The Next Step

 “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.”

(Proverbs 13:12)

I recently entered a couple of writing contests, and I am about to send off a couple of proposals to publishers. I am reluctant to get my hopes up because being a writer, by nature of the beast, means getting rejected on a regular basis. Still, it can be tiring to get up and try again and again. It can make your heart sick, but when you do get published, it replenishes your spirit and the desire to keep working. The result is worth all the work I put forth, but it still requires effort on my part to reach my desired goal.

The book of Joshua tells the story of how the children of Israel have finally left the wilderness to take the Promised Land. The goal is in sight, but there are a long list of opponents between them and the finish line. They start out strong and have great success, but as they move into the land they lose momentum. Maybe the battles were starting to take their toll, or the people lost sight of the goal. So, Joshua tries to fire up the Israelites.

 “And Joshua said unto the children of Israel, How long are ye slack to go to possess the land, which the Lord God of your fathers hath given you?” (Joshua 18:3)

They needed to complete what they had started. This scripture was in my daily reading just as I was struggling with some writing deadlines. Starting a project is always exciting, but the difficult part is to keep plodding through the middle. I realized that if I ever wanted to see the desire of publication come to fruition, I had to keep moving forward. I couldn’t let fear of failure or apathy keep me from my goal. I needed to take the next step, complete the next task, until I finished the assignment.

We all have those days where apathy gets the better of us. There are days when we would rather be a sloth on the couch than a tortoise that moves steadily toward the finish line. On those days we need to stop thinking about all the things that need to be done to reach the goal. Instead, we need to just focus on the next step. If every day we take one step, then every day we are one day closer to the finish line. 

When you find yourself struggling to take the next step, imagine what it will be like when you cross the finish line. Then we will realize that all the days we struggled were worth the effort. So, as you look at the day ahead, what one step can you take toward your goal? Do that. The satisfaction that you get from completing that task will compel you forward to the next one until you see the finish line ahead.

Be Prepared

In a Bible study, we were talking about the old cartoons where the character has a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other. Someone pointed out that you never have to invite the devil to whisper in your ear, but you have to be more diligent to commune with the Holy Spirit. The more you try to do God’s will, the louder the devil will shout, but the Holy Spirit is a still, small voice.

When the children of Israel first came to the Promised Land, they focused on the giants and refused to move forward. They listened to the enemy shouting in their ear that it was impossible instead of the confident voices of Caleb and Joshua who proclaimed that the land was theirs for the taking. Because of this, the Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness until that generation had died before they tried again. This time they had Joshua as their leader.

“And Joshua said unto the people, Sanctify yourselves: for to morrow the Lord will do wonders among you.”

(Joshua 3:5)

Joshua told the people to prepare themselves mentally and spiritually for the battle ahead because God was about to do a miracle. Not only did they cross the Jordan on dry ground when it was at flood stage, but also they saw the walls of Jericho come crashing down a week later. They merely had to step out in faith to see God at work.

Whenever I try to intentionally persevere at writing, I am always bombarded with doubts, fears, and obstacles. In the past, I let those things get in the way, like the children of Israel staring at the giants. Now I am trying to move forward. The obstacles and the doubts are still there, but my perspective has shifted. I am focusing on God instead of the obstacles. I dipped my toe in the Jordan River, but I have to keep walking if I want to see walls of Jericho fall down.

10 And herein I give my advice: for this is expedient for you, who have begun before, not only to do, but also to be forward a year ago. 11 Now therefore perform the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to will, so there may be a performance also out of that which ye have.”

(2 Corinthians 8:10-11)

Now is the time to perform what I had willed to do before. In a sermon on James, a pastor pointed out that the biblical equation for success is as follows:

humility + hustle + Holy Spirit.

First, we have to realize that success will only come from God not ourselves, so we shouldn’t boast. We have nothing that was not given to us by God, and any success we might have also comes from Him. Second, we still need to do our part and do the work assigned to us. Waiting on the Lord does not mean sitting down. It means following His timing. Third, it is up to the Holy Spirit what the outcome will be. God decides what success means. What seems small to us may change someone else’s life.

So, let’s be prepared for God to do a miracle by doing the work assigned to us. Let God determine the increase. What we think of as success may not be what God has in mind, but what God has in mind is always better in the long run. Time to hustle.

The Next Step

I love maps, especially when I am going on a trip. I love to look at all the possible routes, and then highlight the way I want to go with a highlighter, old school or electronic. I like to decide where I am going to eat along the way or any stops I want to make. I am a planner at heart, and I like to plan way in advance. However, as Hemingway pointed out, “the best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray” (John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men).

One year my sister, a friend, and I went on a tour of New England. My sister had plotted out places to eat based on a book of little known restaurants. Every place we had chosen was closed for repairs, closed for the season, or just closed. We then had to scramble for alternatives, which often turned out to be some of the highlights of our trip. Most of them we came upon almost by accident in the course of our journey. We could have missed some great experiences and great food if we had been looking too far ahead.

Currently, the world is in an uproar with the uproar topic changing on an almost hourly basis. People are trying to make long-term plans for the future, but circumstances make that almost impossible. This is unsettling, I admit, but God sees the big picture even when we can’t see a mile ahead. Maybe He has something special to show us that He doesn’t want us to miss.

“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”

(Psalm 119: 105)

Many people have memorized this verse. It was part of our pledge to the Bible that we said every year at Vacation Bible School. But have you thought about what it means? If you have ever used a lamp to walk in the woods at night, or a flashlight for that matter, how far can you see? Basically, you can see a few steps in front of you. The destination is usually shrouded in darkness and the stopping points ahead are in the shadows at best. You have to pay attention to where you are and take it one step at a time.

“A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps.”

(Proverbs 16:9)

God wants us to trust Him to take care of the future and to lead us in the right paths along the journey. They are not always the paths we would have chosen, but they are always the best paths. Sometimes the path is full of ruts and potholes, and we wonder what in the world could be waiting at the end to make the journey worthwhile. Yet, when we look back, we often find that those are the paths to the greatest blessings.

So, what do we do when we can’t plan for the future? We take the next right step. God shines his light onto the path through His Word and the Holy Spirit to show us the next step. Once we move, the light will shine on the next step. While we are praying for God to show us the way to go and lamenting that we aren’t getting an answer, it may be that He has already shown us the next step and is merely waiting for us to move forward. Ask yourself: What is the next right step? Then take it and watch what God will do.