Taking the Next Step When We Cannot See

Wouldn’t it be great if you knew exactly what you should do as your next step in life? Whether it be changing your career, deciding to volunteer in a new ministry or organization, or choosing whether or not to purchase that new car, sometimes I wish God would just put up a big sign saying, “Do this! It’s the better choice for you.” God occasionally works that way, but more often than not, we find ourselves having to make decisions when we cannot fully see what the outcome will be. In today’s guest post, Nancy Ortberg the joy that can be found through seeing in the dark. 

The references in the Bible to light in dark places are numerous. From Genesis to Revelation, light penetrates the darkness in bold and soothing ways. In the beginning, while the darkness hovered, God exploded the world into flourishing with “Let there be light.” Light is offered as relief for dark paths and unknown futures. God’s face is described as light; his garments are a wrapping of light. God’s people are called the “light of the world.” God’s light is so powerful in us that it can’t help but leak out. Light is there—a synonym for truth and a name for Jesus. And not just a light, but the Light of the World.2 God knows we need some.

Just as numerous are the Bible’s references about the way we see in imperfect and incomplete ways, like a mirror that reflects and distorts an image at the same time. “How faint the whisper we hear of him!” Job says (Job 26:14).

And yet we are called to this journey of faith, with eyes that cannot properly focus and light that reveals only the next step. We are compelled to take that next step with merely a tug in our souls rather than the clear path we long for. We get a glimpse when what we want is a panoramic view.

What’s a person to do?

Take the next step, I suppose. At least that’s how it has worked—not just for me, but for most of the Christ followers I know, and as I emerged from the cave system that day, I realized that this is how it has been for Christ followers through the centuries.

Courage is putting one foot in front of the other when all you can see is a faint outline of the future. Or facing that future when it looks not at all how you’d imagined. It’s having the humility to admit a wrong turn, the resilience to try again, and the grace to not let it crush you.

Faith is a funny word—it implies a gap, but we are looking to do away with that gap. We are looking for answers carved in stone, and we get a word. We are searching for certainty, and we get mystery and reflection. We think we would be safe in certainty, and yet it eludes us. We want enormous floods of light, and we get a flicker.

A majestic scene in nature stirs something deep within us that cannot be explained by factor analysis. And the things that can be explained do not grip us at the same level. We have such hopes for our lives and our loved ones; then a tragedy hits, and nothing is ever the same. Yet over time, joy and hope and beauty raise a tiny tendril of faith back into our lives, and we cannot explain it. We are seeing in the dark.

Perhaps that is most of what our faith journey is. Scripture seems to be full of stories of that ilk—of people who took the next step when they were trembling in the shadows. Yet somewhere between when we read those stories and when we are left to imagine them, they take on a quality of assuredness that is simply not there. From Genesis to Revelation, God’s people have been asked to take the next step when they cannot see the next step. That’s the invitation you and I have been given as well.

Nancy Ortberg is the Director of Leadership Development at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, in Northern California, and the author of Seeing in the Dark: Finding God’s Light in the Most Unexpected Places and Unleashing the Power of Rubber Bands, Lessons in Non-Linear Leadership .  A highly sought-after speaker, Nancy has been a featured presenter at the Catalyst and Orange conferences, and has been a regular contributor to Rev! Magazine.  She and her husband, John, live in the Bay Area and have three grown children: Laura, Mallory, and Johnny.