There is nothing I enjoy more than hiking through the woods. I grew up forty minutes from the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. Hiking, kayaking, camping, picnicking in the mountains was and still are some of my favorite hobbies. When I would set out on a hike, I would bring along a trail map. I always wanted to know my destination and how long it should take me to get there. I wanted to know how much effort I would be exerting on the front end, what sort of obstacles I might face, and how long the journey would take.
This strategy can work well for day hikes through the mountains, but when it comes to your spiritual journey, the same way of thinking will result in constant frustration. As Americans, we are so used to thinking about progress and accomplishing goals. If you listen very long to the corporate world, you will hear constant discussion of goal setting and visions statements. I am indeed a proponent of goal setting and vision statements. Our staff has a vision statement and is currently working on staff core values. But when it comes to spiritual development, trying to lay out the course ahead of time will not bring the desired growth you want. In other words, your spiritual growth can not be pre-programmed.
The reason that goal setting and vision casting in spiritual development is not possible is because often the things that bring the most growth in you and me, are never planned and often painful. Indeed, a person can commit to focus on prayer, bible study, or witnessing. A person may take on a rule of life that will help shape her actions and behaviors. These actions taken with a heart that is open to the Spirit will result in growth, but the kind of transformation that God wants to do in your life often comes apart from our own efforts entirely. The journey is seldom how I would have planned it, and that is okay!
You see, your Heavenly Father knows how to mature you. He knows your hang-ups, habits, and the many walls that you have erected. He knows how to get behind those barriers and touch your heart.
My prayer for you today is that you will stop trying to plan your growth. Stop trying to take your own maturity into your hands and instead trust that God is doing a good work in you. You are not responsible for what is two miles ahead on the trail. The trials and growth that await you are up to the Lord. He will prepare you for what is to come. Instead, focus where you are. Put one step of faith in front of the other and trust his process. Pray, read Scripture, create a rule of life, have small goals for developing but do not expect that these goals, tasks, and accomplishments will result in maturity. No, it is the Spirit who brings life. Trust him, love him, and obey him, and you will mature. You may not know in the short term where this trail is headed, but you can be crazy confident where this road will take you.
Peter writes in 1 Peter 2:21 (CSB): 21 For you were called to this, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. That is my prayer for you and me today. That we might stop looking at the destination as a moment in time when I will no longer need anything but will be perfect in my walk with the Lord. Instead, joyfully focus on the steps right in front of you today. The complicated and often painful steps that Jesus wants you to take today. To follow Jesus in his suffering means being present to the trials of today. In the end, you can know that Jesus will transform your character into his character, your heart into his heart, and your mind into his mind. Take one small step today, and trust God to give you the strength to take another tomorrow.