Roadside Assistance

We listen on our feet. I’ve been writing about how we listen to God, how we receive the next increment of understanding he would have us obtain. Sometimes—perhaps most of the time—the way to do this is by taking a step. God made us these beings within these lives. He is actively creating the sphere of experience around each of us. So: Take the next step out into that sphere. What comes of this step might be failure or it might be success. Either outcome is information. Either outcome is, if not a message from God, then a clue in his expression—a further nod or disclosure from the one who has promised to always accompany us. In short, to listen, keep walking.

The problem with this is dejection. Actual failure does not overwhelm us as much as its emotional stand-in. During times of fear or weariness arising out of defeat or loss, we are subject to declaring failure too soon. We are subject to seeing total failure even while the seeds of success are taking root. How do we know which way to go during those times when dejection overtakes hope?

In the last chapter of Luke’s gospel is the story of two dejected men who were heading the wrong way. They had just experienced the apparent colossal failure of the hope to which they had given their hearts. That is, they had believed in Jesus as the savior and Messiah, only to see that belief easily trampled. Jesus was convicted and killed. For these men, hope died too.

As Luke’s gospel tells the story, there were already some glimmers these men had seen. They knew other followers of Jesus in Jerusalem had found the tomb empty and had seen a vision that he was alive (Luke 24:22-23). The final verdict of failure had not come. But these men were listening to failure’s emotional stand-in. Deriving no hope from the glimmers, they were leaving Jerusalem for a different town (24:13).

As Luke’s gospel also tells it, a stranger joined them on the road. He asked why they were dispirited. They told him what had happened. And this stranger responded by explaining scripture to them—explaining all of the ways that these events had been foretold and were proceeding as they should. The men’s hearts were “ablaze” as they heard and understood this explanation (24:32), and later, while the stranger was breaking bread, the men at last recognized that this was Jesus himself visiting them in his new and risen form (24:31).

One of the beautiful aspects of this story is the way it ratifies a variety of means by which people might personally encounter God. As these men did, we experience him in our feelings and we come to know him through scripture. We also meet him in the moments when he blesses us by providing for us, just as these men recognized Jesus when the stranger handed them bread.

As the hyperlinks in the previous paragraph suggest, I have been writing about these various aspects of how we might listen to God. I am going to stop that now, at least on this blog. Blog posts are not the best vehicle for exploring the subject of how we listen, because the different ideas within this topic are interwoven by too many different threads that don’t deserve to be cut for the sake of a truncated blog post. I am going to take up this topic again in a different vehicle and in a different way.

But I want to leave this topic on the subject of walking, because I am convinced of the truth of the first sentence of this post: We listen on our feet. That is, we commune with God by proceeding, by walking out into the life he has given us, by continuing to employ the freedom he gives us by freely choosing positive steps. Jesus promised to be with us always (Matthew 28:20), and I think part of the reason is that he wants to see what we will do and where we will go.

But what if we go the wrong way? That is the obvious danger. We take the route that our darkened feelings tell us is the best way to go from here, only to advance in a fruitless direction. What happens then?

The story of these travelers from Luke’s gospel gives the answer. We almost certainly will head in the wrong direction from time to time, even in a dark direction. But we can turn around. These men who were headed to the wrong town turned around, returning to Jerusalem to rejoin the other believers there (Luke 24:32), meaning that these men were in the right place after all to continue to see the events of the Resurrection unfold.

We who seek to walk out a life of faith have the assurance of this same kind of roadside assistance. If you go the wrong way, Christ will come guide you.

No, scratch that—this story has no reference to Jesus “coming” to these men, no mention of his arriving at their location. There simply comes a point in the story when it says that he “drew near” (24:15).

Where you walk, the Lord is with you. And particularly on the darker paths, the moment might come when you recognize him.