There have been many times God has shown me the path he’s laid out for one person or another. Mostly, it’s for the person standing in front of me after God says, “Hey, go talk to the person over there.”
Sometimes I think visions can feel familiar. That’s not to say visions from God are on a loop. I think each one is unique. If not in content than in circumstance and application (I would guess it’s possible to receive the same exact vision for two different people).
But I think one reason some visions may feel similar is because they share a common theme. And this brings me back to the paths or roads he’s shown me for different people. Typically they are winding and dark beyond that next step he asks all of us to take. Though the ground stretching before us is safe, it’s clear in the visions that we veer off at our own peril.
Now this isn’t to say that the plan God has for us isn’t filled with joy, hope, love, and every good thing that comes from the father. Jesus came to bring us abundant life here on earth. So I don’t view the uncertainty and danger surrounding the road as a statement, In this life all you will experience is trouble. Rather, it’s a plan designed to bring us an amazing, fulfilling life in the midst of the war-zone we’re all in.
But I will concede the path or road before us can be difficult. In some cases, very difficult. Jesus told us that life on the road will be hard at times. Though we experience abundant life when we walk with Jesus, the trials and hardships can still touch us. Sometimes they grab us and try to pull us into the ditch. The winding and mostly dark nature of the path suggests that we must allow God to lead us step by step so that we can continue to grow and experience the life meant for us.
But as I consider all of this, one thing becomes clear: We’re going to mess up. We are all growing, all of us becoming the image of Jesus at various speeds and in various circumstances. There will be opportunities for ministry missed, old sin repeated, and new sin experienced.
I’ll share two examples from my own journey.
The man was a drug addict. Two hands dug into his hair trying to rip him in opposite directions. One towards freedom and the other towards the comfort of what he’d come to believe he was.
“I wish I could stop bro,” he dug grime from his fingernails. “I really do. But it’s like, ah man, I dunno.”
I left a sentence in my report half-finished when I noticed him looking up at me from the stretcher. His eyes urged me to understand. “It’s just beautiful man. That high…it’s the only thing that makes me feel right.”
In one hand he held a pen ready to sign the divorce paperwork. Drugs, we’re finished! The other was ready to crumple that paperwork spurred on by memories of all the good times they’d had together. A lover and death in one.
It was the high, the escape, the feeling he couldn’t separate from. What did he have to replace it? Show him what I feel like, the Lord spoke to my heart. Let him experience that high.
But the man was gone. Out of the rescue and into the hospital. I’d missed it.
Another day and I’m in the gym. I noticed a young woman wearing a knee brace and limping on that side. I’ve prayed with and ministered to a lot of people in that gym and today was another opportunity.
“Hey what’s the matter with your knee?” The words just came out. I hadn’t even taken a moment to ask God how to proceed. Her response was a wary glance but told me that it was some kind of soccer accident.
“Well I’ve seen God so some amazing things through prayer,” I said.
Another wary glance. “Okay,” she muttered before turning and almost sprinting out the door. I remained the floor feeling not just a little embarrassed and not just a little creepy.
I knew God wanted to do something for her but I’d blown it. I’d become a little too confident, which smothered the need for God to lead me step by step through each unique situation.
Maybe your issue isn’t a missed opportunity to minister. Maybe it’s a repeated sin or destructive behavior. Maybe it’s something different. But hear this: Whatever failure we’ve experienced doesn’t disqualify us from future opportunities. It’s doesn’t have to keep us down. Not even for a second.
God has planned for our failures. They don’t surprise him. He has grace for them. Now that’s not to say he doesn’t care when we fail. I believe he cares very much. Sin hurts his heart and I think he can be sad or disappointed when we miss opportunities to pour his love into another. But I don’t think he holds an expectation of perfection. I think he just wants us to grow and learn and move closer to his heart in intimacy.
We can be down but the only one who keeps us down is us and the only one who thinks we’re out is us. So, the next time you stumble on the path God has marked out regain your footing, dust off your clothes, and apply first aid. Then revel in the love of God that has qualified you for the next opportunity.
Jesse and Kara Birkey