The Next Step
What is the next step in your life?
- Are you graduating in May or June and needing to prepare to go to a new high school, college, or graduate school in the Fall?
- Do you have to find a job, start a career, change careers, move to a different city or state, or find a place to live?
- Or is the next step in your life unclear, a bit scary, or totally unknown?
Can you say as St. Paul said, "We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist" (The Message, I Cor 13:12)? Well, Paul has an answer for you, for all of us, just as he had an answer for his friends in Corinth.
Even though Paul says that we know "only a portion of the truth" about God and about life, he doesn't get concerned (13:9 MSG). Quite the opposite! He assures us that "it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!" (13:12 MSG). Rather than worry about what he doesn't know, Paul rejoices in what he does know. He knows that God sees us clearly and knows us directly. God's knowledge of us is totally good because that's how God made us.
Like Paul, we can rejoice in the knowledge that God knows us -- even if we don't feel that we totally know God, or don't know the next step we should take, or are afraid of the next phase in life. Feeling worried or anxious only creates more bad weather. Being relaxed and feeling happy help clear away the confusion. So we might as well rejoice.
Paul gives us clear guidance. He tells us not to worry about not knowing: "But for right now, … we have three things to do to…: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly" (13:13 MSG). Doing these three things will help us take the next step.
Steady Trust in God
The first thing Paul expects us to do is to trust God. That's sometimes hard when we don't feel that we know the best step to take. Or, sometimes we don't think we need God's help since we already have everything all planned. Either way, the Biblical writers give us very good reasons to trust God.
- "We plan the way we want to live, / but only GOD makes us able to live it" (Prov 16:9 MSG). It's important that we have goals and make plans, but it's even more important that we listen to God as we take each step. Clearly, God, not us, governs our lives and motivates our actions. So we might as well trust the Being in charge.
- The psalmist explains, "The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way" (Ps 37:23 KJV). God orders our steps; they're not haphazard. So we can trust God to direct our steps. This gives us reason to be happy as we walk on God's road.
- If by any chance we stumble along the road, make a mistake, go in a direction we thought was right but really isn't, God is there to catch us: "Though he [that's us] fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand" (Ps 37: 24). We may fall, we may make mistakes, but God won't let us utterly fail.
- What's more, God only has good in store for us. We can hear God's voice comforting us: "For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope" (Jer 29:11 NRSV).
So when we're faced with taking the next step in life, we have ample reasons to "trust steadily in God." God has already planned our lives full of blessing and hope.
The next thing Paul tells us to do is to "hope unswervingly." Knowing that God has only good in store for us is an amazing reason to hope. That's really what hope is -- the expectation of good. If we're going to hope without swerving, we maintain this expectant attitude no matter what!
- Even though we're not sure that we're ever going to find as good friends, as exciting a job, or as comfortable a home as we have now, we still hope.
- Even though we've had a rough life so far and don't believe we have any reason to expect things to change, we take active and hopeful steps: we leave the past behind us -- "forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before" (Phil 3:13 KJV).
- Even though we don't feel adequate or prepared for what lies ahead, we still expect good.
If we expect loss or lack, we're sure to find it. We find what we seek. That's why hope is so important. It helps us look for good. It helps us find good. Making a commitment to seek and expect good takes courage and strength. But we can affirm with the psalmist:
I'm staying on your trail;
I'm putting one foot
In front of the other.
I'm not giving up.
I call to you, God, because I'm sure of an answer.
(Ps 17:5-6 MSG)
Being convinced that God is going to answer our call for help strengthens us. Hope cancels fear, anxiety, or concern. When these fog-making emotions disappear, we are able to take the next step with a sense of calm trust. We are able to see opportunity with every step we take -- the opportunity to follow God.
It's most important to Paul that we "love extravagantly." He declares that "the best of the three is love" (I Cor 13:13 MSG). So how do we love extravagantly?
We read in the New Testament, "Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love" (Eph 5:1, 2 KJV). If we follow God, we "walk in love."
- We love God so much that we're willing to do what God wants us to do with our lives.
- We love others so much that we go out of our way to bless them; we're willing to make sacrifices for others; we see them as God's children.
- We love ourselves by seeing ourselves as God's pure children, totally motivated by love.
This may make the next phase in our life look a little different. Understandably, we want to make sure that we're taking the step that will help us progress, succeed, or find happiness -- the step that will benefit us. If our motive is to love extravagantly, we may find it helpful to ask ourselves the following questions before we take the next step:
- How can I best love?
- Where can I love most?
- How/where can God use me to love?
The answers may surprise us, or they may excite us. We may take the next step easily, or we may hesitate because we're not really sure we want to go where God is telling us to go. But if we're motivated by love -- if every step we take is with love -- we can rest assured that blessings will abound.
We may not know where we're going to end up. And that's okay. God knows. Love knows. For Love …
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
(I Cor 13:7 MSG)