I have had a number of points in my life when I prayed for a clear sign from God about which fork in the road I should take. I want to follow God’s will for my life. I want to be on the road he wants me to follow. I know from experience that being on the path God calls you to makes all the difference. At those times, you read the Word, spend time in prayer, and discuss it with Godly people who will pray with you.
Many times I’ve longed for a burning bush kind of experience. “Go to Egypt!” “Don’t go to Asia!” “Come to Macedonia!” Maybe a visit from an angel, or fire from heaven, or writing on the wall, or a vision. Those would make the matter clear. Then I could get up and walk knowing with confidence that I had the message right. Because that’s my fear: that I will get my pride or prejudices in the way and end up claiming that God has said what I wanted him to say. Wouldn’t it be easier to just get a clear message and know which path to take?
Maybe, but I wonder…
I’ve been working through the Gospels lately, especially John. If there was ever a time when I would think that people had clear signs that would lead them to believe in Jesus, it was during his life on Earth. I’d like to think that if I had been there, I’d have been following him, proclaiming him to be the Messiah and the Savior. Somehow, though, I wonder if I would have missed even Christ standing and teaching right in front of me.
One of the interesting things about the Gospel of John is watching the various responses to Jesus. John makes the point very strongly. Right out of the starting blocks, in John 1:11, he tells us “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.” Nicodemas says “We know you are Teacher sent from God,” but he can’t see the Kingdom right in front of him. The thousands of people who are miraculously fed from a handful of food follow him not for eternal life, but for more bread. In John 5 when Jesus heals the crippled man next to the pool, the newly healed man seems to go out of his way to turn Jesus in to the Jewish leaders. Even the disciples follow Jesus around for three years and have no idea what he’s talking about much of the time. He told them where he was going and what would happen, and they were still surprised when it actually happened.
Out of the three years of Jesus ministry, the most striking response to Jesus that cuts through the non-belief and confusion was the Samaritans of Sychar. They don’t receive any signs, other than the words of Jesus. No miracles are recorded there. “Many more believed because of His word; and they were saying to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.'” (John 4:41-42) Jesus is called the “Savior of the world” only twice in Scripture, here and in 1 John 4:14: “We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.” Somehow, the Jews were given sign upon sign of who Christ was, and they had all the words of the prophets to match against his miraculous ministry and to predict his coming and purpose, and yet they missed him. These Samaritans only had his words, and yet they believed.
I’m reminded of the story from John 16 of the rich man who died and found himself in the torment of Hades. He begged to be able to go back to warn his brothers about what was waiting for them on the other side of the grave. The answer comes in verse 31: “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.”
There are lots of examples of people in the Bible who had clear signs, and either missed them or didn’t believe. The clearest examples of faith are those who had the Word, and nothing more. I think it would be nice to have a miraculously clear sign, but it isn’t really necessary to know what God wants from us. He tells us what he wants, and he does give us his guidance and calling on our lives, exactly how loudly it needs to be. It is up to me to believe.