The Psalm for the first Sunday of Lent: Psalm 25:1-10 (ESV)
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me. Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame; they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.
Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O Lord!
Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.
As I was praying through Psalm 25:1-10 this week, it struck me as the prayer of someone who has heard God’s call to set off and go somewhere, but is uncertain of where that “somewhere” might be or of how to move forward. The heart of the prayer seems to be verses 4-5: “Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation.” The problem is not just that the way is unclear, but also that there are threatening forces in the way: the sense of shame that comes if we blunder in the wrong direction (verse 2, 3); our past mistakes and downright sins (verse 7); and in the later part of the Psalm (beyond the verses set for this week), loneliness (verse 16) and other “troubles of the heart” (verse 17). Maybe I’m reading this Psalm this way because that’s exactly how I feel right now—called to go, but uncertain how to follow and sometimes even unsure of the call itself.
Here’s my dilemma: I’ve been praying about going on a mission trip to El Salvador this summer. At first I really felt that God was calling me to go, but then I discovered some things that have made me unsure. I realized that money is going to be a problem. God is asking me to seriously trust him, to trust completely, knowing that I couldn’t possibly get things together on my own. God is putting me in a position to see him come through for me in a big way—but in a way I haven’t seen him come through for me before. To be honest, part of me is scared that maybe God won’t… Do I trust God enough to move forward without my own back-up plan? Also, I realized that going would mean missing a close friend’s wedding this summer. Missing her wedding would be a huge sacrifice for me—bigger than almost anything I can think of—and I found myself wondering whether I could bring myself to go to El Salvador if it would mean missing this. Am I willing to sacrifice even the best and most important things in my life in order to follow God’s call?
Lately, since we’re in the season of Lent, I’ve been thinking about what it means to sacrifice. Trusting completely, learning what significant sacrifice looks and feels like, and living by the grace of God alone and not by what we can supply for ourselves are truly Lenten lessons. Lent is a time to identify ourselves as followers of Christ by taking up our crosses to follow him; it is a time to sacrifice, giving up the things we hold dear for the sake of the One who is far greater. I read once that a life incapable of significant sacrifice is incapable of courageous action. It’s one thing to think about it and talk about it, but quite another to actually do it. When I asked God what significant sacrifice could look like in my life, I didn’t expect to get an answer so quickly, or for the choice to be so difficult. But should it have surprised me? Where did I ever get the idea that following God’s call was going to be an easy choice, or that I wasn’t going to have to sacrifice important things?
Going to El Salvador and saying “yes” to what God might have for me there means trusting in a big way and sacrificing in a big way. And I think that means it’s right… but still I’m struggling with uncertainty. Am I really doing this because God is guiding me? What if I’m wrong about hearing God’s call? What if this is all in my head? A few weeks ago Ryan asked our small group a question that has been hanging in the back of my mind: What would you do if you knew God was with you? I suppose the answer to that question depends on knowing God has called me… What if I’m unsure? How do I move forward then? If my prayer is “Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths” (Psalm 25:4-5), I might already have the answer. I know the ways of the Lord are Trust and Obedience, and while the paths of the Lord are ones of Sacrifice they are also “steadfast love and faithfulness” (Psalm 25:10).
This week’s Psalm suggests to me that the answer to this uncertainty of how to move forward is in the character of God himself, the God we know and see in Jesus: God is trustworthy (verse 2); he provides salvation and rescue (verse 5); above all he is merciful and constant in his love (verses 6, 7). N. T. Wright says, “There are times when we need to pick up these attributes of God, almost like picking up a set of large bricks or stones, and place them like stepping stones, one after the other, in the river we are trying to cross. That is part of what it means to ‘wait’ on God (see verse 5). Then we can walk ahead, not because we know the way, or are feeling especially brave, but because we know there is solid ground under our feet…. Obedience arises from that sense of humility which comes when we don’t know the way, but trust that God does” (from Wright’s devotional Lent For Everyone). I don’t have to be sure about every little detail before I say yes—I don’t know the way, but I trust that God does and that “He leads the humble in what is right.”
So, as I’m in the middle of this uncertainty, I’ve been praying this prayer of Thomas Merton’s:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself. And the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing. And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always. Though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death, I will not fear, for you are ever with me and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen.
Author: Alicia McClintic