Making a Way in the Wilderness of Uncertainty
The way ahead looks grim. All options, exhausted. All choices, expended. Looking for clear direction but there is none to be found. If this sounds like you looking at today’s news or today’s climate predictions or today’s culture wars or any other of today’s intractable issues, I’d like us to go back in time. Back to a teetering moment when the Prophet Samuel shows us a way through such times. (If you’re not familiar with Samuel, have a look at the story told in 1 Samuel 16: 1-13.)
Surely things were at an impasse. The prophet Samuel, sent by God to choose Saul’s successor as King of Israel, had come ready to select from among Jesse’s sons. Seven capable, good-looking young men presented themselves: seven times God told Samuel “No,” cautioning him against judging according to their stature or outward appearance. But after seven sons came and went with nary a positive selection, their father Jesse must’ve been peeved.
I can just imagine him fuming. “Aren’t any of these good enough for you, Man of God?!”
I’ll tell you what I would have done, had I been in Samuel’s sandals. I would have taken a second look at those seven fine sons and, calling upon my snippets of Biblical education regarding “7” — 7 sons of Abraham (from the children’s song), 7 days of Creation (from Genesis), 7 is the complete number (from some authoritative Biblical concordance or commentary) — I would have convinced myself that perhaps I had missed God’s yes. Then, of my own accord, I would have told Jesse, “On second thought, I think … this one.” And right there and then I would have toppled from grace.
But Samuel, give him credit, trusted the word of the Lord he’d become accustomed to obeying and proffered a new way. “Jesse,” he asked, “Are these all the sons you have?”
And that’s the kicker, isn’t it? When the answer is not plain and, especially, when all the possible answers seem to have exhausted themselves, we tend to rely on our own experiences and resources. We fill the nervous silence with emotional angst and/or knee-jerk responses.
But how often do we do as Samuel did and wonder if we’re missing something? Such a simple question: “Are these all the sons you have?”
Turns out there was another son, the youngest, David who was tending the sheep. (Spoiler alert: He was the one!) David was summoned, and wouldn’t you know, “he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome?” (Apparently God does notice outward appearance.) But, we’re reminded, “the Lord does not see as mortals see, … the Lord looks on the heart.”
Perhaps in this moment, it wasn’t just the heart of David the Lord was looking on. Perhaps the heart the Lord was counting on belonged to Samuel. He was the kind who, even when it appeared all options had been exhausted, didn’t just dig deeper into his own capability. He trusted his instructions and the One who had given them and discerned another way. A new way, as the Prophet Isaiah phrases it, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs forth; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
So many things feel to me like wilderness and wasteland right now I’m tempted to shout, Lord, show me this new thing! But I don’t think it’s the sort of thing that comes by shouting. I expect, it will more likely come by listening.
And, in the way of a perfect ending to a well-crafted story, the way will be clear in a “why-didn’t-we-see-that-in-the-first-place?” sort of way.
What is the question?
Prayer: Lord, we come to you today, confessing our inability to resolve many of the difficulties we face. Hold us fast, we pray. Help us to look, listen and trust. Even when we don’t see a way in our wilderness, you have already made one. Show us the way that’s waiting to declare itself to us; that’s waiting to welcome us; that’s waiting for us to choose it. Then, Father, grant us the courage to walk into it. Amen
Provision, by day and by night
Lead us through our wilderness, Lord…
to the land you have promised.
And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people. ~ Exodus 13:21-22