Many times we sing the refrain “Follow, follow, I will follow Jesus, anywhere, everywhere, I will follow on…”. But what happens when God leads where you didn’t choose? I confess I experience times when I’m all too happy to follow where Jesus leads, while other times, I question the purpose. We talk of praying for God’s will and direction, but find it hard to surrender to a direction we don’t favor.
I remember surrendering to go to the mission field. I wrestled with it for so long, you know, the fear that if I surrendered, God might send me to the jungles of Africa. As it turned out He chose to send my husband and our family to Albania.
I thought I dodged a bullet until the two week “survey trip”. Back in 1993, the country had just come out of a revolution similar to the rest of Europe’s eastern block communist countries. The infra-structure was severely damaged such that food was scarce and electricity and water even more scarce.
On the flight home I remember thinking God clearly did not mean for me to take my then 10, 7 and 3 years old children to such a place. Or did He?
Must the sheep follow the shepherd?
If you’ve read My Story on the blog, you know my husband and I sold our home and belongings and did follow Jesus to Albania. In the eight years we spent there, I questioned God’s direction many times, I still do. God did many great works while we were there, however, much suffering and trauma especially for my children came out of that time. While the word, “surrender” implies giving up the right to choose, what happens when God leads where you didn’t choose?
According to the Illinois Livestock Trail, published by the University of Illinois, contrary to popular opinion, sheep are not stupid. They rank just below the pig and on par with cattle in intelligence. They are not inclined to follow any shepherd, but are gregarious and prefer the company of other sheep. They frighten easily and it takes a good deal of time for the shepherd to build trust with the animals. They learn this by following of course, and over time, begin to trust the choices of the shepherd. I find this truth in my own life as I learned to take my eyes off the place He leads and firmly fix them on Him.
Through the dark places
Psalm 23 is the quintessential shepherd psalm. It is one I memorized long ago for a number of reasons. It’s almost become a cliché instead of God-inspired comfort. But if we re-visit the Psalm, we can see all is not peace and green pastures.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
David writes, “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” This valley is one of great darkness and unknown danger. Enemies and fear lurk here, it is the place no one chooses to go. But it is the comfort found in even this dark place that endears the Psalm to us.
following where god leads
Following not only involves surrender, but also trust. In order to follow you must surrender your will and choice of direction to the leader. Your ability to surrender in this way rests solely on how much you trust the person you’re following. From personal experience, I do not follow well, due to trust issues. This was a major hurdle for me in my relationship with Christ. Through His incredible patience, gentleness and compassion, I began to trust. When God leads where you didn’t choose, consider these lessons from Psalm 23.
Knowing the Shepherd
- Remember Who Leads. When the Shepherd leads us into dark valleys, we remember He is the same Shepherd who leads us beside still waters. He makes us lay down in green pastures, He restores our soul. David writes he will fear no evil because God is with him. We trust that the Shepherd meant for us to pass this way.
- Rest in the Shepherd’s Preparedness. David mentions finding comfort in the Shepherd’s rod and staff. These constitute the weapons of the Shepherd. David, a shepherd himself knew they could be used to protect the sheep. David also speaks of the Shepherd preparing a table before his enemies. Only in the complete protection of the Shepherd can the sheep eat in safety.
- Consider “why” the Shepherd leads in these paths. Sometimes the Shepherd graciously allows us to lay down in green pastures, enjoying a sunny day. Other times He leads us beside still waters to refresh and restore us. In still other times, we must follow into the shadows learning there to walk by faith, not by sight.
- Consider “how” He leads. Don’t miss one important word, “through“. David says the Shepherd leads “through” the dark valley. The dark valley was not the final destination. The deepest dark surrounded by enemies, danger and uncertainty is but a hallway. The Shepherd leads “through” that valley.
when god leads where you didn’t choose
Ultimately, in all of the paths the Shepherd leads us, He leads us in “paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” He leads us towards things that make us more like Him. Each place He leads, teaches us something. At times we learn to rest in green pastures; sometimes we enjoy the comfort of His presence beside still waters. Then at times, we need to follow Him into the shadows of uncertainty. In all of the paths, His purpose is our eternal good and His glory in making us more like Him.
In His goodness sometimes the dark valleys remain shadows, but not without exception. We do not always leave the dark valley untouched. Death comes, tragedy strikes, hearts break. The deliverance so hoped for, never comes. What happens when God leads where you didn’t choose? You trust the Shepherd. You rest in His promise that goodness and mercy will follow you all the days of your life; even the worst days. Knowing that all paths the Shepherd leads us, even the path through the valley of death, ultimately leads us to one place; to Him.
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