Rewind. Pause. Push Play. Get out of the maze.
September 12, 2011 – Aaron Bird
Rewind: Maps are practical. They not only tell us where we are right now, but also where we’ve been, and, best of all, how to get where we’re going next. They provide an easy to follow, step-by-step solution to a lot of logistical problems. Maps are also comforting; no one likes feeling lost. When you don’t know where you are or where you’re going, you feel powerless and vulnerable, and a tangible guide can help to combat that all-too-common road trip side effect.
When you get down to it, maps aren’t much more than a few lines, dots, and color splotches on an awkwardly large and hard-to-handle piece of paper, but they tend to make us feel like we’re in control…
Road closed? You can handle it. Wrong turn? You know how to get back. Going somewhere you’ve never been before? No worries, just unfold another section and keep tracing the road with your finger.
Maps are handy-dandy, little (or big) drawings that serve to eliminate a bit more of this world’s overwhelming mystery; everything seems so much smaller and easier to understand when it’s been condensed onto a two dimensional piece of paper (that’s probably why humans have been making maps for over 14,000 years!).
We trust in our maps: we turn where they say, stop where they say, and hope we end up in the location they say we will. And when our maps turn out to be wrong, as they often do, we find it hard to believe, and we take it as a personal affront, grumbling about the extra minutes, or even hours, it can take to get back on course. That’s why so many of us love our GPS: it’s a talking map that figures everything out for you! Even when you make a mistake, the machine assures you that it’s “recalculating,” and you know you’ll soon be on your way again. While it’s true that we sometimes trust too much in our maps, for the most part, they make life easier.
What if I told you God’s plan for your life is just as straight forward as a map?
So many of us go through life repeating Jeremiah 29:11 without ever really understanding what exactly it means…
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
The ‘typical’ interpretation/misunderstanding: God has one unique, detailed blueprint for your entire life, and your job is to completely discern that plan – His will for you – and follow it to a tee. This interpretation says that there is one divine, individual will – one path, one set of directions – that you must follow in order to get God’s best for you, and in order to stay on that path, you need to wait for God to tell you what to do. If you’re walking along this one path, however, and you mess up – you stumble or twist your ankle or close your eyes and wander into the woods on the side of the road and get stuck – your life doesn’t stop, but you are no longer walking along God’s path for you; you’re following a different, less good, path…
Did you notice that I said this was a misunderstanding?
The truth is, God does have a plan for your life, and it is definitely a good one. But it’s not that hard to figure out. You see, God’s will for your life is spelled out in the bible – you can think of it as His divine map, written just for you. His desire is for you to believe in Him, to trust in Him, and to dedicate your life to Him – be willing to listen and obey. At first, this may sound like the same thing as the misunderstanding explained above, just said a little nicer, but take a minute to think about it; hopefully you’ll begin to see the difference…
Listening and obeying God doesn’t mean sitting still and waiting for Him to tell you exactly what to do with every minute of your life, because unless you’re one of the few people who have been blessed with the gift of hearing God’s voice audibly, that would be akin to wandering aimlessly through a maze with no map; when all you’ve got is your gut to lead you to the end, chances are you’re going to make a lot of wrong turns. No, listening and obeying, aka discerning God’s will for you life, is a lot more straight forward than all that. Read the bible – it’s all right there. (Sometimes it really is that simple.)
For you to love God, for you to trust in His sovereignty over your life, and for you to abide by the calling He has placed on each of us (Eph. 5:1-20) – that’s His will for you. God set out what may seem like ‘rules’ as a way of protecting you, of making your life easier. Things get real complicated when you stop following God and start following yourself. But following God doesn’t mean giving up your agency or relying on the Creator of the Universe to choose something as mundane as your outfit in the morning. It means praying sincerely and often; it means reading the bible and storing it in your heart; it means plugging into a Christ-loving community and fellowshipping with your brothers and sisters; and it means sharing the Good News with everyone you meet. God desires for you to trust in Him, to rely on Him to save you, and believe that when you have accepted Christ as your Lord and Savior, you are on God’s path, and you’ll stay there, even when you mess up.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6
Did you hear that? Stop freaking out over whether or not you’ve properly discerned God’s one, divine will for your life – it’s not on you to make yourself understand – know what you believe, let it permeate your entire life, and trust that God is always in control – He will keep your path straight.
As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,”Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed Him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Him. Matthew 4:18-22
Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace… You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you… And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of His Spirit who lives in you. Romans 8:5-6, 9, 11
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-40
It means sacrificing – to follow Jesus you have to give up the things your flesh desires and trust that the promise God is offering is far more valuable.
It means humbling yourself and asking for forgiveness when you mess up. And you will mess up. All the time.
It means submitting to the authority of the Lord – trusting that He is far smarter, far wiser, far more just, far more caring, and far more capable than you could ever hope to be.
It means living out your faith – Christ doesn’t call us to sit silently in the shadows and watch life go by, He calls us to be a city on a hill:
You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16
Following Jesus means changing your entire life; He’s not an accessory you can put on or take off when it’s convenient, nor is He a crutch you can use to justify your sin:
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Romans 6:1-2
None of those things are easy to do; they are all in direct conflict with our selfish hearts which desire to put ourselves first – declaring ourselves king over all we do. But, I can promise you, that if you genuinely dedicate your life to Christ, and sincerely pursue the Lord, all of the struggle, all of the sacrifice, and all of the change will be eternally worthwhile.