Allow me to be a bit silly and compare God’s way of guiding us (the “God Positioning System”) with the Global Positioning System device in your car or on your smart phone. (My friend calls hers “Garmin” after the brand name on the front of her GPS, so I’ll use that name from now on as we talk about the satellite-operated system. And since hers has a woman’s voice, we’ll refer to Garmin as a “she,” okay?) Garmin and God have similarities and dissimilarities.
You tell Garmin where you want to go and she tells you how to get there in the most direct way possible. But with the God Positioning System, rather than try to program him to get you where you want to go and how you want to get there, you should begin with the premise that you’re not the one in charge. You’re the led and he’s the Leader. You might tell Garmin where you want to go, but for God-followers he reserves the right to determine our destination. He isn’t the least bit “programmable,” and won’t perform for you like some satellite-driven device. With him, you’ll do best to start your daily journey with a couple of questions: “Where do you want me today, Lord; and what can I do which would bring you the most glory?”
I think of his guidance in terms of a Place, a Path, and a Pace. He chooses the place (the destination), the path (our route to the destination, which is usually more circuitous than direct), and the pace of the journey (the rate at which we should travel on the path toward the place).
Regarding the place, I’m not necessarily talking about a geographical location (although he does sometimes lead us to specific locales), instead I’m speaking of a goal of some sort that he wants us to shoot for. Maybe it’s a quality of character that he wants us to work on, a career path to begin, a place of service to pursue, or a task of some sort to accomplish. It could be something small like deciding between classes to take in college or something big like choosing a mate. Either way, the God Positioning System often prompts us to head a certain direction, and if we’re true “Whatever Followers” of Jesus – we go! (“Whatever Followers” are those who can honestly and do bravely say to him, “Whatever you want, Lord, I’m in!” This kind of follower doesn’t balk at “whatever, wherever, or whenever” he might direct.)
I’ve noticed that the path and the pace are sometimes at least as important to him, if not more important, than the place we’re going. His priority often seems to have more to do with what he’s doing in and around us while on the way to the place. I’ve seen over and over that when I “arrive” at the place, that it’s not as impressive as the trip itself. I’m sure you’ve heard all the old sayings about enjoying the journey, and stopping to smell the flowers yada, yada, yada? He’s just as interested in the race as he is in the finish line.
Though Garmin will get you there in the least amount of time, God sometimes takes the long way. He has his reasons (which our reason can’t usually fathom), but if he were in a hurry, he probably wouldn’t have told us over and over to “wait” for him! Don’t expect his way to be the most expeditious. His idea of time doesn’t seem, in any way, shape, or form to approximate ours. So, relax and enjoy the ride!
Garmin tells you how long your journey will be and the best route to take for that particular trip. But God’s system – at least the way I’ve experienced it most times – doesn’t provide an ETA (estimated time of arrival) or an exact route that would get me there with the least amount of effort and in the least amount time. He doesn’t seem to be as interested to lay it all out for me as I am in having it so. There are times when I’ve anticipated a route and ETA, but found the journey much more circuitous than I’d envisioned. The path he led me to travel actually turned out to be much more difficult and time-consuming than I’d imagined.
Speaking of “circuitous,” I heard recently that the phrase from the 23rd Psalm, “he leads me in paths of righteousness” is sometimes translated “circles of righteousness.” In a trip to Israel I noticed that one can see circular paths winding up to the tops of many of the hills and mountains. Our guide told us that these are the paths that shepherds have for centuries led their sheep up the steep prominences of the land. Then we began to discuss how our Good Shepherd similarly doesn’t usually weary us by driving us directly up to the top, but more gently leads us on a more manageable, circuitous – and even circular – route to our destination. It seems he’d rather not rush us to the terminus, but takes his time to entice us to his purposes. I’ll try to remember this next time I feel like I’m going in “circles”!
A lot of times his way seems to be more of a moment-by-moment thing. My first car was a VW bug that had a 6-volt battery. In order to get the headlights to glow at full strength the engine had to be running at full R.P.M.s! I had to rev the engine in order to get the beam to reach more than about 10 feet in front of the car (even on high beams) and the horn to blow at more than a muffled squeak! God leads me in this way – almost inch-by-inch! His non-Garmin approach makes me slow down in order to enjoy the scenery and avoid unnecessary collisions.
With Garmin I program in my intended destination, but with the God Positioning System my part is to just plug in the “Whatever,” try to live responsibly, and see how the day unfolds. Other times he prescribes the ultimate destination and then leaves the route to me. He gives me clues about what sort of choices that I might make that’ll make the trip the most achievable and enjoyable, but he trusts me to live responsibly and make wise (biblically informed) choices along the way.
What happens then, if after I’ve done all I know to do to pray and obey; and still the journey is arduous and the destination unpleasant? My default reflex is to second-guess the accuracy of my original perception of his guidance. Did I read the screen wrong? Sometimes I question his wisdom or goodness (maybe he’s wrong or doesn’t care about me after all… you know probably know the drill). At the end of the day I have to remember that he never guaranteed that I would like where or how he leads me. He didn’t promise “easy.” In fact, he warned us that it wouldn’t be, but urged us to go nevertheless – and endure. “Whatever, Lord!”
Garmin isn’t supposed to tell you to break the law when prescribing your course. She won’t (usually) lead you the wrong way on a one way street or tell you to break the speed limit in order to get somewhere on time. If she does, she’s broken and you should take her back to the store and get another one (or just buy a map)! Garmin is supposed to respect the laws of the road as she leads us along that road. In the same way, God won’t direct us in a way that would contradict the laws and ways that he instituted in his Word. “Divorce your wife so that you can marry this other woman… Lie about this, it’s only a little lie…” These are things you won’t hear from our Heavenly Guide. If you think you hear otherwise; be advised that you’re certainly not hearing it from him. It’s somebody else’s voice you’re listening to!
Other times… he trusts me
to live responsibly and make
wise (biblically informed) choices
along the way.
I think it’s a pretty cool feature that you can program your Garmin (at least the higher end ones) to speak in a voice to your liking (male or female, British accent, etc.). And of course she speaks in a wide variety of languages. Similarly, God knows your language and can make himself “heard” and understood when he has something to say. He knows how you learn, how you perceive, and how to get through to you personally. His communication is not “one-size-fits-all.” He’s your friend and wants you to know whatever it is that he wants you to know.
Let me be clear, unlike Garmin, there are directions (multitudes of them) that God doesn’t share with us. He purposely leaves most things unsaid and clouded in mystery for his own purposes. Our adventure is still pretty chilling, and if it doesn’t frighten you, you might check with him and see if you’re still on track!
Garmin works by her connection with high-in-the-sky surveillance satellites, whose altitudes give them a global viewpoint. These man-made objects were launched into orbit around our planet in order to relay communications and transmit data from their astronomical vantage point. But God is neither made nor set in motion by humans and you should know that he is the “Most High God,” higher than any satellite! He sees what we can never see, and leads where we would never think to go. “When my heart is overwhelmed lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” (Psalm 68)
Garmin (like Google Maps) lets you “zoom out” to get the bigger picture of the trip you’re on. And though God will once in a while give us a glimpse of the perspective from a higher vantage point, he usually gives us just enough information to make the next turn. For his own reasons his directional system sometimes seems stuck on the more moment-by-moment view, and at such times we’re best advised to trust his wisdom.
Garmin will “talk” to you as long as you have her “on.” She’ll calmly advise you of the next turn, the distance to it, and which way to go when you arrive there. Though the Lord is more reliable (to say nothing of his personal interest in the success of your journey), he isn’t nearly so predictable. Sometimes, when he chooses to, he seems to stop speaking altogether. For whatever reason he remains silent, even when we plead with him to communicate with us and give us some sign that he’s still there – high in the sky. I suppose it has something to do with building our faith. He has his own motives for doing what he does, and I’ve found it best in those times to try to remember the last directive he gave me, and then stay on that road until he decides to speak again.
Based on a mistaken turn or a self-determined detour Garmin has the capability of recalculating her directions. Though her bossiness can be irritating, with my awful sense of direction, I appreciate her persistence. “Turn left here… turn left again here… turn left here…” and I’m back in business. If not for her, I’d never have gotten where I thought I was going! But given this feature of recalculation, I have been known to take some sort of freakish pleasure in trying to confuse her by going into a parking lot and driving in circles. I just like hearing her say, “Turn left, (no) turn right, (no) make a U-turn…” God doesn’t get confused, but instead, makes adjustments according to our ill-advised decisions and poor judgment. He’s had lots of practice – ever since we lost our way in the Garden – at working with “Plan B” (or C or D and beyond)!