I Can’t Find the Line!

There’s a much-quoted piece of advice: “Pray as if it all depended on God; work as if it all depended on you.” The original intent was, no doubt, to head off the sort of laziness that excuses itself with “If God is all-powerful, He certainly doesn’t need my help with anything.” However, basing one’s life on “it all depends” thinking can bring problems of its own–mostly due to putting the second part first and reducing our prayers to frantic pleas that God will make things come out the way we planned, after we’ve already worked ourselves to exhaustion forcing things on our own.

Nonetheless, I have plenty of sympathy for those who cry, “But I don’t know when to let go and let God!” In fact, I’m a charter member of that crowd. Do I sit immobile praying, for days if necessary, until I get unmistakable marching orders? Follow the first path that leads in the general direction of what seems my calling, and trust (hope?) it’s the right way? Write up a detailed description of my ideal life and throw out everything that doesn’t obviously contribute to that vision?

How do I tell a mere barrier from a tightly closed door? If God told Moses and Paul exactly what to do, why not me?

Small wonder that many people half suspect God of being the sort of emotionally abusive father who keeps his kids constantly guessing what action or inaction might punch his buttons today. “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts'” (Is. 55:8-9). But still we try to hold Him to our human logic–a logic that says everything should be clear, well-defined, and easy to understand.

Not to mention instantly deliverable. In many cases, the question of what to do would become obvious if we waited just a little longer for God’s leading, instead of giving in to the idea that any action is better than none. Or if we really listened instead of drowning out His whisper with our complaints that He never says anything. Or if we were willing to pay attention to the small first step He is trying to point out to us, instead of disregarding it because it doesn’t look big enough to be legitimate.

Or if we put faith (that God will guard our steps) ahead of fear (of taking a wrong one). The main trouble with “pray as if it all depended on God; work as if it all depended on you” is that, taken apart from any context anyway, it fails to mention Who has the responsibility of establishing what “it” is. Hence, human tendency is to regard “it” either as our own idea of what needs doing, or as an overall “saving of the world.” Either way, we’re trying to do God’s job instead of ours. Small wonder that we get exhausted and frustrated.

No, I can’t give anyone, even myself, a never-fail answer to the question “How do I know exactly what God wants me to do?” But I can state with certainty a few things He doesn’t want you to do:

He doesn’t want you to be paralyzed by fear of “goofing”;

He doesn’t want you to look for a “practical” approach guaranteed to forever eliminate all uncertainty from your life, at the expense of building a deeper relationship with Him;

He doesn’t want you to put “doing” and “accomplishing” ahead of “being.”

And one thing He does want you to do is to find comfort in the promise that He is guiding you. Ultimately, that will be instruction enough.

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