by Gary The weather was a little warm for my taste this past weekend at the annual Fall Retreat at Spring Mill Bible Camp. I was sitting on the porch Saturday morning with the weather on my mind when Jayce Wininger came up from his cabin. Jayce has some wild hair right now and I’m not even sure how he gets it in his football helmet on Friday nights for his high school games. As if in anticipation of the warm day, Jayce had his hair held back out of his eyes with a folded bandanna tied around his head. This very much gave him the look of your quintessential indian from an old western, though I’m aware this may not have been a politically correct thought. Even so, I said, “Jayce, you look like an indian.” Jayce said, “How?” I laughed. (re-read it, out loud…you’ll get it then)
Now that we’ve established the who, what, when and how, let’s talk about the why. I love camp. It’s familiar. It feels like home. I love the people. Many of the staff are friends that I trust with my soul. I’ve been living with these people in our corner of the Kingdom for all my life. And I’ve been a part of this Bible camp for 33 or my 37 years. This camp is very much a part of who I am. It’s known to me. There is no unknown about it. I know every inch of it and there’s nothing to fear. So when Curt asked me to speak over the subject of fear, it really felt a little odd to me as I tackled the subject in one of the safest places I know.
The basis of fear is the unknown. We, as humans, have a need to know. We don’t do well not knowing. And we want to know it all. It doesn’t make us feel half better to have half the information. We want it all; no guessing, no wondering. We want to know what we’re doing this weekend, what grade we’re getting, what days we’ll have to work, what college we’ll attend, what job we’ll have, who we’ll marry, who our friends will be, what the stock market will do, who will be president, how long will it take, how much will it cost, how much will it hurt, and the list goes on and on.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with knowing these things, of course, and it’s even very useful and profitable to know some of them. It’s even a good idea to pray and think on the future. But the problem comes when fear dominates the things we don’t know; when stress rules our days instead of faith and hope. We loose our way when we can’t say ‘whatever God wills’ is fine by me. We trade our peace for worry and we rise from our beds each morning to borrow stress from the future and apply it today. All of the tomorrows loom so large and unknown that we can’t enjoy the now. We’re being robbed; held up by fear and stress. We turn over our hope and peace without much of a fight and then wonder why life feels like it’s pushing back against us so much harder than we can push it forward.
Moses was the assigned starting point for my thoughts on fear at the Retreat. And he got me thinking maybe we don’t need to push so much. Maybe we need to take off our shoes and stay a while. That’s what God asked Moses to do. When standing in the heat of the burning bush, Moses took off his shoes as a sign that he was standing someplace new, someplace holy. Someplace unknown. He’s a little fearful. He says he’s uncomfortable. He says he needs information and helpers. He doesnt’ know how it will all turn out and he doesn’t care to find out. Just let me go back to herding, Moses thinks. Don’t interrupt my known life with the unknown.
So now I’m thinking about shoes. You know we buy shoes for every occasion. In fact, our shoe collection is a good measure of our lives and probably even a fair way to predict our future plans. You can tell what someone does for their job or with their time by considering the shoes they own: steel toed boots, running shoes, hunting boots, ballerina slippers, high heels for your dress or winged tipped for your suit. And predicting the future by someones shoe purchasing is easy: wedding shoes for next spring, shoes to go to your prom that need to be dyed just the right color to match your dress, wading boots for that fishing trip, comfortable new tennis shoes to make walking comfortable while you’re on vacation, those new Chaco sandals at Christmas to use next summer.
But what if God has other plans? We’re so sure of our futures that we buy shoes to prepare for it. But what if God never intends for your feet to go to the places that your shoes are predicting? It’s entirely possible that you think you’re headed one way when God is planning to take you another way. It’s also possible that you’re convinced of God’s leading your life in a certain direction or to a certain place when in reality we’ve completely misunderstood the signs or even not understood His voice. What if your feet don’t take you where you want to go? Is the path still worth walking?
Bonhoeffer, in The Cost of Discipleship, says that God calls us to a journey that’s void of content. And we believe that, I think. But then immediately we start trying to ‘read’ God so we know where that void is headed. But what if he doesn’t want you to know anything but today? And what if everything you’ve been reading into your future is wrong? What if all he wants you to see is the great void of the unknown and he doesn’t intend to give you any hints? Are you still okay with following him?
I think we kind of play at being okay with it. I think we’re okay with it in the sense that we really think we can see some hints of where he’s leading us. He must want us to have some hints, right? He must be trying to tell us, right? This voice of God that I think I hear telling me my future must really be his voice, right, and not just my frightened soul grasping out in fear of the unknown?
Somehow we must turn our minds back to today. I know it’s good to plan for the future and prepare for life’s events and challenges. But the secret to peace is being able to put some planning into tomorrow but live without fear of it not coming true; to live fearlessly, not desperately, in the face of the unknown. Until we reach this point, we can’t fully live out today, let alone the future. And this is still the case even when we’re planning for a specifically Kingdom oriented future. God may still take a us a different way than we imagine. So don’t leave this principle in the realm of spiritually unfocused people. Even those of us who think we hear God’s clear voice are often wrong and are redirected.
And yes, I do think it is possible for God to lead down a predictable path. It is possible that you hear God’s voice and that you discern it correctly towards your future. My point is that you can’t trust in that. That your trust must be placed in your peace with the unknown of God. Today must be peaceful independent of tomorrow. You can’t borrow tomorrow’s peace for today. You must have peace full well knowing that God may be taking you somewhere you’ve never guessed; somewhere that you didn’t hear his voice calling you to.
So Moses is asked to trade in what he knows for the great unknown that is God. He trades his predictable herding for the void of prophesying. Moses now has a future unknown to him but a new nearness to God. And his choice is our choice. You can’t have all your unknowns answered and be close to God. Being close to God requires you to let your guard down. As long as you are hanging on to your future to give you hope for today, then you are forfeiting complete nearness to God. He calls you to his unknown. Our eternal souls have a predictable future but the soles of our feet do not. Are you living in fear of the unknown or celebrating your nearness to God?
Are you struggling with this right now like I am? Is this subject on your mind or in your heart? Maybe you could leave a few thoughts from your journey or encouragements from your faith in God’s unknown.