"And he went out, not knowing where he was going." The writer of Hebrews 11 uses those words to describe Abraham's journey of faith, the patriarch lauded in Biblical history for believing God, even when every possible circumstance told him not to. He left his homeland as a senior citizen, journeyed to a barren desert, and lived as an upper class camper for the rest of his life. He was an heir of the promise, but a promise that went beyond earthly terrain, "For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God." His family didn't even see the completion of that promise, instead dying in faith, "having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth." Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness (Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:3). God called him to go to a foreign land, to believe in a foreign promise, to have a child at a foreign age, to die a foreign death, and to do it all by a foreign faith.
"And he went out, not knowing where he was going." I wonder if that phrase doesn't describe every believer's life, including my own. Yesterday, I took a young pastor in the area to lunch. We met several years before in Louisville when he was a student at Boyce College and I was working on my master's at Southern Seminary. He told me he was from Hawesville, KY. I had gone 22 years of life without hearing of that town, and really didn't think much of that conversation until 5 years later, when I received a call from a pastor search committee there. That was 3.5 years ago. I now know where Hawesville is.
The same was true for my previous pastorate in Buffalo (KY, not NY). The only times I had traveled through Buffalo were for our family's annual Thanksgiving trips to my aunt and uncle's house, in which we inevitably got lost. We really didn't know where we were going. I ended up preaching there nearly 5 years.
"And he went out, not knowing where he was going." In my case, I would add to that phrase, "And he went out, not knowing what he was doing." I remember wondering how in the world I was going to be able to preach consistently week after week. It was stressful enough just to prepare one message, much less one every 7 days. Yet, the Lord provided the study and the words. How would we pay off the building debt inherited with few people and with little financial support? Then I watched God miraculously reduce that debt by more than $100K in the middle of the worst economy since the Great Depression. I thought under my leadership the church would die, but God grew it. A few years later, under different circumstances and a new location, how would we build a building that kept literally shifting ground on us, and how would we pay for all the extra costs? Then God gave us the largest one day offering in the 177 year history of the church (almost $90K). Would our congregation ever consider worshiping in that multipurpose facility so that we might have an opportunity to reach more people? Then we did.
I used to drive all over Tell City, Indiana, praying that God would open a door for ministry in Perry County, not having a clue how to go about finding that open door. Finally, we put a post-it note on an actual door, when God led us to a congregation that desperately needed help, and he has since sent many new people and is changing lives in demonstrable ways. In 8.5 years of pastoral ministry, I've seen families reconciled that I never thought would be reconciled, I've seen people come to Christ who I wasn't sure would ever come to faith, and I've seen God use people I had no idea he would use, least of all me.
I think if people asked me to nail down the one overarching burden I face as a pastor on a regular basis, they would probably be surprised at my response: the sheer inadequacy I feel daily in serving as an under-shepherd of God's flock and attempting to lead his people in the direction he would have us go. Yet, that seems to be exactly his way of training his disciples. Some use 1 Corinthians 10 to say that "God won't give you more than you can handle." I believe the opposite to be true: God will give you more than you handle to cause you to utterly and completely depend on him. It's what the Apostle Paul describes as strength in weakness, the power of God working in jars of clay.
I could not have imagined knowing where I was going when I committed to follow the will of God, especially the darker parts of the journey, from watching my family be destroyed, moving to rural areas for the past decade and losing the immediate comforts of city life, to an engagement that I thought was the will of God that ended up not being the will of God, to relationships gone unreconciled, to seeing people suffer but feeling helpless to comfort them and to ease their afflictions, to pleading with others not to fall away: if I knew where I was going in this earthly life, I'm convinced I wouldn't make it. The writer of Hebrews makes a similar argument with Abraham and the others mentioned in his 11th chapter: "if they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God..." All I know is that the Lord has prepared for me, and for every other follower of Jesus, a city, a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
So take heart, believer, if you don't know where you are going or what you are doing in this earthly life, because as long as you know who you are following, he will make your paths straight.