The Divine Donkey Chase

The Divine Donkey Chase Or…When Zuph is Enough

              “A man’s heart plans his way, but the LORD directs is steps.”                                                   Proverbs 16:9

                We’re all familiar with the expression…and more likely than not, with the experience…of going on a “wild goose chase”.  There is a goal you are hard pressed to accomplish, or there is a missing piece you are scrambling to locate, but with each setback and with every restart, what you are searching for only becomes more elusive and, therefore, more essential.  We can all relate to this.  We’ve all played our fair share of hide-and-go-seek with people, places, projects, and plans.  But what about with purpose?  Have you ever felt hidden from your purpose…or felt that your purpose was hidden from you?  If so, then you’ve been on a divine donkey chase.  It’s not quite the same as a wild goose chase, although at certain times and after countless reroutes it may feel like one.  No, there is a distinct difference between the two types of searching.  While both the wild goose chase and the divine donkey chase are launched by the shotgun of need and propelled by the desire to retrieve, only the runner of the latter returns with something in hand.  Granted, it’s not what he set out to reclaim, but therein lies the divine element of the donkey chase…and the procurement of the hidden purpose.

I came across this contrast between goose chases and donkey runs while reading about Saul’s excursions in I Samuel 9.  It is in this chapter that Saul is asked by his father to go and find some missing donkeys.  But, prior to the misplaced donkeys in chapter nine, we read about some misplaced desires in chapter eight.  Kish, Saul’s father, wasn’t the only one with a wayward herd; God had one of His own:  the Israelites.  A stubborn people, these tribes, and they had set their eyes to greener pastures…to neighboring pastures…to kingly pastures; and they wanted to graze there, under the protection of an earthly king.  Turning their noses from the Provider of the fields, they sniffed after a person from the fold.  Samuel warned them about the dangers of having an earthly king, but they demanded it…and God decreed it…and so it would be done, via a divine donkey chase.

It seems an unlikely connection, these missing donkeys and the appointment of a king, but when God is at work, the disconnected soon gives way to the perfectly connected.  And so it was for Saul, as he set out in search for that which he would never find, only to return with that which he had never lost.  Taking a servant with him, Saul set off in search of the missing animals.  Over the course of three days, the two men traveled to five locations.  And by the time they came to Zuph, Saul had had enough.  He wanted to return home, fearing that his father would now be more concerned over his lost son than over his lost donkeys.  But the servant had a suggestion.  Maybe it was pointless, but since there was a prophet, a seer, in this particular location, perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to ask him about the donkeys.  After all, what did they have to lose…other than the still elusive donkeys?  And so they went on into the city and found not only their man, but also God’s plan.

Samuel was the prophet who just so happened to be in the last city on the last day of Saul’s last attempt to ‘pin-the-tail-on-the-donkeys’.  God had told Samuel about Saul.  He knew Saul would be in Zuph by the end of the day and that by the close of the following day, Saul would be anointed as the future king of Israel.  God knew this; Samuel knew this; Saul was clueless.  All he knew was that he’d spent the last three days looking for donkeys and he was ready to return home.  But, while “a man’s heart plans his way, the LORD directs his steps” (Prov. 20:24), and such was the case for Saul.  What he thought had been a “wild goose chase” actually ended up being a divine donkey chase as his search netted a prophet, a plan, and a purpose.  And the donkeys?  Well, Samuel set Saul’s mind at ease by telling him they had been found and had returned home.  Saul’s search never had been about finding his father’s donkeys but about finding his Father’s destiny.  Saul was chosen to be the first king of Israel and to get him to his appointed position, God had to send him to an appointed person in an appointed place…via appointed donkeys.

So how does this speak to you and to me?  Well, in much the same way as it did to Saul.  Saul had an objective set before him and he set out to accomplish it.  He knew what he was looking for and he was determined to find it.  However, along the way…the way grew long.  One day became three, three cities became five, and five dead-ends became more than enough reasons to give up.  But just when Saul thought he’d come to the end of his rope, he found himself at the beginning of God’s rescue; when he thought he had nothing more to lose, God showed him he had everything left to gain.  For Saul, his last place became his starting place; and in the land of Zuph, Saul found enough.  Enough of God’s persistence, enough of God’s productivity, enough of God’s plan.  All that he thought had been pointless proved to be purposeful and skillfully perfected in the hands of a Providential God.

‘Not sure when I’ll be home -w we’re on another wild goose chase.’

And isn’t that how God works in our lives, too?  When we set out in search of that missing piece, aren’t we often rerouted along the way and, in many cases, kept from ever finding that which we were looking for at the start?  It’s frustrating. It’s energy-zapping.  It’s heart-wrenching.  It’s…it’s a wild goose chase!  Or is it?  Perhaps we’ve been looking at it all wrong.  Perhaps instead of listening for the sound of flapping wings we should tune our ears to the sound of pounding hoofs.  And, perhaps, we shouldn’t be so focused on what we’re looking for that we miss what we’re supposed to see…or where we’re supposed to be.  On his search for donkeys, Saul went to five different locations.  In his mind, or so I think, Saul must have felt that each stop brought him farther from his home and took him further from his goal.  Little did he know that his course was not only perfectly mapped but also precisely measured.  Had Saul made a direct route to Zuph, he would have arrived before Samuel got there and missed him altogether.  Had he delayed in any of the cities longer than he had, he would have arrived in Zuph too late.  Each detour was divinely ordained so that, just as Saul was entering the city, Samuel was leaving the city…and there their preordained steps met, and the seeker beheld the seer; and the wild goose chase became a divine donkey chase.

I don’t know about you, but for me this is just another example, another reminder, of God’s personal involvement in our lives.  Not only is He sovereign over the big pieces, but He is a stickler over the little pieces.  God chose Saul to be the first king of Israel.  He could have appointed him in any number of ways but He chose some donkeys, a wise servant, a zig-zagged route, and a series of dead ends to lead Saul to the right place…to his starting place.  Since God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, isn’t it likely that He still works in such a way?  Could it be that, when what we’re seeking is still not found, it’s time to ask ourselves if we are on a divine donkey chase?  Could it be that God never intended for us to lay hold of that which we are pursuing, but that He is simply leading us to the land of Zuph…to the place where He’ll be enough?  Perhaps that is exactly what He is doing, which means the journey is not in vain nor the obstacles without merit.  Not only has God ordered our steps, He has choreographed them.  And, in perfect rhythm with His plan and in perfect time with His purpose, God will set our feet where they need to be…even if it takes a divine donkey chase to get us there!

The Weight of Why

The Weight of Why

 “Why are you so polite with Me, always saying ‘Yes, sir,’ and ‘That’s right, sir,’ but never doing a thing I tell you? These words I speak to you are not mere additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundation words, words to build a life on.”  Luke 6:46-47, The Message

 Have you ever thought about questions in relation to what they would weigh, if we could indeed place them upon a scale?  If you’ve ever been on a car trip with a preschooler, you know that questions can begin to pile up and, before long, their weight presses down upon you.  While young children toss questions around like they’ve been given a lifetime supply, they do seem to have an uncanny sense that some are more valuable than others.  We wish they’d stick with the cheap ones, but no…they hold on to the thick ones, the heavy ones, the weighty ones; for them, a question worth asking must be worth its weight in “why”, anything else is simply, well, child’s play!  Need I illustrate this point?  Okay…you asked for it:

Continue reading “The Weight of Why”

You Are Here

                                          You Are Here:   you are here red icon

 Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has actually resulted in the advance of the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard, and to everyone else, that my imprisonment is in the cause of Christ.”  Philippians 1:12-13

               Have you ever felt lost in your surroundings, knowing that you didn’t need to stay where you were but uncertain as to which way to go lest it take you further from where you need to be?  In times like these, it’s nice to find a map with an indicator that proclaims:  You Are Here!  Suddenly, there is an aerial view of all that surrounds you and you can tell where everything is in relation to your location.  It’s quite enlightening, this “view from above”.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have that same experience in our daily lives?  Just think, each morning, while we prepared for the day, we could check our map and locate our new position; we’d scan the screen until we found the “You Are Here” icon.  Then, all we’d have to do is look at what surrounds us and we’d be able to plan our maneuvers accordingly.  We’d be able to see what’s to our left and to our right, what’s around the corner, and just how far we are from our favorite coffee shop!  (Are maps made for any loftier purpose?)  There’d be no time lost due to wrong turns and their counterpart…backtracking.  We’d move with precision and speed and we’d never, not even once, make a wrongful turn!  Oh my, in this technologically savvy world that we live in, why hasn’t someone thought of this?

Perhaps someone has.  Correction, perhaps Someone has.  As I was reading in Philippians, I came across a verse that, quite literally, is the equivalent of a “You Are Here” sign.  It’s found in verse 13 where Paul writes, “…so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard, and to everyone else, that my imprisonment is in the cause of Christ.”  It’s as if Paul were circling over his situation, where he was in prison…and chains, and was able to see the surrounding landscape that enabled him to know:  I Am Here.  At such an altitude, Paul was able to not only see where he was, but why he was there. Now he could see the purpose, now he could see the profits, now he could see the pathway.  And for Paul, it projected the small picture onto a larger screen.

It’s evident in the undercurrents his writing, “The whole imperial guard knows I am in chains for Christ!  I have been placed in the epicenter of the Roman government where I am able to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with those who wouldn’t have heard it otherwise!”  Paul is ecstatic!  He’s enthusiastic!  He’s…he’s…exuberant about his placement and about his bondage because in it, because of it, he is able to fulfill the assignment God had given him to do.  Up close, it might have looked hopeless, but from a distance it was heaven-sent.  All he had to do was lift his eyes upward and take a step backward and scan the map for his “You Are Here” symbol; and he found it, and he rejoiced in it.

I don’t know about you, but I need God’s directory services just as Paul did.  I too need to take a look upward and take a step backward and find out where I am in relation to what lies around me.  It’s not enough to know where I am standing; I can look down and surmise my current location.  But what’s important is how that location ties in to the surrounding landscape.  Wherever I go, I only see in part and that can cause me to walk in circles.  But, when I am allowed an aerial view…and locate my current status somewhere on the grid, that’s when I am able to see that everything is part of a greater picture and just as there was a pathway in, so too is there a pathway out.

I bet the children of Israel would have liked to have had this visual depiction.  Then again, it might have made for an even grumpier group.  Just think if they had been able to see on a map their “You Are Here” symbol and note their close proximity to Canaan. Surely they would have thought they’d arrive in a few weeks.  But, after nearly a month of travel, they’d check their status again and find that not only were they not any closer, but they were actually further away!  Now that could cause some dissension within the group.  I can hear it now:

“Who’s in charge of directions?  I knew I’d seen that rock before…see, I even wrote my name on it:  Mur-Mur Ur was here!  Two weeks of walking wasted; not only do we have to retrace our steps back, but once we get there we’ll just be back where we started…and that’s if we retrace our steps correctly!  And…this is the fourth time this has happened in four months.  At this rate, it’ll take us 4 years to get to the Promised Land!”

“I told them we should have gone left at the sign that read “Promised Land, Left Exit”, but I was told we didn’t need any back-hump drivers.  Well, who’s looking at the backside of a camel now?  Well, we all are except those out in front, but you know what I mean.”

The thing is, we can all get off course.  We can all forget that where we are isn’t always as important as why we’re there.  And, while a map icon can be helpful for giving us a big picture view of our general location, it can also be helpful in giving us an up-close picture of our specific location.  Sometimes, like the children of Israel, we get turned around…and around…and around…and when we finally stop spinning, we’re miles…and months… from where we need to be.  At times like these, it’s important to first check our “You Are Here” local position before taking a step back and a look up at our “You Are Here” aerial position.  It’s foolish at best and fatal at worst to try to make our way through this life without checking both these positions on a continual basis.  We need to know where we are and why we’re there so we don’t waste time going in the wrong direction or fail to find the joy in our current location.  Sometimes, we need a “You Are Here” check to get us back on track.

So, how do we check these insightful yet invisible maps?  After all, unless we live inside a mall, we don’t have one readily available to check each day.  Well, it’s up to us to do the first scan.  Before we can delight in the purpose of where we are, we first have to delve into the position of where we are.  First, we’ll need to see how close our location indicator is to those places we always need to have in close proximity, no matter where we travel.  Does our location find us close to the place where we have a quiet time with God?  Are we within walking distance of godly friends who reprove and refresh us?  Is our church, with its fellowship of believers, just around the corner?  Can we get to each of these places in a matter of steps or are we blocks…or even miles…away?  If we’ve drifted from these, then we’ll have to move in their direction before we can take a step back and a look up for our aerial view.  The truth is, we need to align the where on our map before God will reveal the why of our map.

It’s all mapped out for us if we’ll simply stop long enough…and look high enough…to see beyond the bricks beneath our feet.  Looking down doesn’t bring forth a revelation (though it might bring forth a penny), but looking up and out will do just that.  It will enable us to get a clearer perspective of where we are and of what’s around us.  Just as Paul saw his location in light of his destination and rejoiced in his situation, so we too can not only find solace but satisfaction right where we are.  God has promised that He will complete that which He has begun (Phil. 1:6), so we needn’t be concerned when our “You Are Here” icon places us in the midst of a difficult area but delight in knowing that the very God who mapped out the universe is the very same God who mapped out our life!

So, where am I?  Well, when I look around I see my open Bible, my godly friends, and my Spirit-filled church; when I step back and look up I see my placement according to God’s plan for the benefit of others and for the furtherance of His gospel.  I see my location indicator:  “You Are Here”…and it not only shows me where I am but it reminds me of Who is with me.  For wherever I am, I can say with assurance, “God…You Are Here.”

you are here with bear




The Whole is Greater than the Sum of Its Parts

The Whole is Greater than the Sum of Its Parts

“That they may be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You; that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that you sent Me.    -John 17:21

 I love science.  I am neither scientific nor do I understand half of what is collected in science textbooks.  I did not grow up asking for chemistry or electricity kits and, while I am a teacher by trade and have taught science, I do not consider myself to be a great science teacher.  So, where does this appreciation for science come from and to what end does its admiration lead?  The only connection I have dissected is that science, to me, is one of the languages of God.  I realize that Almighty God is multilingual and speaks to us through varying sources and subjects, but next to the Bible (and the woods), science is the language through which He most readily communicates with me.  I think it’s because of the elements we find in science that align so closely with their Creator.  Where else are we not only asked but required to use our five senses to gather information about that which we are examining?  And then, to increase our bank of personal knowledge, we are asked to measure and record that which we have found.  Once this has been done, we are led to formulate a hypothesis and then to test it for accuracy.  In some cases, our tests are inconclusive and we realize more information is needed; in others, the accuracy is such that it results in laws that govern and guide.  Oh my goodness, how can science not be a means of communication from God Most High?  I love it!  I don’t always understand it, but I recognize the voice of the One who is speaking.

There are a few lessons from past science classes that stand out in my mind.  One of them was when I was in a college biology class.  Now, at this time, I didn’t “hear” science the way I do now.  What I heard then was merely the professor and what I felt led to record was only the necessary information for an upcoming test, but for some reason…perhaps for this writing…a portion of the lesson stuck in my mind.  The lecture was on the transformation of energy during chemical changes.  (Now why would that stick in my brain?  Of all the things I’ve forgotten, why not this?  Because it’s God’s language and it has a way of sticking even when we don’t realize it.)  At some point, the professor made this statement, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”  He then went on to explain that, though it might be possible to reassemble dispersed pieces after they have been decimated, the energy that was used in their demolition could not be re-contained and would therefore be absent from the new formation.  The energy was not lost, but since it could not be reinserted, the sum of the pieces would always be less than the original whole.  There would always be a missing component.

Today, God brought this lesson back to mind.  As I continue to wait to see what He will do with the fragments of my life and how He will make all the pieces fit, I remembered, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”, and I finally heard the truth in this statement.  Within this declaration, we see their association to two of the four overarching narratives of Scripture:  Creation and the Fall.   (The two remaining categories, Redemption and Restoration, show us how God continues to speak into the chaos and gives us the gift of both grace and hope, two elements outside and far above the laws of science).  In the Garden of Eden, when God created our known world (an infinitesimal part of His world), everything was perfect…complete…whole.  We know this because God walked with Adam and Eve; there was no separation between God and man…no disorder…nothing was missing.  Everything was as God had created it to be because He was in the midst of it holding it all together.  Then came the fall, the great shattering, the alteration of the perfectly complete whole.  Now, with the insertion of sin, the whole was dispersed into parts and the One who held it all together stepped outside of the chaos.  (In this, again, science’s reflection of God’s personage is shown in the first law of energy which states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed; therefore it is always present.  God stepped out of the entropy that resulted when sin entered His creation; He didn’t disappear; He didn’t cease to exist; He is always present but never bound by or to our lawlessness.)

And here we are.  Pieces that were originally designed to part of something that was perfectly whole.  Now, in our disorderly state, we seek that which will make us complete, but without the missing piece, without the force that binds all things together, we move without purpose and without hope.  For particles randomly moving through space and randomly connecting and separating, the concept of hope is pointless because it is meaningless to inanimate ions; but to people, gifted with the capacity (and sometimes the ability) to reason, hope is a lifeline.  What if we could learn that our wholeness, though impossible in this continuum of time and space, was indeed (and even would be) possible in “another world”?  What if we could learn that our search for wholeness could stop because it was both futile and no longer necessary?  If this could happen, we would know the meaning and purpose of hope.  And what if the missing energy reentered the equation and wholeness was reestablished; it would defy the laws of science but for the One who writes, upholds, and executes all laws, the One to whom all laws succumb, there lies no difficulty nor inability.

Well, the “what ifs” can cease because the “what did” has already occurred.  Jesus entered the equation; He gave us hope because He showed that wholeness could be had in His Father, through His (Jesus’) death and resurrection.  Jesus pointed us to the missing source of our wholeness and let us know that, apart from God, we would never find completeness.  Now, we could stop the futile search; now we could rest in our “partialness” because Jesus, and later the Holy Spirit, would hold us together until the day of our release from this world and our entrance into the next; until we step out of the temporal and into the eternal.  Then, when in God’s presence, we will once again be complete; we will have returned to our true created, our divinely natural, state.  No more a fraction of who we once were, but now (for the first time) the entirety of who we were created to be.  Perfect in our completion; whole before, and because of, our Creator.  (Jesus’ entrance into our world and His acts of love through His death for our sins, His victory over death, and His gift of the Holy Spirit constitutes the third category of Scriptural history known as Redemption.  The fourth section, Restoration, will occur when God restores all things to their pre-Fall, their pre-chaos, state; when He “creates a new heaven and a new earth” [Is. 65:17] “for the first heaven and the first earth have passed away” [Rev. 21:1]. At this time, everything on earth is made whole because His presence is once again in the midst of all He created.)

If we laid hold of this truth, would we live our lives differently?  Would we…

  • no longer live by chance but with purpose?
  • no longer seek completeness in others but find fulfillment in God?
  • no longer live without a center of gravity, but allow God’s gravitational pull to “hold us together”?
  • no longer view this temporary world of disorder as our home but keep our eyes fixed on, and our hope placed in, our eternal home?

We can.  We should.  God hasn’t left us to go through life randomly bouncing around looking for our missing pieces.  He sent His Son to give us hope and to provide the path that leads us, connects us, with the Source in which we find wholeness.  Jesus came into our chaos to lessen our disorderly state by explaining the reason for our unrest; we are searching for that which is missing because, “He has made everything appropriate in its time.  He has also put eternity in [our] hearts, [though] man cannot discover the work God has done from beginning to end.”  (Ecclesiastes 3:11)  We seek because we are pieces in search of wholeness; a wholeness that can only be found in, and held together by, our Heavenly Father.

Science.  It holds no contradictions for the believer.  It never violates God’s laws because it is sustained by them; it never speaks in opposition to His truth because it is the language of its Creator.