There’s a maxim I have for myself in times of trouble: nowhere to go but forward. It’s a reminder not just that I’m not out of the fight, but also of the immediacy of my situation. It’s a reminder that I’ve needed more times than I care to count, because let’s face it, sometimes life can be wildly unpredictable.
Life’s unpredictability is not a disputed notion, but it still catches us off guard when it knocks us down and takes all the good we thought we had going for us. Fortunately, we’re not alone in experiencing this. I think of David’s psalms in the bible and the attitude therein. At the time of penning them, David was in the middle of an absolute mess. He was constantly running for his life and hiding out wherever he could. And not in the biblical equivalent of a five-star hotel either. Many psalms were written from the glorious discomfort of a cave.
It doesn’t get much lower than fleeing for your life and living in a cave.
From that time, David wrote some of the most real, honest, and heartbreaking prayers in the Bible. Over and over again, he comes to God begging for reprieve and sometimes outright fearing that God has left him alone to live out his life in this misery. He asks God for strength, for rescue, for deliverance, and for justice, all while still keeping praise in his orbit. But if you look closely, these are not actually prayers for far out into the future. There’s no ten or five-year plan in David’s psalms. These prayers take place not just with urgency but immediacy. I’m particularly struck by Psalm 143 and the things David prays for.
“Come quickly, Lord, and answer me, for my depression deepens. Don’t turn away from me or I will die. Let me hear of your unfailing love each morning, for I am trusting you. Show me where to walk, for I give myself to you. Rescue me from my enemies, Lord; I run to you to hide me. Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. May your gracious Spirit lead me forward on a firm footing. For the glory of your name, O Lord, preserve my life. Because of your faithfulness, bring me out of this distress. In your unfailing love, silence all my enemies and destroy all my foes, for I am your servant.” (Psalm 143:7-11)
None of these requests are for further down the road. David is in a desperate situation and it can’t be ignored in any way. That is, after all, the nature of a crisis. A crisis somehow manages to make us feel like we need to do everything at once while also not being able to do anything about it. A crisis can wipe out our best-made plans overnight, and put our biggest dreams in doubt. A crisis wants you to believe that you are helpless.
Sometimes real life pops up right in our faces, refusing to be ignored. It thrusts us into a whirlwind of survival mode and all we care about is making it through the next thing. Everything seems unsure and uncertain. How are we possibly supposed to know what to do? The truth? We won’t. We won’t ever know everything that’s coming down the line.
That is, after all, the very nature of faith: handing over all that we don’t know to a God that does.
As we’re told in Hebrew’s 11: “Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.” All those times that I chant, “nowhere to go but forward” to myself, the reality is that I don’t get to see all that far into where I’m going. I just have to trust that God is making something out of my forward motion. If I wanted to have complete confidence in where I am, all I would have to do is stay put, but that’s it. It all stops there. Stalled momentum is too high a price to pay for knowing everything about where we are. It’s genuinely terrifying, but we have to look at what’s right in front of us, and not be overcome by the fear of not knowing what else is down the road.
The best step you can take is the next one God’s put before you.
That’s it. Don’t worry about steps two through one hundred. They surely come, but not before step one. And sometimes that’s the only step available to us at the moment. If we try to rationalize the long term with the immediate all in one sitting, we’re just going to drive ourselves mad. There is a time and place to think about the long term, certainly. But in moments of crisis and uncertainty our window for the long term is impossibly narrowed to the point we’re asked to surrender it completely. We’re asked to trust that a singular step forward is sufficient. Perhaps on our own, that single step would be a disaster, but God is more than powerful enough to stretch the single step for his purposes.
If you find yourself in a place of great uncertainty today, I hope you’re able to see the step that’s right in front of you. I hope you’re able to slow down and talk to God about what that single step might be. Not the five-year plan or even two-month plan we had in place. Just the next step for today. Trust me, it’s enough. You have nowhere to go but forward.
Let's find some joy,