Twelve months ago I found myself leaving a role I loved to take up what I believe God has called me to do. It was exciting, painful, daunting and daring. Thankfully I was told that my first few days in the new role were going to ease me in gently – a residential weekend away.
The Friday evening meal went fine, meeting wonderful people over food. The stock small talk was working out OK and meeting people is fun, but as an introvert, it’s also exhausting. After the initial excitement of Friday, Saturday was difficult and draining. It was a long slog, the small talk was drying up, I felt emotionally exhausted and as I saw people spending time in their friendship groups, I clearly felt like the outsider. In all reality, I felt alone and without a sense of purpose.
The grey cloud and drizzle of the day seemed to reflect how I was feeling. I knew I needed some space to hear from God, to do as Moses, Elijah and even Jesus had done – to ‘walk up a mountain’ and get some space alone with God. I couldn’t find a mountain, but where we were staying conveniently had an infamously big hill. The only time I could go was after bedtime, by which time the rain had gone and the cloud had lifted. As I walked up the steep gravel track, head down determined to get to the top without stopping, legs beginning to burn, I lifted my head and in front of me was a glorious red sunset. In that moment, I felt the Lord impress these words on my heart: “Why are you looking down and focusing on the uphill, when you could lift your head and look to all I have on the horizon for you?”
I always knew the weekend would be hard – I always knew starting something new would be difficult, but I’d allowed my human nature to focus on the uphill struggle, and was in danger of missing the bigger picture.
There’s something about our human nature that becomes very short-focused. In times of challenge we focus on the minutia and struggle to see the horizon. When I was a youth worker helping young people onto apprenticeships, drop out was huge. Why? The answer was consistently the same: because they only earned £2.54 an hour, whereas they could earn around £3.60 per hour in a shop, factory or fast food restaurant. They struggled to see the horizon, they focused on the money in their pocket there and then, and failed to see that within three years they could easily be qualified on an £18,000 to £20,000 salary, whereas the fast food restaurant may still be minimum wage.
In 1 Kings 17, a major drought has been across the land; Elijah had seen the provision of God, having had a personal waiter-service from the ravens for food along with chilled mineral water fresh from the local brook. God provided through the oil and flour of a widow and her son, Elijah saw a great victory over the prophets of Baal, then God told Elijah to tell King Ahab to go and have a big meal because the rain is about to come – in essence, to go against all that everyone seems to know and say, to stick his neck out and say the rain is coming. I can’t imagine that was easy. Sometimes the task ahead seems so huge that we miss the big picture. But Elijah, full of faith, goes up the hill, and sending his servant tells him to look for rainclouds. Eventually, the smallest cloud appears. The only way to see it – looking up not down. Maybe God calls us to be horizon-viewers, to see something of what He is doing longer term, to challenge the human short-sightedness where we focus on the now, yet miss the not yet.
Twelve months on, that difficult day seems insignificant, I don’t even know what I was worried about, but sometimes to see the horizon, we need to first walk up the difficult hill, keeping our eyes on the horizon not the path.