The Narrow Path to The Wide Room
By Jason Arant
People have written a volume of material on leadership and vision from Scripture, history, and contemporary culture. From Moses leading the Exodus to Napoleon Bonaparte conquering most of Europe to present day Web sites like FastCompany.com, people revisit the topic of leading toward vision and look for insight and direction.
Richard Blackaby writes that spiritual leaders are people God desires to use for the purposes of “moving people onto God’s agenda.”1What naturally follows moving people onto God’s agenda is moving people toward the vision that accompanies His agenda. This is where leading toward vision becomes trickier and stickier.
In the church, those who lead and those who follow are tempted to forget that moving toward the wide-open vista of a God-directed vision often requires a journey through a narrow time and place as its pre-requisite.
While our natural inclination is to believe: If God has ordained this vision and direction, and we are faithfully and prayerfully following along, the data in the charts and graphs illustrating our progress should move up and to the right. ButScripture and daily life confront us with a very different picture of patterns that throw little support to such tidy equations.
The Pattern in Scripture
Moses’ call and vision was powerful, specific, and legitimate. The cry of God’s people had reached God’s ears and had set in motion a divine plan for delivering the Israelites and the establishing a nation.2 While Moses and Aaron carried out God’s plan however, their initial experience was one of restriction and consternation. Pharaoh reacted harshly to their message and the Israelites suffered as a result. Many Bible scholars believe the plagues sent by God occurred during the year prior to Israel’s release from Egypt. Given this situation, the experiences at the Red Sea, and the subsequent wilderness journey it would be hard to plot the experiences of God’s people during that season as “up and to the right” on even the most evangelistic of charts.
Moses’ experience is not the exception, but rather the rule in Scripture. Noah spent a lifetime in the hassles of his building project. Esther fasted and placed her life on the line before seeing the scepter extended and the threat to her people removed. Elijah camped by a brook in the desert during a drought. The list of biblical leaders who made their way through an uncomfortably narrow path on their way to enjoying the fulfillment of God’s vision includes the Lord Jesus and the New Testament leaders who followed Him. This model stretches on from their time to our time today.
No wonder Jesus said: “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it” (Matthew 7:13,14, NLT). While Jesus is speaking specifically of himself as the gateway to Kingdom life, His words also seem to communicate a pattern observable in all of life. Constriction must precede expansion and the journey to the wide-open places God ordains necessitates a journey through the narrows.
The Pattern in Life
Reflecting on this pattern in Scripture prepares us to reflect on this pattern as it applies to the rest of life. We can quickly discern that each of the opportunities that life presents require a journey first through narrow and uncomfortable circumstance. This begins before the moment of birth. Even as we travel from the narrowness of our mother’s wombs into this wideness of this world the pattern is already in play.
Eventually the narrowness of life where we play in the backyard gives way to a wider experience when we cross the street or go to school. School gives way to professional life, marriage, children, and retirement with each step opening to wider experiences than the one that preceded it.
Not only is it true of the journey into this life but also true as we make our way out of this life. The wideness of adult life eventually narrows to prepare us for the wideness of eternity. We are gradually stripped of our wealth, possessions, physical abilities and even our mental capacities.
Because of these observations, King Solomon wrote that living life is an exercise in futility. Life isn’t futile however. Real life is a journey from the one kind of glory to another.3 From a marred and broken reflection of the image of God to a new and perfected impartation of that life as we pass from the narrow door of physical death into the infinitely wide and eternal light and life of Jesus Christ.
How the Pattern Informs the Visionary Journey
Pastors who plan, prepare, and execute a God-inspired vision often experience frustration and disappointment at some level. Sooner or later the path toward the vision will bring people and circumstances that make us feel shrink-wrapped, inadequate, and misguided. We can count on the fact the path we are leading our people along will narrowly constrict somewhere before we reach that wide-open place God has promised. The data in our charts and metrics might read “down and to the left” rather than “up and to the right.” It is a grave mistake for leaders in such seasons to rashly interpret these experiences as indicators of somehow being out of alignment with God’s vision and plan. While leadership jumping the rails and missing God’s will is never entirely out of the question it can be an unhealthy and paralyzing default perspective in a leader.
Spiritual leaders have the option of discerning, interpreting, and even embracing these narrow seasons in the same way that Jesus embraced drinking the cup His Father offered in Gethsemane. In doing so He embraced the narrowness of rejection, sham trials, a brutal crucifixion, and the tomb for the wideness of Easter morning, the promise of the Spirit, and eventually the Kingdom He will fully establish on the earth.
David knew something about enduring the narrow places as while pursuing God’s vision. David wrote:
“I will be glad and rejoice in Your mercy, For You have considered my trouble; You have known my soul in adversities, And have not shut me up into the hand of the enemy; You have set my feet in a wide place.” (Psalm 31:7-8, NKJV)
If you are leading through a season of narrowness don’t despair. Hunker down and point your bow into the waves. Better yet, pray for the grace to embrace it and the grit to see the vision come to pass. Narrow times may do little for our pride but they do much for our formation. Be free to believe that this narrow corridor will one day open up and spill you out into the wideness of life that God is now preparing you and your people to experience.
1. Richard Blackaby, Spiritual Leadership (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishing, 2001), 20.
2. Exodus 2:24,25
3. Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright Â© 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.
4. 2 Corinthians 3:18
5. Scripture quotations marked NKJV are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright Â© 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.