Grace in the “Next Step” Process
I realize I’m going to sound like a judgmental jerk here. But the truth is: Sometimes it can be really frustrating to walk alongside somebody when I feel like I know what their “next step” in life should be, but they either (1) aren’t hearing it, (2) aren’t doing it, or (3) are moving at a pace that seems similar to that of… a snail. It is absolutely imperative that I keep my so-called “wisdom” in check—with humility and grace leading the way— so that I don’t overstep my bounds or get overly judgmental with others.
I’ve been thinking a lot about a saying I’ve been hearing around my church lately: “We exist to help others take their next step with Jesus.” In other words, we believe that God wants each of us to focus on Him, listen to His promptings, and let Him lead us into whatever it is He wants us to do, wherever He wants us to go, whatever He wants us to say or not say, etc. And He wants us, His in-process-but-definitely-not-“arrived”-yet kids, to help others learn how to identify His voice and learn to follow in His footsteps as well.
I love it. It’s simple. It’s to the point. And I think it’s a healthy mantra for the God-following life.
A couple of weeks ago, however, I was in a particular disagreement (aka conflict) with my husband and something occurred to me: This process isn’t always a cut-and-dry, simple thing. Nope. Living out the aforementioned Mission Statement can get pretty messy. Not only for myself as I try to figure out what God is saying to me personally, but also as I try to link arms with and “help” those around me discover their next steps.
Whether it is in my marriage, or with my ever-growing kids, or with my friends or extended family or teammates at work, or even with the people I mentor: I sometimes struggle with the reality that my loved ones aren’t living their life out the way that I think they ought to be living it in some way or another.
I know, I know. I am a punk and who am I to think that I know what anyone else should or shouldn’t be doing.
I get it. It’s true.
But don’t worry: God gets it too. He sees my inappropriate and sometimes hypercritical attitude. He knows my tendencies towards being codependent and taking too much responsibility for other people’s lives. That’s why He’s been having a few pointed talks with me lately about this very matter.
Maybe I’m not the only one? Maybe you, too, get frustrated with your husband or your kids or others around you? Maybe you, too, struggle with the dilemma of “What do I do when I want to help somebody… but things just aren’t going the way I think they “should”…?”
Because I suspect I’m not the only one who struggles with this, I wanted to share with you a smidgeon of what God has been reminding me of lately:
One particular story He has been using to talk to me this week is found in 1 Samuel 24. At this point in history, Saul, the current King of Israel, is on the hunt for David, a young man who has been anointed as the future King of Israel. In short: King Saul is a mess. As a matter of fact, he has pretty much lost his mind and has made it his mission in life to seek and destroy David. So, by Chapter 24, while David and a group of about 600 disgruntled warriors are hiding out in a cave in the craggy region along the western shore of the Dead Sea, King Saul and his army are rummaging through the countryside looking for David.
And, as all middle schoolers love, this is the point in the story when King Saul ends up needing to “relieve himself” (aka go to the bathroom) in one of the caves. Unbeknownst to Saul, the cave he chooses to use happens to be the very cave wherein David and his crew are hiding.
As soon as David’s warriors realize what is happening, they immediately go to David and tell him something to the effect of “Now is your chance. Saul is in our cave. Go kill him and then we can get this “you being king” show on the road!” They even go so far as to tell David “This is the day the Lord spoke of when he said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.’ ”
A couple things to note here:
- What David’s men are telling him here truly does seem logical to them. They lived in a tribal, warring society in which up-and-coming kings would often rise to power by simply “taking out” the present king and then assuming his position. So it is very likely that this experience of Saul coming into the cave was interpreted to be “a sign from God.”
- This “promise” that the warriors “reminded” David of? It can’t actually be found anywhere else in Scripture. In other words, either these guys made this up or, if we want to give them the benefit of the doubt, they took a valid promise from God and simply misinterpreted it. Either way, they were “off” in their rationale behind what they were urging David to do here. God never told David he could “do whatever he wanted” with his enemies.
What I learn from this part of the story is this: it is really important that I approach my life, and even my mentoring and my desire to “help others,” with an ATTITUDE OF HUMILITY. Things may sometimes seem really logical to me. A scripture or a promise from God may also seem very obvious at times. But it is also absolutely imperative that I keep in mind the huge possibility that I could very well be wrong in what I think someone ought to do in their life. I am an imperfect person with an inability to ever possibly know all that God is doing in and through all the moving parts in play— not only in my own life but also the lives of everyone around me. It is key that I keep my so-called “wisdom” in check so that I don’t overstep my bounds, lead someone down a wrong path, or get overly judgmental of the folks around me.
The second thing I notice in this story of Saul and David in the “toileting cave” is that there doesn’t seem to be anybody there encouraging David to do anything other than kill King Saul. It isn’t recorded, so we really don’t know what other voices may have spoken up, but according to what we read in this story, it seems likely that either (A) everybody did, in fact, think that killing Saul was the best and most logical action for David to do; or (B) somebody may have thought it wasn’t a good idea but either didn’t feel comfortable saying so or didn’t have time to say otherwise. Maybe just maybe somebody took it upon themselves to silently PRAY that God would lead David in the right direction that day? Like I said, I really don’t know— maybe nobody did that. But I do know that in my own life, God is quite often calling me to BE THAT BEHIND-THE-SCENES PRAYER WARRIOR on behalf of those I care about. He may or may not want me to speak up all the time; He may or may not want me to do certain things or go to certain places or intervene in certain ways. What God calls me to do is always on a case-by-case basis. But 100% of the time He wants me to PRAY for those in authority over me, those who are my peers, and those who I am mentoring. Across the board, praying for those I love is absolutely crucial to help them in their lives.
Which brings me to the third and final thing I notice in this story of Saul and David in regards to this whole issue of “helping other people take their next step with Jesus”:
In the end, despite the plethora of voices urging him to do otherwise, David ended up choosing not to kill Saul that day after all. The story says that, even though he had the weapon in his hand and got so close to Saul that he was even able to cut a piece of Saul’s robe instead, David felt “conscious stricken” and did not go through with what everyone thought was the logical next step for him. Taking Saul’s life just seemed too wrong to him. He felt guilty even for cutting the robe.
The thing I love about the choice David made is this: it reminds me that GOD IS A TRUSTWORTHY GUIDE. Despite whatever else might be coming our way, despite how bleak things may look, despite how logical something may seem… God has a way of getting in to our decision-making process and leading us and whispering His truth to us through it all. Somehow or another, He is able to reach in, hear our prayers, touch our hearts, and enable us to make wise and God-led decisions.
I love the promise found in Jeremiah 29:12-14:
“Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord.
I love the truth and the hope in that promise: I love that God assures us that when we seek Him we will find Him, and when we look to Him for guidance He will meet us there and lead us. No matter where we are, no matter how challenging our life is, and no matter how frustratingly slow-moving we may be, we each have access to God. Whether it is my husband, my children, my friends, my extended family, my teammates, or the people I mentor, each one of us has access to God and He is speaking truth and lovingly guiding all of us. I can trust Him to lead me. And I can trust him to lead the ones I love as well.
So that’s the truth: Each of us is growing at our own pace, in our own way, and each of our “next steps with Jesus” will look different from one another. Whereas the next step for me might be to write an especially vulnerable blog post, or go visit a friend whose baby is in the NICU, or invite a new mom at my school to go on a walk with me, or to gather up my courage to have a confrontational conversation with someone I love, or to start listening to particular podcast that my husband has been raving about… Your “next step” might be something totally different. You might be feeling God nudging you to invest your money in a particular charity that makes your heart beat faster. Or maybe God is calling you to join up in a Bible study or a local moms group for the first time in your life. Or maybe He is leading you to thank your mother-in-law for doing her best as she raised your spouse all those years ago. Or maybe you are feeling the urge to write a note of encouragement to your child’s teacher, or to send out a text to a friend and let her know that you’re praying for her, or to bite your tongue when you get cut off in traffic this afternoon. Maybe you simply feel God leading you to take a nap or go have some R&R just for yourself sometime this week.
Next Steps look different for every one of us every day of our lives. And regardless of how or where we feel God leading us, it is important that we all know that whatever it is, it is valid. It is important. It is foundational for whatever the next step after that will be.
It’s okay if it seems small. It’s even okay if it seems bigger than you thought it would be. It’s okay if your next step seems “doable” and it’s okay if your next step is a bit terrifying. God is a trustworthy guide. We can look to Him and trust Him and know that He always has our best interest in mind as He leads us.
And for the record: We’re going to get it wrong sometimes, guys. And the people we love and who drive us nuts? They’e going to get it wrong sometimes too. So let’s have some grace for ourselves and those around us in this whole “Next Step” process, eh? Let’s receive God’s grace for ourselves when we fall short or miss the mark, and let’s extend boatloads of grace to everybody else, too! Every single one of us is not only a flawed work-in-progress doing his or her best, we are also a deeply loved, deeply sought after child of the God who created the entire world, the King of all Kings— and He is constantly available to us, constantly leading us, and constantly doling out fresh grace every day in our journeys with Him.
And friend? He loves the shade of beautiful you (yes you!) are becoming.
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What about you?
Do you ever get frustrated with those around you for not stepping through their life the way you are pretty certain they should? In what ways is God urging you to support them or cheer them on? What is one particular “next step” you feel God nudging you towards today?
Please share your journey in the comment section below.