Forks in the Road
- The Value of Spending a Day With God
Becoming spiritually skilled at making decisions is crucial to every growth-minded Christ-follower. Making right choices is the essence of becoming a mature disciple. Every decision, great or routine, has the potential of moving us toward or away from Christ-likeness. One can’t simply follow the immortal wisdom of Yogi Berra: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
We call them “forks in the road”—those all too familiar experiences when the path along which we are moving diverges into right and left. These choices impose themselves on every believer, often unanticipated, unwanted, and unwelcomed.
Could you use a little help and encouragement today as you face a troublesome decision?
What’s the dilemma you now face? A new job or career change? Beginning or ending a relationship. Moving your family? Going back to school?
These aren’t the countless decisions we casually make every day—where to have lunch, what to wear, etc. Rather, they are weighty decisions that may define us, or set new directions and have far-reaching consequences.
We can improve our decision-making by learning from one of the most admired people in the Bible: Paul. Here’s my “take” on a page from his life and how he faced a critically important “fork” in his road.
Try putting yourself into his sandals for a few moments as you read in your Bible the 20th chapter of Acts.
Imagine it is late March, and you have spent the cold winter of 56-57 A.D. in Corinth where you have penned a monumental letter of the New Testament, the one we call Romans. You arrived at Corinth having spent the previous year trying to evangelize the large area north of Greece known to us today as war-shattered Bosnia, Croatia, and Sarajevo.
You are age 57. Twenty years have passed since you became a Christian. Behind are years of arduous labor and hardship, founding and nurturing churches, and missionary treks covering thousands of miles. You’ve had immense evangelistic success in places like Asia and Macedonia, and so little among your own Jewish people. The vast West awaits you: Spain, Europe, and Britain.
When the sailing season of the spring of 56 A.D. opens, your plans to sail to Syria are interrupted by the discovery of a plot to assassinate you on the ship. You decide to travel overland and send your companions on to Troas by ship to wait for you there as you make your journey on foot.
As you travel from city to city—Thessalonica, Phillipi, and Troas—believers with the prophetic gift in every church have sounded warnings about Jerusalem. No one has expressly said, “Don’t go!”, but each has sensed in his spirit a foreboding of great danger and possible harm awaiting you there.
The masterpiece you’ve crafted to the Christians at Rome reveals that your heart aches for your Jewish countrymen who, as a whole, have rejected Christ and the gospel of salvation:
“. . .my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is
that they might be saved.” Romans 10:1, NIV
But you have another heartache, one for the lands where the gospel of Christ has not been taken. You are resolved to go west, to Spain, Europe, and perhaps Britain:
“It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ
was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s
foundation.” Romans 15:20, NIV
You arrive at Troas and rejoin your travelling companions—Timothy and Gaius from Galatia; from Thessalonica, Aristarchus and Secundus; from Berea, Sopater; and from Asia, Trophimus and Tychicus. And, of course, Dr. Luke.
A crisis has surfaced in your life, and the time for decision has come. The choice is agonizingly simple. Should you complete your mission to Jerusalem despite repeated warnings from trustworthy people if you do? Or, should you book passage on the next ship headed for Rome, and send your trusted associates to Jerusalem with the offering, a mission they are perfectly capable of competing with no help from you?
On the one hand, there is the strong pull, the challenge and adventure, to take the message of Christ to people who have never heard. On the other, maybe this time, despite all the disasters of the past, you will be heard in Jerusalem and win large numbers of your countrymen to Christ. Maybe.
Both are worthy choices, reasonable and right. It seems plausible God would be pleased with either. Both involve risk and danger. There have been only warnings about going to Jerusalem, not prohibitions.
Luke records in one terse statement Paul’s next movements from which we can gain much insight:
“We went on ahead to the ship and sailed for Assos, where we were
going to take Paul aboard. He had made this arrangement because he
was going there on foot.” Acts 20:13, NIV
A ship bound for Syria had been secured. In an unusual move, Paul urged his companions to board it for a one-day voyage around the cape to Assos, a town approximately thirty miles south of Troas, where he would rejoin them toward nightfall. Paul proceeded alone, on foot, for this one-day walk, probably overriding the protests of his well-meaning friends.
No doubt his mind was overwhelmed with conflicting information and feelings about what he should do. He had heeded the warnings about going to Jerusalem, yet he was strangely drawn there. The West and its un-evangelized hordes beckoned to him.
What to do? Simple. Take a step back to gain perspective. Get alone with God and sort things out. And he did.
As Paul faced the future, what he needed more than anything else was time to get focused and understand the mind of God if he could.
At this personal crisis point—at this “fork” in his road—Paul checked in with his Master for the direction he must have. What Paul needed, God had. So there were no “opinion polls” taken among his friends. No counsel sought. No urgent meeting at the church. No all-night prayer vigil or period of fasting. Just a simple one-day walk through the countryside, alone and undisturbed, where he could position himself to be wholly at God’s disposal.
He chose to slow the pace, disconnect from the pressure of busyness, allow his heart to cool down, and his mind to sort out the future. He gave God an unhurried opportunity to speak. He got his heart quiet so God’s whispers to his soul could be heard above the clamor of daily life. If this were me, a major disconnect would be needed. I would need to turn off my cell phone, stop all the incoming inane text messages, and intentionally decide not to be available 24/7 to everyone who wants me.
It was probably a glorious spring day. The road was his, with nothing to distract except maybe a passing caravan, or the bleating of nearby sheep accompanied by the hauntingly beautiful tinkling of their bells. The heavens hailed his heart. The earth was alive with flowers watered by the gentle spring showers. The birds offered their song. He was alone with his thoughts as he walked. His companionable companion was solitude. And God.
Was there a dream? A vision? A personal appearance by the risen Christ? We are told of none. Luke tells us nothing of what Paul said when he rejoined the group, what his decision was, or how he was feeling about things.
In the quietness of this day—as Paul thought, weighed matters, prayed, meditated on the Scriptures, considered God’s leading in the past and His promises for the future, and sang praise songs—God spoke to his heart in an unmistakable way. There was likely no audible voice, but only the calm, unshakeable confidence that sweeps over a person when God presses the rightness of a matter on his heart. A smile breaks across Paul’s face, because now he knows. His pace quickens and he briskly walks down to the bay to the waiting ship where his uneasy companions are anxious to get him on board. The course is set for Jerusalem.
“And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not
knowing what will happen to me there.” Romans 20:22, NIV
In this simple story are the elements for spiritually facing a significant decision. It’s about spending a day with God to get His mind, and the direction you need to move ahead.
There is nothing mystical, magical, or obtruse about the story. There is no guarantee God will necessarily do again for you what He did for Paul if you duplicate his actions. God is under no obligation to anything we expect or think. But we can take the vital steps to place ourselves under the guiding hand of God exactly as Paul
Here is what Paul did—what you and I can do—to humbly spend time in God’s presence, and see if it is the time when He will graciously reveal His will:
- Get focused. Pick a specific time, a full day if possible, to intentionally and singularly engage the fellowship and companionship of God
- Get alone. Separate yourself from normal routines. Get away from work, cell phones and text messaging, family and friends. Take the obvious: water, light food, your Bible, pen and paper.
- Get quiet. This day is about solitude, reflection, reading your Bible, praying often, and maybe singing. Most of all, it is about listening. To God. And getting in touch with your deepest thoughts and desires.
- Get a word. Humbly leave it to God how, when, or even if He will speak. Contrive nothing. God’s leading may be the strong impression of a thought. Or a compelling verse from the Bible. Maybe something you’ve heard or read will be quickened by the Holy Spirit. You seek a word from Him.
- Get going. Act immediately on what you sense is His way. Pursue it single-mindedly until you are led differently. Frequently our problem is not that we don’t know what to do, but doing what we already know to do.
No wonder so many of us are filled with anxiety when we face a “fork in the road,” especially if we are fearful and face undetermined risks or consequences. Maybe we lack information, have had poor role models from whom to learn in the past, or bear past scars from decisions poorly made.
Next time you face a difficult question and feel intense pressure to make a decision, try following Paul’s practice of spending a day with God and see how He will direct you.
I have done so. Many times, and always with great profit.
Once, as a college senior about one hundred years ago, I faced in very late spring a tough decision that had far-reaching implications. So I set aside a day (one I really didn’t have, or so I thought) to genuinely seek God’s will in the matter.
Now, a lifetime later, I am still following the trajectory set for my life on that day now almost 55 years ago. Wrapped up in that one decision was a vocation, a calling to which I responded. With God’s guidance I happily took the right fork, and never looked back. Half a century later I can give you the report: God’s promise is true, the one found in Psalm 32:8 (KJV):
”I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go. I will guide thee with my eye.”
Don M. Hull (© 2015)