however mysterious and inscrutable they may be to us, are always for His glory and our ultimate good.” We do indeed walk by faith and not by sight!

  5. Penny Burch says:

    Another amazing hike, thank you for sharing.

    Grace 2 u,


  6. Gary Reynolds says:

    100% spot on, Mike. We who borrow into Scripture know that there is a great life at the so-called end (a rich new beginning, no end at all!). In this world’s context we may even pursue some truly great ends (not often getting to experience them as we imagined them to be). How many of us rob ourselves by not truly living along the way, letting/joining with God’s Spirit in engaging true living on the trail?!?. Thanks for taking us with you on your lost stretch. –Gary

  7. Faith O says:

    Thank you Mike, for these wonderful truths of your journey and “hike” through this life….Your thought that “My chosen destination is not necessarily where God wants me to go.” speaks volumes to my heart, as I would not chose to be where I am this day, in this “desert” I call home…but this is where He wants me right now…my purpose here is not finished yet, so I will find joy in this place….because He is my shade, and my resting place on this “roadway thru the wilderness” (Isaiah 43:18-19) like the beautiful pictures you posted….I am refreshed by your thoughts…in the dirt, dust, wind and heat of this day’s adventures. Blessings! Where is that trail? it’s beautiful there….thanks!

    • Wonderful thoughts, Faith – I especially like “He is my shade.” It was the Stunt High Trail in Calabasas, off Mulholland Highway. Worth the drive, but don’t go past the trailhead like I did. 🙂

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