Throughout life, we take steps to accomplish various goals and achieve various milestones. We take steps in our education, relationships, and careers. We take steps that bring us closer to our dreams. We sometimes take steps to move away from things or people that are harmful or situations that are not stable or healthy for us. The decisions and choices we make at any one moment, age, or stage impacts the steps we take and the strides we make.
It is no different with our faith walk. Even before we say “yes” to Jesus, God is pursuing us - walking alongside us in hopes that we would turn and see God’s face - God’s presence, looking back at us. Our steps take us closer to or farther away from God. The challenge is, how do we decide what those steps should be? What or who influences the steps we take? How do we know the steps we take are the right ones? When are we walking by faith and when are we walking in circles? When are we walking by faith and when are we walking in fear?
Do you walk by faith, trusting God in the process or do you perhaps walk in bitterness, anger, confusion, trepidation, and uncertainty because things didn’t turn out like you thought? Do you walk in judgement, cynicism, blame, intolerance, or criticism because of how you or others are treated?
The apostle Paul gives us perspective in Philippians 1:3-6. Paul knew what it was like to have power and success by the world’s standards. He knew what it was to stand on top of the world and live a relative life of ease. He also came to know what it was like to have nothing and to fail by the world’s standards. He knew what it was to be at the bottom; to struggle physically and mentally; to feel heartache and suffering, and live a life of challenge, discomfort, and pain. Writing from prison, Paul encourages the church in Philippi to stay strong and continue in the faith knowing God will bring their faith and work “to a flourishing finish.”
We face all kinds of obstacles and challenges in life. We find ourselves stuck between a rock and hard place whether we are 14, 45, or 70. We get caught in the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” moments and we wrestle with knowing who is right, what to believe, and who to trust. AND I believe that is all a part of the faith and transformation process - our journey of learning and growing and trusting Jesus in the midst.
In those moments church - adults, children, confirmands; in those moments the next step may not always be clear. We may be afraid, uncertain, or fearful. The next step may be emotionally, mentally, or physically difficult. Regardless, and the thing I try to tell myself - the thing I try to hold onto is this: God knows our hearts, God knows our needs, and God knows what we are capable of. Therefore the thing to do is ask NOT what is the next step, but what is the next best step? Or as the Disney character Anna sings, in the movie Frozen, “do the next right thing.”
Take a step, step again
It is all that I can do
The next right thing
I won't look too far ahead
It's too much for me to take
But break it down to this next breath, this next step
This next choice is one that I can make.
If I had to guess, there are those facing a “next step” kind of situation or circumstance in their life, and are searching for the courage, strength, and wisdom to take the next best step- to do the next right thing in their own lives. If that is you, I invite you to hear something. Listen again to these words of Paul, “there has never been the slightest doubt that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish.” The kind of work started in you and in me was good work, great work! Paul didn’t say, “the bad work started in you will continue” or “the useless work.” He didn’t say “the careless, sloppy, unimportant, shotty, or ugly work began in you.” He said, “the great work.”
People of God, we need to trust Jesus is at work in us and together we are taking steps to grow ever closer; taking steps to bring about the kingdom of God wherever we are. We need to trust, like Paul, that Jesus through the Holy Spirit, continually equips, sustains, and works in our lives no matter the moment, situation, or mess. Jesus is with us every step of the way.
What is your next best step in your faith journey? I pray all of us would seek to answer that question today and every day we walk this earth. Amen.
Pastor Jenothy Irvine