Why Your Path Forward Leads Backward

Seeing God's unusual leading in your life as normal.

Sometimes our path to next level includes what seem like setbacks. But they aren’t. God simply uses these tensions to propel us forward. Like an arrow pulled back against the bow.

(Photo courtesy of Unsplash.com)

(Photo courtesy of Unsplash.com)

Occasionally God sidelines us to remind us our participation is a privilege and we can glorify Him just as much by our waiting on Him as by our serving Him in some other way that feels more fulfilling to us.

God takes delight in using us, but He doesn’t need us. He got along just fine in eternity past as Father, Son, and Spirit. His plan worked well long before we stepped on the scene, and it won’t skip a beat after we’re gone.

Our limitations only frustrate us when we forget that in weakness we glorify God.

Here’s what I mean.

Our Weakness Magnifies God’s Strength

It seems a contradiction in terms, but it isn’t. We glorify God’s strength in our weakness. The path forward in our lives includes weakness.

For example, a husband or wife will surrender massive amounts of time to marriage and parenting, understanding that God is in no way limited by this limitation. Other desires are limited, for sure, but that may be precisely why God wanted us to get married and have kids. How else would we face our selfishness unless we had to?

Consider the untimely deaths of these famous Christians:

  • Blaise Pascal
  • David Brainerd
  • Jonathan Edwards
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  • Keith Green

They all died in their prime, and yet, their short lives offered the kingdom of God much more than many whole lives lived unsurrendered.

Just as God can take the life of someone with so much potential— and use their brief life span for His glory— so He can use the limited time offered by a husband or wife who understands marriage and family as a primary way to glorify God (see 1 Cor. 7: 32–35).

Our Limitations in No Way Limit God

God experiences no limitation by our limitations.

  • He needs no sleep.
  • He has to earn no living.
  • He has no shortage of time or space.

We, on the other hand, have all of these confines—including our battle with our sinful nature. Even on our best days, we offer God only scraps to work with—only fish and loaves that He somehow multiplies to make adequate.

Why the Path Forward Leads Backward

(Photo courtesy of Unsplash.com)

Waiting on God reminds us of those facts. Waiting keeps us humble. Waiting shows us over the passing of time that it’s all about God and none of it is about us—except to the degree that we glorify Him.

In our waiting, God weans us from the pride of having to control everything or understand matters “too difficult for” us (Ps. 131: 1). God chooses how we glorify Him. He alone selects which of his servants will produce what levels of output— and yet, He also rewards faithfulness on any level with equal commendation (see Matt. 25:14–23).

Why the Path Forward Leads Backward

Those seasons where it seems we’re moving in reverse may actually be God working in our lives toward several purposes:

  • To strengthen our character in spite of our weakness
  • To develop our peace of mind by trusting Him in chaos
  • To teach us that we can glorify Him just as much by waiting on Him as we can by serving Him

When we choose to find our fulfillment in God’s glory, then we can wait on Him to open the doors to the path forward in His time. That’s really His business entirely.

Our business is to live faithfully wherever He puts us now.

Question: How has God moved you forward by first moving you backward? To leave a comment, just click here.

Waiting on GodLike This Post? Get the Whole Book!

This post is adapted from Wayne’s book, Waiting on God: What to Do When God Does Nothing.

• What do you do when the life God has promised you looks nothing like the life he has given you?

If you find yourself waiting on God—or if you don’t know what God wants you to do next—this book offers a wise and practical guide to finding hope and peace in life’s difficult pauses.

You will discover what to do when it seems God does nothing.


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I'd love to hear your thoughts. Just keep it kind and relevant. Thanks!

  • Wayne, isn’t it interesting that what we believe may be steps backward or in the wrong direction may actually be God putting us with people or in circumstances where His greatest work can be done. Often, I’m too consumed with my longings or trying to measure ministry by human standards that I miss the grand unfolding of HIS plan. I’m learning if I choose to focus on Him, on His truth, on His perfect character and sovereign ways, a contentment and peace in my spirit replaces human frustration and selfish ambitions. Thanks for this needed reminder!

    • Holy smokes, Colleen. Copy and paste your insightful comment and make it the fodder for a blog post! 🙂 You are SO right. His inscrutable path demands our trust. Can you imagine if God had to run everything by us for our approval before proceeding? Talk about a logjam!

      • Wayne,
        You make me smile! Thankfully, we are too important to our Father for Him to let us have a say in the most important work of life…the constant transformation of our hearts! And it is a life time of work, isn’t it. Keep writing great stuff and I’ll keep tossing in my few cents worth. Have a great day! Colleen

  • LKO

    This is a good way to reframe my thoughts after an unwanted divorce. In my mind, being rejected and set aside does not feel productive or God-honoring – yet I can say that as I have pressed into Him during this most difficult season of my life, God is at work. He is strengthening my character and is teaching me to trust Him despite all of my many unanswered questions. While nothing about this experience feels God-honoring, the thought that my weakness can bring Him glory is hard, but is also oddly comforting.

    • An excellent perspective. I love your words: “He is strengthening my character and is teaching me to trust Him despite all of my many unanswered questions.” Those unanswered issues will one day all fall away in the light of His glorious presence. O for that day!

      • Wayne,
        “O for that day!”…Yes, I long for it. And yet, I’ve been learning lately that if the Lord chose to answer some of my questions, I would not have the human capacity to comprehend them. He is so far outside of our human capacity for understanding, simply taking Him at His word, trusting in all circumstances, is the pathway to peace. Throughout history, especially in Job, it’s clear we don’t have the ability to comprehend God’s ways…some dislike that fact, I take great comfort in knowing He’s more than able and His love is unconditional. Such truths are so comforting! Great connecting with you! Colleen

        • Thank you, Colleen. And thank you for the wise contribution you make, on occasion, to this blog. We are the better for it.

      • LKO

        I, too, long for that day – it’s been a hard journey, but I’ve come to accept the fact that if He still has me here, He must have a purpose. That purpose remains to be seen, but in the meanwhile I am doing my best to press into Him and trust when it is difficult. Thanks for your blogs and for your book Waiting on God – I highly recommend it (and probably need to go back and re-read it again)!

        • Thank you for your kind words. And yes, that day is our hope! In fact, the apostle Peter said we are to fix our hope completely on that day. Thanks.

    • LKO,
      I too went through a divorce that seemed anything but God honoring. Some of the hardest days and nights are when we feel in the dark and cannot see any light at the end of any tunnel. However, I’m here to tell you eight years later, I have remarried, my kids are doing so well, and my step son is marrying this spring-a young lady who was my son’s tutor. Had we not been shattered, betrayed, and fallen into the arms of Jesus, the abundance we are enjoying now would have never been known. He is working all things together for a greater good…one that you and I may or may not ever see humanly…but a good that will affect you and generations to come. While we hate the pathway at times, it does lead to God’s best if we choose to follow Him and work through the muck and mire of our own transformative process. I wish you the very best and pray you can continue to trust in the mist of this awful time. Colleen

      • LKO

        Thanks for your comment, Colleen – funny/ironic that you should reply to my comment. I was home sick from work today and as I lay in bed trying to pump gallons of orange juice into my system, I got caught up on my blog reading and happened to catch your interview with Phillip Yancy (@chuckswindoll: If you’ve ever wrestled with “Why me?” during suffering, this interview with Philip Yancey is for you. https://t.co/zjn0rG6IL7). I’ve read most of his books and really appreciated the interview and the conversation between you two.

        I think I am past the worst of the trauma and am now in a phase of just trying to take it a day at a time. I know that God will work all things together for my good and His glory, but as you said, that may or may not happen this side of heaven, and as much as I want things to be differently, I can’t place my hope in what He may or may not do with the rest of my life. I have to believe that knowing Him is enough, even if my story doesn’t end up with a “happy” earthly conclusion. I am thanking Him for the many blessings that has given me even through the most difficult and painful season of my life, and that perspective has helped in my healing. God has met my needs up to this point in many unexpected ways, and I know that He will be faithful to continue to meet my needs as I press into Him.

        Thanks so much for the encouragement – it is comforting to hear from others who have walked this journey, are on the other side of the pain, and are not just surviving but thriving. I hope to encourage others that way in the future!

        • LKO,
          AMAZING….I’m so glad you were able to see the interview…Philip is one of the most humble, wise men I’ve ever talked with….and so very kind-hearted. He too has a difficult story; one common thread I’m finding in great people is all have endured extraordinary hardships which forced them to grow deep, thick, steadfast roots in the truths of scripture and God’s promises. There is freedom when we stop looking for God to do something for us…He already has in fact…which is why we know He will be faithful. How and when we cannot know but that is part of the Christian life adventure. Whatever He chooses to do in your life will be for a greater good than you could have brought on with your own abilities. Yes, there are always losses that come with His work…usually the losses are to open our hands so we can cling to Him and what He chooses to fill our lives with. It sounds like you are in a good place…still some grief, letting go of some wishes and wants that won’t come about now, but anticipating God to bring great things to you. All I can say is He WILL…you will have a joy and freedom like never before…and other’s will be touched by your life. I am confident that what He has allowed will not be wasted-I would love to stay in touch and hear how things unfold. It’s exciting to know He is with you and for you, preparing you and other’s for something only He could bring together. I hope that is encouraging to you today. Blessings and I hope you are feeling better! Colleen

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