“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but [only] one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.” 1 Corinthians 9:24 [NASB]
Before Sarah was killed the path before me was so illuminated that I felt as though I could almost see over the horizon to the finish line. Life was bright and in general discerning what was pleasing to the Lord came with some degree of ease. The well lit path enabled me to freely strive to run the race in such a way that I might win.
On June 8th, 2017, in an instant we were hurled from that bright sunny path to a jagged path through the dark valley of the shadow of death. The prince of darkness sought to sift us through the taking of Sarah’s physical life and the turmoil that ensued. I longed to continue running, but suddenly seeing the path of righteousness in the midst of the darkness was so very difficult.
“Who is among you that fears the LORD, That obeys the voice of His servant, That walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God.” Isaiah 50:10 [NASB]
Since the day Sarah left I have been desperate to navigate this dark valley in obedience to Him, desperate to run in a manner pleasing to Him. I thought the path would once again become easier to discern with time. But days have turned to weeks, weeks have turned to months, and inconceivably, months have now turned to two years, and it still remains extremely difficult to discern each step of the path marked out for me.
I long to run again, but instead I am continuing to inch along the shadowy path before me. I have a burning urgency to be used by Him for His name’s sake, and yet I find myself continually crawling along, blinking and groping in the darkness only discerning one step at a time, and often forced to wait between those steps for discernment to find the next.
God has been faithful to illuminate each next step, but my slow pace and difficulty discerning the path of righteousness through this dark winding valley recently culminated in discouragement. I used to be able to run, it used to be easy to see, it used to be easy to discern what was next, so having to pray, study and try so very hard to discern His will for every little step began to feel much like failure.
Thankfully, as He always does, in His lovingkindness and compassion He recently spoke directly to my discouraged heart through His Word. Ever so tenderly He spoke through a passage He had impressed powerfully on Sarah’s heart as well.
“for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light … trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.” Eph 5:8, 10 [NASB]
Sarah repeatedly wrote and prayed that God would enable her to “walk as a child of light.” I have meditated on Ephesians 5:8 multiple times since she left, but only just now in my discouragement did verse 10 come into focus, “trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.”
“Trying to Learn.” The Children of Light are those who are “trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.” What blessed encouragement that it doesn’t say those who always know what is pleasing to the Lord, or those who quickly know what is pleasing to the Lord. But instead, He says those who are “trying to learn”, implying those who are continually trying to learn.
The Greek word translated in the NASB as “trying to learn” is dokimazō. Other translations render it “carefully determining”, “proving”, “trying to discern” and “testing.” Strong’s concordance lists its usage as “to test, examine, prove, scrutinise,” and “to recognise as genuine after examination.” It carries the idea of examining and testing as with metals.
Our “trying to learn,” our longing and effort to discern what is pleasing to Him is in itself pleasing to Him. Certainly as He reveals His will we should run in it, but in the seasons where we must wait for Him to illumine the next step, our “trying to learn” as we wait upon Him is pleasing to Him.
“For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” Psalm 51:16-17 [NASB]
What a precious reminder that it is not about the acts of obedience themselves but about the heart that desires and strives to walk in them. I can’t run this part of my path without running ahead of His guiding and leading. This part of my journey is one of learning to expectantly yet patiently stand firm, wait and walk as He leads, one step at a time. My obedience to do just that is no less pleasing to Him than my obediently running when I am called to run.
“Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. … Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.” Ephesians 6:11, 13 [NASB]
Wherever you find yourself on your journey today, I pray you find encouragement to just keep trying. Whether you are in the deepest depth of the valley with your mouth in the dust (Lam. 3:29), or running the race with gusto along a well lit path (1 Cor. 9:24), be encouraged that His call for us remains the same. Whatever our posture and pace may be, He is pleased with us as we “walk as children of Light … trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.”
Artwork: Sarah Harmening