Just One Step
If you are a parent, you may remember that first step taken by your child. When trying to teach them to walk, you didn’t start by telling them to walk across the room. You got close to them and said, come to mommy. You were encouraging them to take just one step.
God is like that with us. He doesn’t give us a long list of things we need to fix in ourselves – and for me it would be a really long list. he tells us to start with just one step. He doesn’t usually give us a huge project to accomplish. He gives us just one step.
I used to teach Presentation skills in the corporate world. We would videotape the students as they presented, then show the video and suggest things they could do to improve. Some of the students struggled. They were not very good at presenting. And I could have given them a ton of suggestions. But if I told them everything they needed to change and a plan to work on over the next year, they might just give up because it would be too hard and they would be too discouraged. So I would give only 2-3 ideas they could use immediately, and that worked very well.
This “just one step” idea is very relevant to the spiritual life in two different ways. The first is seeing just one thing to grow in holiness. We are called to repentance. And many of us have lots of ways we can change. But God says, just take it one at a time. Just one step. Alcoholics Anonymous has the “one day at a time” motto. Just for today I will not take a drink. I’m not going to worry about tomorrow or next month or next year. I’m just focusing on today.
It’s the same spiritually. What one thing can I do today to serve God, to encounter Jesus in a new way, to love God better, to love my neighbor better? Each day I take one step. Each day I do one thing.
The second way to take just one step in the spiritual life is when following God’s will. As an entrepreneur, I would make plans for my business, and the plans would be complete, from step one to whatever the final step was. I mapped it all out, doing everything I could to make each plan a success. It’s not that way with our spiritual life. When it comes to our faith, we cannot take a business-like approach. We don’t do a cost-benefit analysis to see if our effort will pay off. Spiritual goals are different. We can’t imagine the benefits of our spiritual practices. We can’t measure them in some kind of chart. We just take a leap of faith – just one step – and God takes care of the rest. We have to trust Him through the process, even when it doesn’t seem to make sense.
Think about Abraham. God told him to leave his home and head out to where God wanted him to be. Where was that? God didn’t tell him. He said he’d let him know when he got there. And Abraham obeyed. That took faith. He knew God’s will was for him to leave his homeland. That’s all.
How about Moses and the Israelites when they left Egypt. God told them to follow him and he would bring them to a land of milk and honey. Where is that, exactly, I might have asked. Can you give me a map? God would say, You don’t need a map. I’m leading the way. Just follow me. That takes faith.
Mary and Joseph had faith. When the angel Gabriel came to Mary and said, The Holy Spirit will overshadow you and you will conceive and bear a son, Mary doesn’t ask for further instructions, like, What do I tell people when they want to stone me because I am pregnant? I’m a little worried about that. She had faith and said, "behold I am the handmaid of the Lord." She didn’t know the whole plan. She just knew the next step.
Joseph was told in a dream to go to Egypt with Mary and Jesus because Herod wanted to kill the child. He didn’t ask for how long or why he had to go in the middle of the night. He took one step, obeying God. That’s faith.
I am sure you can think of many more examples in the Bible when God gave just one step of direction. He still does that today. He often gives us one thing to do, one step to take, one task to complete. We may not know where it will lead, but in obedience and faith we do what He says.
Here is an example of how this has worked in my life. I wrote a book called Nearer My God to Thee: Practical Ideas for Spiritual Progress. I have been asked several times why I wrote the book, and I can honestly say that I have no idea, except that I felt compelled to write it. When I started writing, I had no publishing goals. I had no idea if anyone would even be interested in it. But that didn’t matter because I knew I was supposed to write. And so I did. Several times a week I wrote. And eventually the book was done and is now available on Amazon. It’s there, not because I had a plan to publish a book, but because I was called to write. I took one step.
Think about what it might mean if we took a “just one step” approach to our spiritual life. For sure, we would be more likely to live in the present. Our worries about what is to come will lessen. Jesus told us not to worry about that anyway, because God the Father cares for our every need. And our regrets of the past will not be a burden because God wants us to focus on moving forward, not looking back. That’s what Lot’s wife did. It did not turn out so good for her.
Sometimes, if God were to give us all the details, we might not take that first step. If you have had a difficult marriage, but endured and it improved beyond your dreams, you are blessed. But had you known what you were to go through, you might not have gotten married. There are relationships I have had that were difficult, and had I known the challenges, I may have said NO WAY. It’s too hard. But God used those challenges to grow my faith. Sometimes we cannot know the whole plan because we are too weak and cowardly to agree to it.
Think about the calling of the apostles. Jesus didn’t begin by telling them that they would be tortured and nearly all of them killed. He said, Follow Me. Eventually they heard that message, like Peter when he was told how he would die. He still didn’t know when it would happen, but knew he was to be killed. By the time Jesus said that to Peter, his faith was strong enough to hear it. Even still, he didn’t give Peter all the details about his personal path to the cross.
If you had told me a year ago that I would be doing a weekly podcast, I would have said you were mistaken. When I began the Sisters in Faith group 12 years ago, I actually began with the idea of doing it once. That’s all. But God had a different plan and now we meet monthly. God never told me to do the big thing. He knows how I would doubt myself. So He told me to take just one step. That I could handle. That I wasn’t afraid to do. That I could manage. And as time passes, I am constantly reminded that it is not my work but His, and I can do whatever he gives me to do for that very reason.
Now let’s take this idea further. We all have spiritual goals. What if we looked at those goals with the “Just one step” approach.
What is just one step I can take to have more fruitful prayer? Maybe it is to begin 5 minutes of silent contemplation each morning.
What is just one step I can take to grow in holiness? It could be to listen attentively with love to someone who likes to talk a lot.
What is just one step I can take to know God as He truly is? This one step could be to study the Bible for 10 minutes each day.
What is just one step I can take to resist temptation and overcome my struggles with sin? Think of the AA motto to take it one day at a time. Just today I won’t drink.
What is just one step I can take to be more authentic with others, to have more integrity? I could tell one person today that I am praying for them.
What is just one step I can take to be more at peace each day? I might pray for the other drivers who annoy me in traffic.
What is just one step I can take to witness my faith to others? I can have lunch with a friend and share my faith story.
What is just one step I can take to show God’s love to those in my family or those closest to me? I can pick up their mess without complaining.
What is just one step I can take to show God’s love to the strangers I meet today? I can notice them and smile.
To sum it up, we want to do God’s will. We want to go where He tells us to go. But he’s not giving us the whole plan, so we have to trust. He will give us the next step. Don’t worry about the rest of the plan – all the other steps. Just say yes to the step He gives you today.
Questions to ponder in prayer:
What small steps have you taken in life by God’s prompting? How did that feel at the time and how did it turn out in the long run?
Is there a small step that God is asking of you today? A leap of faith that He wants you to take?