Journey of Joy: Week Three — Charting the Course

During my second excursion to the Holy Land, most of our group sat bunched together toward the front of the bus, but I chose to sit in the back with a few of my fellow travelers, the ones who wanted to compare notes, count steps, and study maps between stops. We had so much fun!

Because we were part of an organized tour group, our itinerary had been set ahead of time. Our course was charted before we’d even stepped foot in the country. But, our curious clan in the back of the bus gained much insight and understanding by plotting out our sight-seeing list onto our paper maps. It helped us see our location, and it informed our context to the bigger picture. 

Today, we want to chart our course for this Journey of Joy we’re traveling. Even though our adventures are spiritual in nature, we can still map out where we’re going. But. We’ll discover that our trip will take lots of trust — because there’s no typed-up, predetermined itinerary for this trip.

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Much like I trusted my tour guide in Israel to lead us well and keep us safe, we will need to put our full faith in the Tour Guide — God Himself. He offers us a road map to help us plot our next steps, so dust off that Bible and grab your colored pencils. You’ll want them within reach. 

Knowing God

If we’re going to trust God, we’re going to need to know Him. Really well. 

In his book Good and Beautiful God, James Bryan Smith, says “to trust someone is to believe that he or she has your best interest in mind, that the person will protect you from harm and is reliable” (57). If we feel God can’t be trusted, we may not know Him well. In fact, we may have what Smith calls a “false narrative” about God — something we believe about God’s character that isn’t actually true. 

False narratives can arise out of what we were taught or from our personal experiences. Both can wrongly inform us about who God is. The way to finding out God’s true character is to look to Jesus — through His life, words, and actions — because that’s where the true character of God is revealed.

Jesus trusted God at every turn, never deviating from the plan, consistently looking to God for wisdom and direction. Even His prayers revealed this trust. From the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) to His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:36), we see trust as the foundation of all Jesus believed about His Father — even when He faced betrayal, torture, and death. In other words, when we look to Jesus, we get a clearer picture of God’s trustworthiness, and that can lead to establishing our own trust in God. 

If we’re going to build a faith anchored in the truth that God can be trusted even when our life circumstances stink, “we need to develop the clear sense that God is out for our good” (67). And the way to do this? Become aware of God’s blessings. 

Smith emphasizes, “the more we are able to see just how many blessings we have been given…the more we will be able to see that God is out for our good. And when that happens, our trust level increases” (69).

Let’s do some trust building!

Counting Our Blessings

In your journal, write “Blessings” as the heading of your next blank page. Then leave a few pages so you have room to list more later. For some, this exercise will come naturally because, somewhere along the way, trust in God has been built. For others, listing blessings might feel silly or senseless — maybe because you’re so overwhelmed with life or perhaps because your relationship with God lacks trust. However you feel about this journaling activity, try to adopt the Nike slogan, and just do it! Trust me. (wink, wink)

James Bryan Smith suggests starting small and coming up with ten things God has blessed you with. Your list could include particular people, music, or books; elements of nature, types of food, or certain smells; spiritual blessings or even miracles. Honestly, there’s no limit to what you could deem as a blessing. Throughout the week add to your list, paying attention for blessings as you go through your days.

Then at the end of the week, answer these questions:

  1. How would you describe this exercise? Difficult? Easy? Awakening? (etc…) Why?
  2. What did you learn about God or yourself through listing blessings?
  3. What made it on your list that surprised you? Why do you think that is?

(taken from Good and Beautiful God, 73)

The Way of Trust

We need to trust God so we can keep moving forward on this Journey of Joy, but even more importantly we need to trust God every single day because life is hard. As cliche as that sounds, I’m discovering the truth of it. But instead of staying knocked down by the blows of life, I want more than anything for us to trust God’s goodness and plans and purposes — even when we don’t understand or see a way — so that we can rise up and keep moving.

I love how Brennan Manning talks about this kind of trust in his book, Ruthless Trust:

“The way of trust is a movement into obscurity, into the undefined, into ambiguity, not into some predetermined, clearly delineated plan for the future. The next step discloses itself only out of a discernment of God…in the present moment. The reality of naked trust is the life of a pilgrim who leaves what is nailed down, obvious, and secure, and walks into the unknown without any rational explanation to justify the decision or guarantee the future. Why? Because God has signaled the movement and offered it his presence and his promise.” 

pages 12-13

Friends, God has signaled a movement, and we are the pilgrims leaving behind everything we’ve thought secure in order to grasp the fuller, more abundant life Jesus has promised, including joy (John 10:10).

Yet, just as Manning so eloquently said, there’s not a clearly delineated path forward when we live our lives by faith and with trust. So then, fellow pilgrims, how do we chart our course?

Our friend, Emily P Freeman, has a suggestion! In the chapter, “Arrows,” from her book The Next Right Thing, she gives us imagery to cling to as we look for a way to map this journey we’re on:

“God often gives a faint vision of things before they ever come to be. It’s not a full form, more of a shadow, not focused or clear. It doesn’t come with steps or money or sure things, but it does come with hope. And hope is what keeps you going in the fog. Instead of those black-and-white answers we tend to love so much, what if we began to look for arrows instead?”

page 53, Kindle version

Arrows point toward a direction. They don’t tell us how many steps to take, just which way to go. For now. 

Photo by Jens Johnsson on Unsplash

This pilgrimage we’re on — it’s full of arrows. We’ll need to stay steady in our practices of prayer, Scripture study, and counting blessings so that we’ll see the arrows and have faith enough to follow them.

Is your tummy doing a few somersaults? Mine too! This numinous feeling means we’re on to something here. I imagine that most of us prefer knowing where we’re headed — steps defined, future goals determined. But a life of faith in God rarely works that way. Instead, He promises to be with us as we set out in the direction our arrows point.

We are going to be like Abraham when God asked him to pack up and leave family and home to just go (Genesis 12:1-3). God gave him a direction, an arrow, but no destination or time frame or itinerary. And, faithfully, Abraham went. And, so shall we!

Arrow Hunting

In case your mind wonders about these enigmatic arrows, let’s pull out our Guide Books to see what God has to say about finding our way.

“Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.”

Psalm 119:105, NLT

First and foremost, God promises that His Word will be a light for our path — it will guide our feet. In my experience, the light His Word sheds is more like a dim flashlight that gives just enough light to reveal the next step. Just enough. Not more. Like an arrow.

 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
   do not depend on your own understanding.
 Seek his will in all you do,
    and he will show you which path to take.”

Proverbs 3:5-6, NLT

Proverbs echoes the idea of trusting God and takes it a step further — don’t depend on your own understanding of things. Probably because our understanding is so stinking limited! Instead, we’re to look to God, just as Jesus did, then He’ll point us to the path. Like an arrow.

“There are two paths before you; you may take only one path. One doorway is narrow. And one door is wide. Go through the narrow door. For the wide door leads to a wide path, and the wide path is broad; the wide, broad path is easy, and the wide, broad, easy path has many, many people on it; but the wide, broad, easy, crowded path leads to death. Now then that narrow door leads to a narrow road that in turn leads to life. It is hard to find that road. Not many people manage it.”

Matthew 7:13-14, VOICE

In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke of narrow doors and paths as being the way of the faithful, the way to life. It’s narrow. Few find it, much less take it. Nothing specific to go on as far as how to find it. Just direction. Like an arrow.

So far, all our arrows point to trusting God, listening to His Word, and following His paths. 

Charting this course will look less like a pirate’s map with an X-marks-the-spot but more like using Captain Jack Sparrow’s compass, which never points north but to the heart’s desire.

We desire joy. Even more, we desire Jesus. So, friends, we’re going to keep moving forward by trusting our good, good Father — despite how we feel or how our circumstances look — and follow the arrows He gives us. And, as we go, we’ll count our blessings so that our trust stays firm and our faith grows stronger.

Understanding and Context

Just as my paper map of Israel, with its plotted points and highlighted routes, gave me greater understanding of my experiences and better context of all the locations we visited, our journals will serve a similar purpose.

  • Our lists of blessings will remind us of our God, who is good and faithful and trustworthy.
  • Our notes will capture our experiences throughout the journey so we can remember all our encounters and epiphanies.
  • Our jottings will become plottings, revealing direction as we read and reread them. They’ll expose deeper meanings than we first glimpsed, pointing us — like an arrow — to our next step of the journey.

So, along with your Guide Book, keep your journal handy. The two hold the key toward charting a course to what we desire most.

If you’re feeling like we’ve done nothing to chart our course today, I know how you feel. Our map is a bit blank — well, except for that You Are Here dot. Remember, our course is not predetermined. But. We do have a Tour Guide who will point the way. And, we’ll faithfully follow the arrows as they appear.

Here’s a parting word for you today to send you into your week with hope and truth, taken directly from our Guide Book:

But let all those rejoice who put their trust in You. Let them ever shout for joy, because You defend them. Let those also who love Your name be joyful in You.

Psalm 5:11, NKJV 

This verse hints at a deep truth — there’s joy to be had on this journey! As we put our trust in God, our joy will rise above the muck and mire of life. As we see the ways God blesses and defends us, our trust and joy will grow. And, somewhere along the way, our love of God will stretch and expand, and our hearts will rejoice!

Count your blessings and look for the arrows, my friends! Next week, we’re booking our lodgings and modes of transportation!

So amazed by all God’s blessings, Shelley

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is precondo-ca-tziilpu0cvi-unsplash.jpg
Photo by Precondo CA on Unsplash
  • If you saw my post, “Introducing: The Joyful Life,” you have heard my news — I’ve become an affiliate with The Joyful Life, which means I can point you to their blogs, books and other items in their shop anytime I think they’ll enhance your Journey of Joy! Their whole ministry vision is JOY, so how perfect is this affiliation? I encourage you to check The Joyful Life* out.
  • Take time to process this week’s journaling prompts within the post.
  • Share your experiences and revelations by commenting below.
  • Did you remember our “egg hunt?” Did you find this week’s travel word?
    • Last week’s travel word was depaysement, a French word for the disorientation felt in a foreign country or culture, like a fish out of water.
  • I mentioned several books in today’s post. They’re all WONDERFUL. You can learn more or purchase them here:
  • Our Journey of Joy playlist on Spotify has multiple songs on it that thematically follow our theme. I’d love to hear what songs/lyrics resonate with you!

*This is an affiliate link, so I’ll receive compensation for any purchases made.

Published by Shelley Johnson

Follower of Christ, wife, mother of three, daughter, sister, friend. Seeker of ways to share the love I've found in Jesus with others.

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