It’s a common term used in Christian circles, but what does it really mean? When I was young, I thought it meant that God was supposed to literally tell me everything to do – including which foot to step with, what to eat, and when to go to the bathroom. I have since learned through experience that it doesn’t work that way.
Here is how I see it…
In the often used proverb it says:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight (or direct your paths).
– Proverbs 3:5-6
The way this feels to me is three-part.
The first part is like a big Zelda map. For those of you that don’t know what that is, just imagine a large map. You are on one side of that map and you have to get to the other side. The terrain is full of various obstacles such that there is really only one route to take if you want to be safe. But there is a catch. The only part of the map you can see is where you currently are or where you’ve already been. The rest is black. You could, of course do the trial and error method of just picking a direction and going with it until you realize that it’s not the way and have to back track or worse you get hurt or trapped.
This is how most people go through life, forging their own path, making their best guess.
What if you could actually know which way to go? What if someone, say the one who made the map, traced out where you should go so that you could avoid mistakes?
What if you had to wait a lot?
Instead of forging ahead with your best guess, I believe following God works like this: you wait right where you are until God sheds light on the next area of he map that you should go. You may have to stand still for a little while before the next step is revealed, but when it is you can step confidently knowing that He who created the map is guiding you along the correct path.
Another part to that is that sometimes you may get a glimpse of the next step but it’s not time to start moving. Our natural inclination is to rush ahead, but what if that direction leads to a great ravine that you must cross but the bridge is still being built?
So, basically this is what it means to “wait upon the Lord.” In the end, it’s always the best and fastest way to get where you are supposed to go.
The second part is like I’m walking on ice. Imagine a lake or something covered in ice that you are not sure if it can hold your weight or not – but you have to walk across it because that is where the map is leading you. More than likely, you would not just take off running – pounding your feet into the ice as you go. Instead you would walk lightly and carefully. Each step would be thoughtful and you would likely count to five or something as you waited to see if the ice would hold you. In other words, you would walk cautiously.
This is not to say that walking with the Lord means that the ground could give out at anytime – but that my steps should be careful and cautious – never wanting to get too far ahead or out there on my own. With each step I pause to make sure it feels right before moving ahead.
This ties in with the map analogy in that, yes you can be confident in your direction if the map is revealed – but it is oh so easy for us to get some direction and just take off running when we really should be stepping lightly and always checking that we are still going the right direction.
The last part of this I like to compare to my time in the Navy.
I had to stand a watch called “Engineering Officer of the Watch”. This meant that I was in charge of the engineering plant and several other watch standers. It’s a big responsibility and can be quite nerve-racking if you are not sure of yourself.
During training, once you’ve done enough book learning and it’s time to do some hands-on, the instructor would put you in charge of a live nuclear plant. The natural inclination is to basically ask the instructor before doing anything to make sure you don’t mess it up. But the instructor actually tells you to go ahead and do what you think is best based on your training and that he will stop you before you mess anything up. In other words, have at it – I’m here to keep you from breaking things.
I believe it works similar with God. If you have marinated your mind with His word and you have “tested the ice” so-to-speak, then He may give you direction to just go ahead and do what you think is best with the assurance that He will correct you if you are about to make a mistake. In other words, sometimes He will let you try your hand at picking a direction based on how much you have listened to Him in the past, but He is still there ready to guide you if necessary. Kind of like when I’m teaching Dylan how to ride his bike without training wheels. I let go, but I’m always right there to catch him in case he falls.
So, for me, walking with the Lord begins with having my mind transformed by being in His word constantly and removing anything that is contrary. Then in daily practice, it is a constant balance between waiting for the path to be revealed, then me stepping out as if I know what I’m doing (based on my time knowing Him) but always in a cautious manner so as to give Him a chance to stop me if I’m about to do something wrong.