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Cold, wet, shivering, and groping, we stumbled down the path into the blackness below. The rain had started early that day and it seemed to penetrate to the bone. One foot shuffling in front of the other was all the determination I could muster. Gravity was the main force moving me forward. Our climb to the cross was a success, but now we were lost.

An 85-foot rusty iron cross overlooks the city of San Jose, Costa Rica. It sits on the crest of the Cerro San Miguel, the fourth highest mountain among the Cerros of Escazu. Known as the Cross of Alajuelita, you can see it from the South Central Valley of Costa Rica. Reaching the cross is a popular pilgrimage. Usually people can make the climb and back in a single day, unless they make the mistake we made.

David and I climbed that morning with no concerns about the storm clouds accumulating on the horizon because brief rains were a daily occurrence in Costa Rica. We expected to be back well before dark so we carried no backpacks or warm clothing. As we started up the mountain, we admired the wild parakeets fluttering above us and the abundance of tropical vegetation on either side of the trail.

The menacing clouds started to worry us a little, so we took a short cut straight up toward the cross, instead of staying on the winding path. It was steep but easy climbing until two things happened: the rain came down in torrents and we reached the tropical forest. Sliding, slipping, crawling, clawing our way, we reached the cross. But, we had lost all sense of direction, and that is why we made our mistake.

Careless mistakes are often made after a success. Content we had conquered the hill, tired, hungry, and feeling chilled, we decided it was time to head back to the city. Since we had diverted from the path and struck up toward the cross through the forest, our sense of direction was confused and we walked down the wrong path. It got dark and the rain kept coming down colder with each passing hour. It was soon evident that something had gone wrong. We should have arrived back to the city long ago.

But San Jose was on the opposite side of the mountain. We were descending the wrong path. It was so dark all we could do was feel our way down toward an unknown destination. We did not know what was in front of us, behind us, or beside us. All we knew was that we were tired, cold, and drenched. We came to a small village that was bedded down for the night.

By the providence of God, however, we came across a villager who was still out and about and who owned a pick-up truck. He drove us all the way around the mountain back to San Jose. I will always be grateful for that driver’s willingness to extend goodness to two lost travelers.

The experience of being lost can trigger many emotions. It can cause our heart to race, the tone of our voice to get sharp and loud, as our squinting eyes try to get our bearings. We were lost because it was dark, we couldn’t see the path, and we didn’t know where it was leading us. With the clouds, the darkness, and the rain, we did not know north from south, or east from west. We could not see the path and we didn’t know where it was going even if we could have seen it. We lacked clarity.

People Need a Clear Mandate

When the mandate is not clear, all of us feel powerless. We feel discouraged and may settle into a state of indifference or experience burnout. When we are not sure about what God expects of us, the level of our motivation drops. Repeated messages about the need for commitment do not help because we don’t know what that commitment looks like once we get back to work where we spend most of our time. This disconnect between idealism and reality has led to our current separation of faith from life.

This inability to connect our vocation to our faith causes spiritual anxiety. We know we are supposed to evangelize, but we think this involves inviting people to church. We even know our lives outside the church building from Monday to Saturday are supposed to give glory to God. But, somewhere along the way, we have lost sight of the path between our faith and our vocation.

The degree to which we can see the path affects our motivation which affects our spiritual growth and our ability to reach out to a hurting world. Seeing the target makes us want to reach for it. When the target is obscure, fuzzy, hidden behind conflicting messages, or too distant to make out, we lose interest.

We know we are supposed to read our Bibles, pray, have a personal relationship with Jesus, and serve God in the church. But we do not understand how all this relates to the fact that we have to find a new driver for tomorrow’s delivery, or that we have to fire an employee this week, or that we have that important meeting about a possible new supplier. If we fail to help our brothers and sisters in Christ see these connections, then they will stop trying to make the connection.

So, one of the core responsibilities of church leadership is to help the members of our churches make that connection.


Photo by goloren1, Licensed under CC0 1.0.

Portrait of Dr. Waddell

Dr. Greg Waddell is passionate about helping church leaders equip their people for ministry. He believes there is wild potential in every believer that begs to be released. He can help you develop and implement practical strategies for increasing the ministry capacity of your congregation.