Late June, icy snow covering everything as far as the eye can see – everything except the tops of the Cascade range. 70 lbs. of gear in canvass sacks grinding into their backs, they seek refuge for the night. Shelter is only several miles off, but those miles are hard. No trails. No GPS coordinates. No familiarity with that particular swath of land. They have an old map – the shelter’s location scrawled in ballpoint pen – and a compass. With little by way of reference points (nearby landmarks) to orient them, they are tempted to rely on boot prints from previous adventurers that shoot out in several directions across the snow or just trust their internal sense of direction. But anyone who has spent any time in the wilderness knows you never do this. Always to your compass. Thankfully, these raggedy explorers – some friends and I a few years back – followed their compass home to a three-sided wilderness shelter and the best noodle dinner they had ever tasted.
Following Jesus can feel a lot like navigating with a compass. When you are orienteering, you are constantly looking for landmarks so you can see where you are on the map. (Why not just follow the trail, you ask? Well, my friend, in the wilderness there are no trails…just a lot of “wilder”.) You do your best to figure out where you are, line your map up with your compass, and start moving in the right direction. The catch is you do not always end up moving in the right direction. Many times you are without distinct landmarks when orienteering, so you are making your best guess as to where you are based on where you have been and what you see around you. In field sighting, if you are not precisely aimed up with your destination, you are aimed for massive failure and a much longer day in the field. The antidote to this scenario is frequent compass consultation. As you travel in a direction, the landscape unfolds before you, and you develop a more accurate idea of where you are on that map that you are holding. By sighting frequently, you eliminate the possibility of following an errant path for any significant distance.
At this point, let’s make sure one thing is abundantly clear: the compass is NEVER wrong. The issue is ALWAYS with the the person holding the compass.
Now that the obvious parallels have been drawn (I hope), I want to draw your attention to a huge, gaping flaw in this comparison. And if you missed it, then you would find yourselves in the company of most of us on an average day. The flaw: unlike the compass, Jesus is not a tool to help imperfect people navigate their way to a particular destination, to be consulted at various points along the way. In American Christianity, we have been taught to think like this, though. We are “doers”, bootstrap puller-uppers, and – in the upper- and middle-classes – accomplishment hounds. We want a destination clearly marked out so that we can put our heads down, strive for it, and achieve it, joining a chorus of toddlers in the battle cry: “I can do it myself!”
But this begs the question: Do what ourselves, exactly?
Think about it: unlike the wilderness story, there is no physical destination for us to get to. We work and work, asking Jesus to guide, protect, and lead us along the way to some place that, apparently, we are in a hurry to reach.
So how would we tweak the Jesus/compass comparison so that it will hold weight? In the new scenario, you are still frequently consulting your Compass, but this time it is because the Compass is the destination. You are trying to know the Compass more intimately and become like the Compass. In doing so, the Compass will lead you all over the map to accomplish its purposes: to make you more like Him, bring life to sick travelers, cultivate the land, and destroy all false compasses. In following the Compass, you will move from one location to another, being tasked to lead people to particular places, cultivate particular areas of creation, heal fellow travelers, be healed by fellow travelers, and stop at shelters along the way, but those moves are only of any significance if they happen in the context of the Compass’s great purpose for you: knowing and responding to Him.
Matthew 7:21-23. Jesus is not at all concerned with activity, relationships, or achievements unless they are borne out of a relationship with Him. Not. The. Slightest. Bit. “But Lord, I started a company that treats its employees well!” “I read through the Bible in a year for the last 20 years!” “I held my marriage together!” “I taught a Sunday school class for blind kids!” “I have people all the time tell me what a good guy I am!” “I made something of myself…and I mentioned you in the acknowledgements section of the book I wrote about my success!” The response?
I have heard you. Now, leave my presence.
The only people entering the kingdom of heaven, according to Jesus, are the people who do the will of his Father. On a macro level, we know from Paul that God’s will is for us to know Him intimately and become just like his Son (1 Thes. 4:3). How that works itself out in each of our lives, though, is something that only God can reveal to us through His Spirit. Other things that Jesus said are similar: “Abide in me.” (John 15:4) “Seek me.” (Luke 12:31) “Seek my Father to see what He desires of you.” (John 5:30) “Follow me.” (Matthew 9:9)
I struggle with putting my head down and blindly pursuing “good” uses of my time…without seeking Jesus. In my busyness, I have foregone the only thing. My hope is that this piece encourages you and me to consistently seek Jesus and reorient accordingly.