A Bird in the Hand, Jack Kerouac and the Dangerous Idolatry of Certainty

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. This is a saying for people who like certainty.

I am continually amazed at people who are certain of things.

Have you met these folk? They abound in all walks of life but seem particularly drawn to the church and they are sure of many things. They know the formulas, the plans, the steps to take, the prayers to pray, the preachers to follow, the authors to read, the path, the road, the way. You know them because they love the book of Proverbs but seem suspicious of the Psalms.

If you ask (and often if you don’t), they’ll be happy to teach you the right way to follow Jesus, to worship, to study your Bible, to raise your children, and to balance your life. They’ll tell you the correct formula for prayer, the recipe for winning evangelism, the directions for theological thinking (with special emphasis on the original Greek) and the open sesame for being filled with the Spirit and seeing an outpouring of blessing from heaven that will make you healthy, wealthy and wise.

Sometimes I envy them. I would love to be someone who is certain. It seems so – secure, so wise, so safe.

But more often, I feel sorry for people with that bird in their hands. I think they’re missing out on the adventure.

And I wonder if they’ve read the Bible.

There are a few things of which I’m certain. Certainly there is absolute truth. Certainly there is only way to God, to salvation, to eternal life and it is through Jesus Christ. Certainly, the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. Certainly God is love. Certainly, His commands are to be obeyed. Certainly Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.

Where I get uncertain, though, is in knowing exactly what my life will look like at any given time as I follow Jesus.

As I read the Bible, I see people who were always giving up a measure of certainty in order to obey and follow God’s lead. Noah could not have known where investing one hundred years in building a boat was going to lead. Abraham left his land and his people to go to a place God says was his and trusted that (even when he found it already occupied by a most unpleasant and difficult people.) Joseph obeyed God and it landed him in jail for a very long time. Esther followed God and ended up in a king’s bedchamber. John the Baptist obeyed God and lost his head. Peter followed God and found his job skill set applied to people instead of fish. Most of the disciples found their lives turned upside down by following Jesus and they met death head-on as a result.

There was a time when American Christians understood the uncertainty of a life following Jesus. They were original settlers, pioneers, homesteaders and missionaries. Modern American Christians seems to want to tame God, to domesticate the church, to package the gospel into a twelve-step curriculum with mass-market appeal, short, palatable lessons, evidence based practices and proven results.

And we wonder why we’re bored, ineffective and lukewarm.

There is a wildness about God. He created housecats but He is the Lion of Judah. He will not be tamed. His followers are promised many, many things that are true and certain but an easy, prosperous, predictable, safe, formulaic life is not one of them.

I don’t know about you but I want the adventure. I am not an adventurous person by nature. You won’t find me skydiving or bungee-jumping or hitting the open road. I am closely related to hobbits who like to be cozy in their shire and have their meals on time. But the more I know Jesus, the deeper I go with Him, the more of Him I want and there is wildness and adventure in traveling His way.

So, for the love of Jesus, I release my hold on certainty. I will be the Jack Kerouac of the faith and live on the open road of Jesus. I do not know what lies ahead but I know there is no other way for me than the one that leads deep into the heart of God.

And I will carry a banner as I walk for all the certain people I will meet on the way and it will bear this quote by Bret Harte – an American author and poet: “A bird in hand is a certainty. But a bird in the bush may sing.”

I appreciate the Proverbs but the Psalms are the rhythm of God’s beating heart and in me, the beat goes on.

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    The Conversation

  1. Joe Crowley says:

    Excellent Sis!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Andrea says:

    AMEN SISTER! I knew I loved you….I could not have said it better…No one could have…I don’t want to miss the adventure.

    Thank you for your sweet comments on arise 2 write.

    Blessings, andrea

  3. Thank you both. I’m glad your hearts were touched. It’s much easier to write this than to live it, though! THank you for your prayers for this hobbit.

  4. Eileen says:

    Yes kind of like Aslan – He isn’t a tame Lion, but He is Good.

  5. Cheri says:


    Such an excellent post! So well written. You have opened my mail and read it, so well have you captured my heart with regard to these matters. I’ve asked you before, but I’ll ask again… are you my twin? It amazes me how you capture the very essence of my thoughts.



  6. Marcia says:

    Lori, I expect to learn a lot from your blog and I know my daughter will love it, too. Thanks for giving us something to think about.
    Marcia H. of WV (formerly Peace Dale, RI)

  7. Hi Marcia, I am also formerly of Peace Dale. We moved to Hope Valley 18 months ago (my hometown) but lived in Peace Dale for 17 years before that. Welcome to the blog!

  8. Heather says:


    When I read the story of Gideon, I see that God blesses Gideon’s desire for the certainty that God is speaking to him. Once he knows for sure that God is speaking, Gideon follows, uncertain of what God will do or how He will do it. I believe that this is true of us, too. God wants us to follow Him – not another’s voice – so it is only appropriate to make sure that it is He whom we are listening to. But then we must leave all our pre-conceptions behind about how life should be – just as you said. We never know how our life will be when we follow Jesus. Thanks for the reminder and encouragement to follow God into the uncertainty.

    I know in my life, usually the closer I follow, the more uncertain things seem to appear. I liken it to crossing a deep chasm as the bridge is being built one step ahead of me. From the looks of the circumstances, it seems that the only reasonable thing that will happen is that I will fall to my death. But God is preparing that sturdy, certain bridge as I walk across – not one step too soon or too late!

    God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. I wonder sometimes at the desire for not only certainty, but reasonableness as well. We cannot be the ones who define what is reasonable because only God can reason correctly by knowing ALL the details, which we, by virtue of our human nature, cannot.

    I really enjoy your blog – keep up the GOOD work!

  9. Wonderful observation, Heather. And being certain it is God’s voice we are hearing is vital!

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