“In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps” – Proverbs 16.9From David King:
Do you know that moment when you’ve got a lot on and you need to go out to an important engagement and you can’t find something vital? You start searching around your home, but it isn’t anywhere. You feel the pressure of the ticking clock – a pressure that makes the search even less productive. (I should say at this point that if you are Katy, my wife, you don’t know this experience – she never misplaces anything!)
Let me introduce you to Saul.
In my annual read through the Bible I came across him, with one of his servants, wandering in the foothills of Israel on the search for his father’s donkeys. It’s easy to scoot over the verses at the beginning of 1 Samuel 9.1-5 and just think that it is a bit of narrative colour, but the writer wants us to enter into what is happening there.
Donkeys were a hugely valuable commodity in the ancient world. They provided power for agriculture and transportation both of people and goods. They were somewhere between a Land Rover Defender and a Massey Ferguson for the farmer in the ancient world. To lose a donkey is financial disaster. Which is why Kish sends out his son Saul to find them. Imagine Saul wandering along with the servant. It is quite clear that they have no trail to follow and quickly it becomes apparent that their task of finding some donkeys in a mountain range is no easier than finding a needle in a haystack.
It resonates with all of those times when we feel anxious because something unexpectedly bad has happened and it’s something which takes up a lot of our time with the strong prospect that at the end it will simply prove to be a waste of time.
In fact, things are so desperate for Saul that he decides to give up, arguing that his father will start to get worried for him (note that this is a sign of how valuable donkeys are – just slightly less important than a son… probably.)
Two things to note from what then happens. The first is that the servant points Saul to God, by encouraging him to go and find the “man of God”, Samuel. The second is that we discover that the lost donkeys have been used by God to bring Saul to Samuel so that he can be anointed king of Israel.
I think that Proverbs 16.9 helps us in these times of frustration and anxiety. Perhaps not when we can’t find our wallet when we need to get out in a hurry (that is just my disorganisation), but when something goes wrong and trying to fix it seems like a fruitless waste of time, or something interrupts us in the middle of an important task. Proverbs 16.9 and the story of 1 Samuel 9 reminds us that we have a heavenly Father who watches over us and directs our steps. Nothing is wasted in his plans. Even frustrating times of seeming unproductivity will be part of his good plans for us.
So next time you feel anxious about some task that is taking longer than it should and which may all prove fruitless, take some time out to breath and then say, “Lord, I know that though I cannot see why at the moment and though my plans are thrown into disarray, you are directing my steps and I do not need to be afraid because you love me.” Then open your eyes to look around you and ask the question, “Why am I here right now, rather than where I should have been – what does God want to give me here, or how does he want to use me?”