We’re coming out of the summer season, which for our family usually means many hours travelling the roads of France as we work with small churches in their outreach efforts, supported by many wonderful participants from across the world – perhaps you count yourself among those who have already taken part in a short-term mission trip in the land of cheese and croissants?
Of course, when covering thousands of unknown kilometres, there is inevitably the need for a means of orientation. In years gone by this would have been a map, and in our 21st century, probably more likely a satnav (GPS system) or phone equipped with GoogleMaps. But you know what they say: “Men never ask for directions.”
Dispelling the myth #1
I am proud to say that in this respect, I am not a typical man – I have no shame in stopping to ask for directions… but I do get a real buzz out of finding my way somewhere without needing to, and without a map! This was my experience as I went to visit one of the outreach teams this summer, in a town I had previously visited only once. I made my way from one lost French town to another, across 83km of remote countryside, arriving right on time for lunch with making one wrong turn – no satnav! I inwardly congratulated myself and on the return journey proudly turned up the volume on the stereo and, accompanied by Matt Redman, I decided to worship my way back to my team.
Lost in wonder at His greatness, I marvelled at the beauty of God’s creation as the car wound its way down a narrow country lane. Then I suddenly realised that not ONLY was I lost in wonder, I was also lost altogether! How had it all gone wrong? No satnav! It’s not that I didn’t have one in the car, it’s just that I chose not to use it. And that got me thinking about how similar, in some ways, a satnav is to the Bible!
Just like we rely (or not!) on this handy device to guide us from point A to point B, God has provided us with a wonderful spiritual GPS to help us navigate through life, with all its twists and turns. In my case on this particular excursion I made a decision to “go at it alone” and ended up heading in totally the wrong direction! What’s that verse in Proverbs? “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” – Proverbs 16:18 (NIV). How often in life do we think we have it “all up together” only to realise that we should have checked in with God first? There’s a great verse in Psalms 119:105 that says, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” (NIV). I am not going to list all the wisdom of the Bible here, but that verse is spot-on!
I have not always had a good relationship with satnavs. In fact, I am quite resistant to technology in general (Change? Why?), probably something to do with the same male attribute that makes it difficult for us blokes to ask for directions. I want to prove I can do without it! When we first arrived in France, I did not own a satnav (I managed to get to France without one, why would I want one now?). But part of my job involves travelling around and meeting with pastors. And finding them. After two occasions of fixing a meeting point and me thinking “How hard can it be?” then getting lost and arriving late, my wife convinced me that maybe I should bite the bullet and invest in some automotive map technology.
Dispelling the myth #2
(And here, as an aside, I would like to say how wonderful it is to have a wise wife! I should probably add that the reason we got to France in the first place without a satnav is because my wife was reading the map. Anyone who says women can’t read maps is just wrong. And that’s not even one of the criteria for a great wife in Proverbs 31:10-31 (yes, more biblical wisdom).)
And when I did at last purchase my satnav, I was amazed at the number of stressful situations it saved me – life was so much better! Just like with the Bible…
Of course, with even the best illustrations there are usually some flaws, and this is no exception. My second GPS broke earlier this year, and while I was waiting for the replacement to arrive, I borrowed one from a colleague. Only hers was an original 90s model – with the original 90s maps! I got halfway to my destination and the new roads were just too much for the processor! The satnav shut down and I had to revert to the classic method: “Excuse me, sir…” Thankfully the Bible, despite being many thousands of years old, still manages to remain up to date and relevant for issues we come up against in the 21st century!
But we still need to be discerning about the guide that we choose. There is a story in 2 Samuel 10 of a King who listened to some bad advisors and ended up ordering a (rather rude!) decision involving cutting holes in diplomat’s clothes in embarrassing places. This had disastrous consequences leading to the death of 40,000 people! If only the king had consulted with God first.
One of the other problems with satnavs is that when you completely rely on them, you lose all sense of orientation and geography because you don’t get the context, the bigger picture. It becomes very difficult to know exactly where you are. I wonder if that is how Jonah felt when he was in the belly of the big fish that swallowed him? Of course, we have the advantage of being able to read the entire story of Jonah in the Bible, so we know the ending, but when he was in that fish I bet he thought his time was up! It was impossible for him to know the outcome, because only God knew the bigger picture!
And I find that encouraging, because life can sometimes feel like a long GPS journey, even when you trust in God and look for direction in the Bible. You think you’re going the right way, but there are definitely those in-the-belly-of-the-fish moments, when it’s all dark and scary, and sometimes it just plain stinks! And yet, God sees the big picture, He’s got the map all worked out, maybe not in “fastest route” mode, but perhaps He picked the scenic option? One thing is sure, the final destination is going to be good. You can read about it in the Bible!