When my family went to the Grand Rapids Zoo a couple weeks ago, the first thing we did was get a map. Why? We all use maps. We like to know where we are and where we should go and how to get there. There’s two ways we get them: people give them to us, and we choose them.
Sometimes, other people hand us a map that we use it consciously or subconsciously. We think it shows us where we are in life and where we are supposed to go.
- Parents who say, “You will never be good enough” or act like they are ashamed of their children are handing them a map that says, “You are here in the City of Never Good Enough.”
- Parents who say, “Do your best; it’s okay if it’s not perfect!” and treat them as of they are precious gifts from God are handing them a map that says, “You are here in a City where your Worth is not the same as Your Accomplishments.”
- People who treat us like objects and misuse or abuse us are handing us a map that says, “You are here in the city of Worthless.”
- People who love us with the love of Christ are handing us a map that says, “You are here in the City of Eternal Value.”
If we aren’t able to see the bad maps for what they are, we believe them. When we move in life we take the road that we think we deserve. “You are here” has always meant, “I am unworthy of love and respect,” so we keep taking the road that takes us to other familiar places. Everywhere we go we subconsciously do things that ensure we will end up in another town – another relationship, another situation – that confirms this.
On the other hand, if we believe that “You are here” means “I am a beloved child of God with eternal value and worth,” then we move toward the places where we both experience and pass on these things. Even when we see optional paths and different destinations, we tend to follow the path and journey toward the place that makes those assumptions continue.
So there are maps given to us that we continue to use often without begin aware of it. But when it comes to the things in our life that we can control (things we do rather than the things done to us) we also choose maps. This is our overriding belief or set of priorities that guides our journeys.
- “Follow your heart” is a map.
- “Do what feels good” is a map.
- “The most important thing is that I am happy” is a map.
- “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” is a map.
So our background hands us a map, and we also choose our own maps. We count on them to tell us who we are and where we are supposed to go. The problem isn’t that we have them; the problem is that we don’t always know if the information is true. Is this really who I am? Am I really where I think I am? Are the destinations and paths I assume are good actually good? How do we resolve this dilemma?
Part of the good news of the Gospel is that Christ can set us free from being enslaved by the maps others have given us. When we give our lives to Christ we become members of His family, we become citizens of another country, we put off the old and put on the new. Christ remaps our lives. He redeems where we are and redefines where we should go. This is good news. We have been given a new map. The trouble, though, is that it takes time to understand what it means that we really are in a new place, and we tend to carry our old lousy maps along with us.
It takes some time break old habits; we are still harvesting what’s been planted before in a practical sense.
How do we make sure we understand where we are, and that the only map we are following is the one God has given us for our lives?
THE HOLY SPIRIT
As Christians, we already have the Holy Spirit working in our lives as a Counselor (John 16:8), a Helper (Romans 8), a Comforter (John 14:27) and Equipper (1 Corinthians 12). God is working within us constantly. With His help, we are able to do the following three things effectively as we work on our life’s map.
“DEMONSTRATE Your ways, O Eternal One. Teach me to understand so I can follow. EASE me down the path of Your truth. FEED me Your word because You are the True God who has saved me. I wait all day long, hoping, trusting in You... He teaches sinners the way with JUSTICE, He directs the humble in all that is right, and He shows them His way. KIND and true are all the ways of the Eternal to the people who keep His covenant and His decrees.”(Psalm 25:4-5; 8-10)
The imagery for “teaching” and "directing" is that of shooting an arrow or pointing a finger. God will do this for to show sinners how to leave their sin, and for the humble or needy to show them a good course for their life. (biblehub.com) And how does He do this? In Psalm 25, it’s with His covenant and His words – or in other words, the Bible, the written text of God’s revelation to us. It points us in the right direction spiritually (that's for all of us sinners) and practically (for all of us who are in need of help or guidance). So our prayer is that God teach and direct us through His Word. Why is this so important?
“Since childhood you have known the holy Scriptures, which enable you to be wise and lead to salvation through faith in Jesus. All of Scripture is God-breathed; in its inspired voice, we hear useful teaching, rebuke, correction, instruction, and training for a life that is right so that God’s people may be up to the task ahead and have all they need to accomplish every good work.” (2 Timothy 3: 15-17, The Voice)
It’s a map that points us toward salvation (Christ’s rescue of us from spiritual destruction) and shows us where and how to do good work (actions that complete our purpose).
- “Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to others.” 12:15
- “Pride leads to conflict; those who take advice are wise.” 13:10
- “Listen to counsel and accept discipline, that you may be wise...” 19:20
- “In an abundance of counselors there is safety.” 11:14
- “Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisers bring success.” 15:22
Wise people are honest about their limits and seek the advice and help of others. (Parenting, marriage, finances, does God exist, how do I live well, how do I know what matters in life?) People who never consult others about their maps will be limited in their ability to see where they are and where they should go. Asking directions is not a sign that you lack wisdom: it’s a sign that you have wisdom.
We are supposed to ask for directions from our godly friends –but they need to be friends who know the way, whether it be spiritual or practical issues. There are at least 3 signs that you are asking advice from people who know the way.
- They have earned the right to be asked. Now that football season is going, all kinds of commentators are weighing in on what they think will happen or what teams should do. Do you know who gets hired? Guys who have played. And the longer they play and the more successful they were, the more they are worth listening too. I often talk with teens about serious issues they are facing. They usually talk to their friends, many of whom are well-meaning, serious about following God, and have good character. Even then the advice is often not that good. They just haven’t learned enough about life. The same thing can happen with adults. Before you make important decisions, find those with age and experience appropriate to the issue. This does not mean everyone who is older had good advice, but in general, those with experience have more to offer than those who don’t have that experience.
- They know the issue. Don’t ask me how to fix your car or draft a fantasy football team. You might as well let a monkey give it a shot. If the cast of Jersey Shore write a book on integrity and self-restraint, I’m not buying it. But when Steve Forbes has something to say about money, it’s worth listening to. If you want to be a talk show host, listen to everything Oprah has to say, but don't listen to her if you want to hear truth about God. Your friend at work might be a great person who understands you; that doesn’t mean she knows how to answer your questions about marriage, or investing, or why God allows suffering.
- They aren’t afraid to challenge you. If your advisors owe you (you're an employer), or they benefit from you in some kind of tangible way (you always pay the restaurant bill or you're the one financing the parties), or they think you are some kind of celebrity, they probably aren’t the ones you need to go to for certain kinds of advice. They are likely to always tell you that your ideas, personality and character are awesome even if they aren’t.
So we pray for God’s Spirit to lead us, to illuminate Scripture and direct us toward wise friends. Then we read the Bible and we ask directions from those who know the way.
Questions Worth Asking:
- In what paths of my life do I need a godly map?
- Am I praying for the Holy Spirit’s wisdom and direction, or am I just thinking about it?
- What does the Bible have to say?
- Who do I know that has earned the right to be asked about this particular issue?
- Who will give me honest feedback (and am I ready to hear it)?
*I am deeply indebted to Andy Stanley's The Principles of the Path for the main ideas in this series (and some of specific language, such as "Direction, not intention, determines as our destination"). I highly encourage you to buy and consume this excellent book!