Direct me in the path of your commands,
for there I find delight. (Psalm 119:35)
Recently, on a trip to visit family, we took an unexpected detour. In the interest of saving cellular data, I turned off Google Maps part-way into the trip because I thought I knew where we were going. Unfortunately, we missed an exit and continued north when we should have turned east. Imagine my horror when I pulled out my phone to check our progress and discovered we had driven almost an hour in the wrong direction! Needless to say, the two hour extension to an already long trip did not please my family.
I wish I could say this is the first time I’ve done this. Unfortunately, though, I am hopelessly lost when it comes to cardinal directions. God did not give me the gift of navigation. I have to rely on others to help me get to where I need to go, at least the first couple of times I go to a new place.
Maybe you’re really good with directions and have never experienced the feeling of being off-course during a trip. But all of us, at one time or another in our lives, come to the shocking realization that we’re not exactly on the path we intended to be.
God uses all sorts of methods to help us realize we’re off course. Sometimes, it’s our circumstances. Other times, it’s the words of a friend, pastor, or the spirit-inspired words of the Bible.
In the book of Jonah, we read how God used a pretty scary situation to teach Jonah to follow Him. As Jonah sat in the belly of the whale, he reflected on how he got into this situation in the first place: he chose not to follow God’s command to go to Ninevah and share God’s word with the inhabitants there. From the depths of the sea, Jonah prayed, “In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry… But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the LORD'” (Jonah 2:2, 9). And, true to his word, Jonah headed straight for Ninevah as soon as God had the whale spit him out.
God wasn’t punishing Jonah; he was disciplining him. In a message on parenting, Pastor Bill explains the difference between punishment and discipline: “Discipline is teaching and the focus is on the future. The motivation is love, and the result is security. Because [the person being disciplined] knows there are parameters and boundaries in life.”1 Tough situations draw us closer to God and help us to develop a stronger relationship with Him.
God also uses the people around us to help us refocus our eyes on Him. David, one of the major heroes of the Bible, was by no means perfect. When he had Uriah killed so he could steal his wife Bathsheba, God used the prophet Nathan to set him straight: Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul… Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites,'” (2 Samuel 12:7,9). Because of Nathan, David recognized his sin and repented for his wrongdoing. He got back on the track to righteousness.
Among their many other duties, pastors serve God by preaching messages that help people draw closer to God. In one of his recent messages, Pastor Ben helped us understand how Peter, one of the first pastors, helped the crowds at Pentecost recognize their sins and follow Jesus. “When Peter preached this sermon, 3000 people repented, changed their mind about Jesus, were baptized, had their sins forgiven, and received the Holy Spirit.”2 If you’ve ever felt a tug at your heart or found yourself in tears after listening to a pastor’s message, you know what the people in the crowd felt that day. God uses pastors and Christian friends to help lead us down the path that leads to Jesus.
Of course, these people aren’t helping you on their own. They’re led by the Holy Spirit and by God’s Word. In the Old Testament, the power of God’s word becomes apparent in the book of 2 Chronicles. After losing sight of God, the people of Jerusalem began coming back to God under the leadership of King Josiah.
They found the Book of the Law while rebuilding the temple of the LORD, and here is how they reacted: Shaphan read from it in the presence of the king. When the king heard the words of the Law, he tore his robes. He gave these orders: ‘Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for the remnant in Israel and Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the Lord’s anger that is poured out on us because those who have gone before us have not kept the word of the Lord; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written in this book” (2 Chronicles 34:18-21). King Josiah recognized the desperate need to return to God’s Word to understand what He wanted for His people.
Today, the Bible is more accessible than ever. You can literally carry it around in your pocket via a variety of apps for your smartphone. But just downloading a Bible app isn’t going to help you grow closer to God. You’ve got to dive into it, study it, pray about it, and meditate on it for it to change your heart. “God gives you his Word so that you see your purpose is not to get your value out of things that lose their glory, but that you get your value from the one who eternally glorious.”3 God’s word fixes your eyes on what really matters.
Back On Track
In today’s post-truth culture, everything vies for your attention and your following: social media, your boss, your children, video games, television. The path of least resistance would lead you to immerse yourself in the world. But easiest isn’t best; God’s path is. How do you get back on track to God? In his message to the crowd on Pentecost, Peter gives the answer: Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).
Pastor Ben explains the importance of starting every day with a reflection of what God has done for you through your baptism: “Swim in the waters of your baptism. What do your baptismal waters tell you? They tell you that you are a forgiven child of God. You are now in the family of God. God does not reject you. God has rescued you.”2
Because of Jesus, we know we’ll make it to our eternal destination of Heaven. Recognize the reality of your circumstances, listen to those friends God has put in your life, and turn to His word. No matter how many detours you make, no matter how off-course you’ve gotten, you’re never too far gone to come back to Jesus.
1 Limmer, B. (13 January 2019). Teaching moments. Living Forward sermon series. Retrieved from https://victoryofthelamb.com/sermons/teaching-moments/
2 Sadler, B. (19 May 2019). Change what you think about Jesus. Changed sermon series. Retrieved from https://victoryofthelamb.com/sermons/changed-through-baptism/
3 Limmer, B. (12 May 2019). How Jesus changed the world view of you. Changed sermon series. Retrieved from https://victoryofthelamb.com/sermons/how-jesus-changed-the-world-view-of-you/
MEET THE BLOGGER
Sammi Goodger is the Office Manager and Director of Communications at Victory of the Lamb. She’s not an expert in family and faith, but she’s hoping to help herself and others grow closer to God and their families through sharing research and practical tips on relationships and faith. She can be contacted here.