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Lessons I Learned in the DarkSTEPS TO WALKING BY FAITH, NOT BY SIGHT
By JENNIFER ROTHSCHILD
Multnomah Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2002 Jennifer Rothschild
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTake the First Step
My friend and I stood in the hallway of my new home exchanging decorating ideas. When I commented on how much I loved the wallpaper in my hall bath, there was an awkward pause.
"But Jennifer ... how do you know you love the wallpaper if you can't see it?"
It was a fair question.
I told her that my mother had described the Jacobean print to me in vivid detail, and that with every word I heard, I fell more in love with it. In my mind's eye I could see the honey mustard, cranberry, and forest green colors twining through the vines and leaves on the wallpaper.
It's funny: Even though I couldn't see, I could see it.
That's how I like to explain faith sometimes. The dictionary says that faith is a firm belief in something for which there is no proof-a belief that does not have to rest on visible evidence. Just because my eyes can't see the design of the wallpaper doesn't mean it's not there. I know it's there, so my eyes don't have to confirm what I know is real. In fact, it's so real that even though I can't see it, I can still enjoy and delight in it.
I think that's what the writer of Hebrews had in mind when he wrote, "Faith isthe substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1, NKJV). If we understand that this is what faith is, we can exercise it in the confidence the apostle Paul talked about when he said, "We walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7, NASB). Walking by faith is acting upon a reality not yet seen.
Relying on sight in our faith walk never allows us to accomplish God's best. What's more, it never reveals the hidden treasures that only the eyes of faith can see. But most of us never learn to walk by faith ... until we learn to walk in the dark. We don't lean on God until fear makes us feel shaky and weak.
On a warm summer afternoon in 1982, my mother and I sat down on the soft grass under the silk oak tree in our front yard for our final heart-to-heart talk of the summer. It was August 14, and the next day I would leave my home in Miami for Palm Beach Atlantic College.
In the three months since I'd graduated from high school, we'd spent every day preparing me to go. Mom and I had shopped for a new wardrobe for me and bought furnishings for my dorm room, including a much-coveted rainbow comforter.
During that long, lingering summer, I'd also spent several weeks in "mobility training"-that is, learning to walk with a cane. The Lighthouse for the Blind assigned me an instructor named Mike, who diligently taught me how to use my new cane so that I would be as self-sufficient as possible in my new setting. Mike taught me all the techniques I'd need to know as I learned to walk in the dark.
By mid-August the U-Haul was loaded, my suitcases were packed, and I knew how to walk with my cane. I was ready for college and rarin' to go. Then on August 14, my confident expectation suddenly turned to dread. The frightening reality of leaving home squelched all the excitement of preparing to be an independent college student.
I was leaving behind my sense of security.
I was leaving behind the comfort of familiar surroundings.
I was leaving behind all that was well-known and safe, trading it in for a new kind of darkness that was unfamiliar and scary. When I began to weigh the new clothes, the new dorm furnishings, and the new cane against the security of my old friends and my old room, my heart froze with fear.
As my mother and I leaned against the tree that afternoon, I suddenly cried, "I can't go to college, Mom! Who's going to check my makeup for me? Who's going to make sure my clothes aren't wrinkled or stained? Who's going to tell me what food is on my plate? How will I really know if there are no cars coming when I'm trying to cross the street?"
My tears soon drowned out my questions. "Please don't make me go, Mom," I begged.
My mother gently consoled me. Then she said, "You have to go to college, honey. We've prepared you to go, you've chosen to go, and deep down you want to go to college. But ...," she continued, wiping away her own tears, "you only have to go for two weeks. If you really can't handle it, your dad and I will come get you. And you can even keep your new rainbow comforter!"
So when the sun rose on August 15, Dad got behind the wheel of the U-Haul, Mom and I loaded my suitcases and our heavy hearts into our Ford Fairmont, and we drove north to West Palm Beach. After we arrived and unloaded, we hugged good-bye, and they got back in the car and headed south.
Now I was alone with my fear, and suddenly I felt blinder than ever. It was the emptiest feeling I'd ever had. Walking in the dark was scary enough, but walking alone in the dark was terrifying.
But I believe that where there is fear, there is fight! My terror fueled my tenacity, and for two weeks I held on doggedly. I was determined to make it until I could legitimately call home and say, "I'm sorry. I tried. It's not working. Please come get me!"
During that time, I used my cane to navigate the campus just the way Mike had taught me, and it helped me feel a little less scared. Then one day I tapped my cane into the cafeteria, and there I found an unexpected treasure.
It was a guy.
Not just any guy, mind you. This guy was the handsomest and most charming and intelligent guy I'd ever stumbled upon. His name was Philip Rothschild, and we quickly began to spend time together. Let's just say that I barely noticed when the two weeks had passed. But I did call my mom just to say, "Please don't ever make me come home from college!"
Here's the lesson I learned: Unless we trade our fear for fight, we may never find the treasures that are hidden in the dark.
I found my future husband when I chose to risk walking in the dark. It's the same with our spiritual walk. It's often scary. Most of the time, God doesn't reveal what's next-and we can't begin to anticipate what the future holds. But most of us never learn to walk by faith until we first walk in the dark.
As a loving Father, God says, "You must take a step. I've prepared you to go, and deep down you want to walk by faith." When we do step out, like the heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11, we'll find the treasures that God has reserved for those who lean completely on Him.
A Steady Pace
I believe that one of the ways God wants us to learn to walk by faith is by following the examples set for us in the Bible. In fact, Paul writes, "Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us" (Philippians 3:17, NASB). We need to observe those who walk well and follow in their footsteps.
All the amazing folks in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11 knew how to exercise "spiritual mobility"-they knew how to walk by faith, not by sight.
And all of them learned how by walking in the dark.
They didn't understand God's plan when they began to carry it out, and they didn't know what was coming next when they took that first step. Their faith became realized only as they exercised it-as they began to put one foot in front of the other. They chose to rely on something greater than what they could see or understand.
They chose to walk by faith.
And they can teach us how to walk with them on that path.
Noah teaches us how to go against common sense when we sense God in an uncommon way. Imagine if he had relied on sight rather than faith. Instead of building an ark, he might have opened a petting zoo!
Abraham teaches us how to willingly obey even when we don't understand. If he had been relying on sight as he trudged up Mount Moriah, he might have been scanning the bushes for a lamb instead of obeying God.
Sarah teaches us that it's possible to believe the impossible. Surely it was not "sight" that prompted her to knit tiny blue baby blankets at her age!
Moses teaches us how to value God's reward more than man's riches. If he had been walking by sight, he probably would have milked his position as Pharaoh's grandson for all its royal worth.
You get the idea. It was faith that prompted Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Moses, and the other heroes of Hebrews 11 to step out the way they did. Faith always propels us to action.
But walking by faith isn't always easy. I'm sure that each one of those Hebrews 11 heroes went through some wrenching internal agony along that walk of faith.
Noah experienced it, pounding one more nail into a ship in the middle of the desert. Sarah felt it with a baby's tiny kick in her once sterile womb. Abraham knew it when he lifted that gleaming blade heavenward, ready to plunge it into the chest of his beloved son. (Who can imagine the agony and terror of that moment?)
And let's not forget Moses. He felt so out of his league that he begged God to send his brother Aaron to plead with Pharaoh. I can just hear him: "God, I stutter like M-M-Mel Tillis, but Aaron-he sings like M-M-Mel Tormé!" All of us feel the ground shaking beneath us when we step out in faith. But even if we feel insecure, walking by faith requires us to take a risk. To take a step.
A Confident Stride
When I was learning to walk in the dark, what made it easier to risk walking with a cane was knowing that Mike was right next to me. If I felt wobbly, I knew I could hold on to him. If I reached out or cried out, he was right there. On our walks, he would quickly extend his arm when I'd lose my footing or become disoriented.
In the same way, when we feel shaky in our faith walk, we can hold on to God. Leviticus 26:12 reminds us that God Himself walks among us because we are His people. His strong arm is always there to help us. We can reach out for Him in the dark, and He will be there every time. And just as Mike patiently listened to me when I told him my fears, God will patiently listen to ours.
Learning to walk by faith is very much like learning to walk in the dark. The mobility techniques Mike taught me gave me security in my stride, and they're the very ones we need to apply to walk by faith. Check out the following tips for spiritual mobility and ask God to show you if you need a little instruction from Him in your faith walk.
As I learned to maneuver with my cane, Mike stressed the importance of remaining centered. He showed me how to hold my cane in the center of my body. Then with a steady arm, I would move my wrist from left to right. I did this in order to walk in a straight line and stay oriented. It allowed me to tap the sidewalk with the tip of my cane just before my next step, helping me anticipate any changes in my path.
It's also essential to remain centered as we learn to walk by faith. Losing your center will lead you astray. "Let your eyes look directly ahead and let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you," Solomon advises. "Watch the path of your feet and all your ways will be established. Do not turn to the right nor to the left; turn your foot from evil" (Proverbs 4:25-27, NASB). Being centered keeps you on your intended path.
When we stay on God's path and allow Him to be the center of our lives, we won't get disoriented when life falls under a deep shadow. When every step is steady, we won't slip, even when the ground buckles beneath us. "My steps have held fast to your paths," says the psalmist. "My feet have not slipped"(Psalm 17:5, NASB).
What is the center of your life? Have you lost your orientation?
Follow a mental map
I also learned that it was essential to know exactly where I was going. No aimless strolling when you are blind! Mike told me to think through my path before I took the first step and to always have a map locked in my mind. Knowing where I was going made every step purposeful and prevented missteps and mishaps. The map for a Christian is God's Word, and when "the law of his God is in his heart[,] his steps do not slip" (Psalm 37:31, NASB).
When we know God's precepts, they guide us. "The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord" (Psalm 37:23, NKJV). But they also protect us. Paul says that the sword of the Spirit is the Word of God, a part of the armor of light that protects us against the dark powers of the world (see Ephesians 6:12, 17 and Romans 13:12). This world is a dark and shadowed place at times. If we naively step out unprotected, we'll be susceptible to the evil influences of the darkness around us. But if we wisely follow the map God has given us in His Word (no aimless wandering!), it will guide and protect us, making each step of our walk intentional. Then we can say with Paul, "I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step" (1 Corinthians 9:26, NLT).
What guides your steps? Do you follow the Master's map?
Listen to the Teacher
As I learned to use my cane, I felt my senses awakening in a whole new dimension. I became aware of the smell of diesel fuel from the buses that roared down the main street of my neighborhood. And as Mike encouraged me to tune in to the music of the motor, I learned to hear the difference between the sound of an engine when a car was in full motion and when it was idling at a red light. Learning to recognize what was coming (and how fast) helped me know when it was safe to go-or when I'd better stop and wait.
To walk by faith, we need to tune in to the voice of our Teacher. Isaiah 53:6 reminds us that we are all like sheep who have gone astray. And like sheep, we need a shepherd. But in order to hear the voice of our Shepherd above the din of all the other voices in our lives, we must be tuned in. We must learn to recognize His still, small voice.
Jesus said, "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me" (John 10:27). His sheep hear and follow Him because they are familiar with His voice. When we learn to discern the Holy Spirit's voice, we'll know when to go and when to stop.
As the prophet Isaiah wrote:
Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, "This is the way; walk in it." (Isaiah 30:20-21)
Are you tuned in to the voice of the Master? Do you recognize His voice as it resonates through your soul?
Jesus said, "God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24). Walking by faith means that we allow the Holy Spirit to illuminate our eyes so that we can see beyond the here and now. Eyes of faith see every problem as solvable because they see every problem as spiritual in nature. What is merely physical is confined by the laws of nature, but what is spiritual has no confines except those our supernatural, sovereign God chooses.
This means that as we walk by faith, the Holy Spirit will help us fix our eyes on the source of our help, not on the sting of our problems. He will whisper in our ears the gentle reminder that "now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face" (1 Corinthians 13:12, NASB). Someday the faith by which we walk will become sight, or as St. Augustine put it, the reward of our faith will be to see what we believe. Can you see how important it is to walk by faith? Look where it will eventually lead us-face to face with God Himself!
"I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."
Never alone In my darkest hour I am never alone Not far from home and I can feel You near me For I am never alone
In the midst of trials there is a triumph that I know While trusting in the One who never changes And though my heart grows weary in the struggle of it all I have such assurance that You hear me when I call
Never alone In my darkest hour I am never alone Not far from home and I can feel You near me For I am never alone (Continues...)
Excerpted from Lessons I Learned in the Dark by JENNIFER ROTHSCHILD Copyright © 2002 by Jennifer Rothschild
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.