by Brandon Cox: FOMO (the “fear of missing out”) is a real thing, and it’s more intense than ever. We’re afraid we’ll miss out on all the cool stuff. We’ll miss out on doing something significant with our lives. But God has a purpose for every one of us – a unique pathway to walk. And he also sets the pace for us to walk that pathway.
This post is adapted from a recent sermon at Grace Hills Church. You can watch the video below, or read the article version. You can also get free access to my preaching notes, sermon series graphics, and transcripts from this and other sermons.
The FOMO is real! We’re surrounded by influencers and constantly exposed to a stream, via social media, of words, images, and videos showing us all of the amazing experiences other people are having. We have a lot of social and cultural heroes, and that’s a good thing, but it definitely feeds our fear of missing out.
I feel this as a parent. I’m afraid my kids are going to miss out. I grew up in the ’80s, before they invented parental supervision. We just ran around on our bikes all over the neighborhood, and our parents assumed we’d come home at night. But today, there are so many things to sign up for – structured, scheduled things with practices and weekends and traveling leagues in 17 different sports, plus music and academics.
We don’t want to miss out. We don’t want our kids to miss out. And it’s okay to experience things. The problem is that we’re so afraid that we’ll miss out that we run our minds ragged trying to do it all.
I believe the 23rd Psalm actually addresses our FOMO pretty powerfully.
1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
3 He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever.
– Psalm 23 NKJV
I love how personal Psalm 23 is. Our culture is very individualistic, but the ancient culture in which this psalm was written was far more communal and tribal. Yet the psalm is written in a very personal and individual tone.
When you follow God, when you come to know Jesus as the Great Shepherd, and you come into a relationship with him, he has a very personal, one-on-one, heart-to-heart relationship with you as his child. You’re adopted into his family. He parents you and personally looks after your life in a very individual way.
This is important to remember when you feel that you’re going to miss out on living a life of significance and purpose. Your purpose is personalized.
I want to give you two big words of encouragement.
#1. When you follow the voice of the shepherd, he leads you in his pathway for your life.
God has a particular pathway for you to follow, and his pathway is always significant. I know that because he leads us in “paths of righteousness for his name’s sake,” and his name is great. God exists to amplify his name. He brings glory to himself through our stories, right? He uses our lives. He uses our brokenness and our healing, our experiences of pain and recovery, our experiences of sin and repentance and forgiveness and washing and cleansing. He uses all of that to bring himself glory.
Sometimes we think of God’s purpose or pathway as this unique individual career path, or a certain school, or a certain spouse. We boil “God’s will” down to particular choices and potential decisions. We have this romantic, cultural idea that we have a soulmate out there and I have to somehow bump into them at the right moment and find them because there’s no one else on the planet who could tolerate me.
But it isn’t so much about the things that you do or the things that you achieve or the success that you find. It’s much more about him leading you in paths of righteousness. Meaning, his pathway is more about who you are becoming than it is about what you’re doing. When you follow the voice of the Shepherd, his pathway for you is that you become more like Jesus, that you grow in holiness and righteousness, and that you get to know him and go deeper in your walk with him.
A Great Book on This Subject: A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, by Phillip Keller
If you’re following the voice of the Shepherd; and you’re walking in the paths of righteousness that he has laid down for you; and you’re becoming what he wants you to become; and you’re getting closer to him; and you’re recognizing the voice of the shepherd more and more, you don’t have to make all the right decisions in life. You don’t have to know ahead of time and be able to predict the exact course.
If you’re following the voice of the Shepherd, there will be moments when things will happen to you that you didn’t choose, and yet God is going to use those moments in his purpose, and his purpose is to make you more like Jesus Christ.
If you’re committed to following his voice, it’s as if you’re blindfolded put your hand on his shoulder so that the One who created the world leads you through all the darkness and confusion, through the valleys and the hard times.
What does that have to do with FOMO? With the fear of missing out?
First, if you follow him, you’re not going to miss his purpose for you. God is bigger than all of your biggest mistakes and wrong turns. He is powerful. He’s in charge. And he knows where he’s taking you. And he moves you along the pathway to get there.
Second, his pathway for you is personal. God isn’t going to look at me someday and ask, “Okay, Brandon. How did you do running Billy Graham’s race? How did you do running Rick Warren’s race? or Greg Laurie’s race? How did you do running the race of some other pastor?”
Instead, he’s going to evaluate the pathway he plotted out for me to walk and the resources and relationships he provide for me, and he’ll evaluate whether I was a faithful steward of those things or not. And it’s very personal.
You don’t have to run the race of any celebrity on Instagram. You don’t have to run the race of the super mom whose kids are involved in 19 different things, and they’ve got all the ribbons and awards.
You have your race to run, and your race is sometimes on a crooked pathway. And the pathway has some rocks and valleys. You’re going to get sore from running your race at times. You’re going to get tripped up at times. That’s going to happen because you are human.
You’re made in the image of God. You’re redeemed in your relationship with Christ. He’s given you his Holy Spirit. You have all the power and the instructions that you need. You have his company. But, the pathway is still not easy. It looks different for every one of us.
There’s still a second big truth that we need to understand, because in pursuing his purpose we still try to get in a hurry, right? The fear of missing out drives us to scramble, to hustle, to grind, to keep going at as fast a pace as we can go
#2. God not only leads you in the right pathway, he leads you at the right pace.
We feel a sense of panic if we don’t see and fulfill his purposes for our lives as fast as possible. Notice that the Shepherd doesn’t just lead me, he leads me beside still waters.
Ever feel like life is level five rapids through the Colorado River in the bottom of the Grand Canyon? That’s how it is sometimes.
Yet we follow a shepherd who finds ways to give us breaks along the way.
You can divert daily by finding a few minutes every day that you can get alone with God. You can withdrawal weekly by taking a day off out of your seven days each week. You can abandon annually by getting away and spending some time every year resting.
God builds rhythm into our pathway. The idea of sabbath is woven throughout the Old Testament and through the life of the Jewish people. In the New Testament, Jesus becomes our sabbath so that we don’t have to observe a particular day or a certain ritual, but you do need to honor the principle that there is a rhythm to life, and that there are seasons to be busy and seasons in which to rest.
I saw, on Instagram one day, a mom had posted a picture. She said she had this very special place to get away and to find alone time. Some people call it a bathroom. She goes in there and locks the door to get away. And the picture she had posted was of the door in front of her, and several little toddler fingers sticking under the door as if to say, “I’ve found your one quiet place of rest, and I’m trying everything I can to invade that space too!”
The fact is, God sometimes wants to lead us by still waters.
What we want in life is to go and go and go, and then to recharge quickly! We need an energy drink, or three, or six to get through the day. And then nighttime comes and we still have more to do.
Sometimes God just wants you to stop and find some time to be quiet. This is not a guilt trip about finding more time to be quiet. It’s just a matter of making different choices about the time we have and taking five minutes to rest in God and to recharge.
Psalm 23 isn’t so much about what to do. It’s about whom to follow. The psalmist wants us to understand the identity of the shepherd and to know what he is like. When you respond to him, he will lead you beside still waters. When you lean into him and depend on him, he will restore your soul. He does that through his word, through his spirit, and through his people.
Are you on God’s pathway? Are you going at his pace?
That is the kind of life that will lead you to meaning and purpose. That brings him glory and it brings you joy. That’s the pathway.
Photo Credit: Neil Thomas