If God is Leading, Why Does it Seem I’m Going In Circles? – Numbers 9
Have you ever felt like God was leading you so directly . . . but then the path took you on chaotic twists and turns, detours, and maybe even what seemed like a dead end? You were doing your best to listen to your spiritual GPS, but somehow you just weren’t getting straight from point A to point B.
Not long ago I felt God prompting to buy a Bible, and not just any Bible—one of those big, classic, leather-bound numbers. I didn’t know who I was supposed to give it to or why, but the nudge was undeniable: Buy this Bible. And so, despite feeling rather foolish, I made the purchase, wondering when I’d get my next set of instructions.
Shortly after, my husband and I were packing for a nine-hour train ride to visit his family. We were carrying everything on with us, and our bags were stuffed. Just as I was wrestling the zipper on my bloated carry-on, another prompting came out of nowhere: Take the Bible with you.
I was pretty sure I’d misunderstood, and I haggled with God over it. Surely he didn’t mean I’d have to take it with me on the train! Couldn’t I compromise and take a smaller Bible, one that wouldn’t necessitate chiropractic intervention? Or, once I met whoever I was supposed to give the Bible to, couldn’t I just get the person’s address and mail it? But the directions felt unambiguous, and I obliged.
All through the trip my eyes were peeled, searching for the person in need of a Bible. Maybe it would be someone sitting in the aisle across from us or a fellow passenger we met in the dining car. Perhaps it would be a stranger we’d encounter once we reached our destination. As silly as I felt, I was eager to see what God would do, to have a story to share about how God led me to just the right person at the precise moment.
It never happened.
I lugged that big Bible home again—all nine hours—with no further nudge about what to do with it. Did I miss the person I was supposed to give it to? I wondered as our train pulled into the station. Or did I misunderstand the instructions in the first place?
I’ve been pondering this mystery ever since. Not just the Bible carry-on, but also the other times I’ve apparently misheard God’s directions—times that have left more significant damage than a sore back. What am I supposed to make of those moments when I’ve stepped out in faith only to end up in what seemed to be the wrong place . . . or a dead end?
I have to wonder if the Israelites felt the same way as they wandered through the desert on their way to the Promised Land. God had led them out of slavery in miraculous fashion, but now they were, for all practical purposes, homeless. That’s when God announced his plan to lead them to the land he’d promised them:
On the day that the tabernacle was set up, the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the testimony. And at evening it was over the tabernacle like the appearance of fire until morning. So it was always. . . . When the cloud lifted in the morning, they set out, or if it continued for a day and a night, when the cloud lifted they set out. Whether it was two days, or a month, or a longer time, that the cloud continued over the tabernacle, abiding there, the people of Israel remained in camp and did not set out, but when it lifted they set out. At the command of the Lord they camped, and at the command of the Lord they set out. They kept the charge of the Lord, at the command of the Lord by Moses. (Numbers 9:15-16, 21-23)
When I read this description of the cloud that led by day and the fire that led by night, I must confess to a pang of envy over the Israelites’ access to God’s guidance. How often have I wished for such tangible signs of God’s direction?
But if we peek ahead to later in the story, we realize something rather shocking: even though the Israelites were being led by the Lord day by day, they didn’t make it to their final destination for forty more years (see Deuteronomy 2:7).
If they’d gone straight from point A to point B, the journey might have taken them a few weeks. Instead, God brought them on the roundabout journey (see Exodus 13:18). As difficult as this prolonged journey must have been, I have to believe there was something about having to rely on him daily for directions that brought them to a deeper dependence on him. It’s a lesson I want to learn myself: to follow, even when I don’t fully understand where he’s taking me.
I never did figure out what I was supposed to do with that Bible. It’s still sitting in the closet behind my shoes, awaiting further instruction. I hope it won’t take me forty years to figure out what to do with it, but in any case, I hope it remains a metaphor for me—a reminder to follow wherever and however God leads.
I don’t know what you’re up against right now, but my guess is that you, too, are on a journey. Wherever you find yourself, may you be quick to follow, even when the way feels long. Even when God doesn’t lead you on the most direct route. Even when you don’t have all the whys. And even—maybe especially—when you don’t know where you’re going.
Stephanie Rische is a senior editor of nonfiction books at Tyndale House Publishers, as well as a freelance writer for publications such as Her.meneutics, Today’s Christian Woman, Christian Marriage Today, and Significant Living magazine. She and her husband, Daniel, live in the Chicago area, where they enjoy riding their bikes, making homemade ice cream, and swapping bad puns. You can follow Stephanie’s blog, “Stubbing My Toe on Grace,” at StephanieRische.com.