Before SatNavs and phones with built-in GPS systems were widely available to everyone, most travellers would have to rely on two main ways to guide their journey: maps and compasses.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each method of navigation.
A map is a diagram explaining the terrain. It consists of images of roads and different routes which have been charted out to help you see how you can get from one place to another. However, you still need to plan your journey using the information available. It won’t do it for you. A SatNav incorporates all of this information but can also plan for you the quickest route available.
By contrast, a compass doesn’t have all of the terrain mapped out. The needle gives you a general sense of direction, telling you which way is due north. You still need to figure out your own journey using your own judgment. The needle merely helps you from drifting too far off course.
Generally speaking, the above analogy can be applied to Christians and trusting God as He leads you through life.
Are you a map Christian?
If you’re using a map, this can help you gain an overall, panoramic bird’s-eye view of the journey. Perhaps you meticulously plan out every little detail of the route in advance. Then you try to stick to it rigidly to avoid straying from the path. The destination is all that matters.
However, our journey may not be as straightforward as a map would suggest. We might encounter unforeseen obstacles or difficulties along the way.
While a SatNav gives us spoken directions, it also can’t always account for the fact that there might be a roadblock preventing us from taking that particular path. Sometimes the map on a SatNav can be out of date or it is an unmarked road.
Although a SatNav can recalculate an alternate route, sometimes we have to rely on other things like our own judgment. We might even have to stop to ask for directions from someone who knows the area.
Many of us try to go through life like this. We can be “map” Christians. We want God to give us all of the details so that we can have everything in place, and contingency plans in case things don’t run as smoothly.
Although God has given us the Bible, which in some ways, acts as both a manual and a map, it isn’t the terrain itself. There are also many things it is silent on as we navigate through life. Often, while we might have an idea as to God’s will for our lives in certain situations, we don’t always know where we’re headed or what await us around the next corner. It is not drawn out in as much detail as a map which tells us which way to turn next.
Sometimes we face detours or roadblocks in life where God allows us to spend far longer at a place than we intended. He might use this experience to help us learn certain lessons. If we are resistant to this and want to adhere rigidly to the map and our own plans, it can be detrimental to our overall development and growth.
Or are you a compass Christian?
If you’re using a compass you’ll be more reliant on the direction of the needle in order to determine which route is most appropriate to take next.
This can allow for a greater degree of flexibility by taking account of the circumstances. The downside, however, is that it can result in aimless wandering without being able to see the wood for the trees. You can easily end up going in circles.
While the compass needle may point you towards the nearest clearing, the clearing may not necessarily be the correct one that will lead to the path towards your intended destination.
In contrast to those who are heavily reliant on a detailed plan for their lives, some of us might be “compass Christians.”
We simply rely on getting by on a day-to-day basis with a general needle to point us in the right direction. We might navigate through life without an idea of where we want to go.
Although the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives can function as a kind of internal compass, we still need some sense of direction or vision.
Proverbs 29:18 says
Where there is no vision, the people perish.
When we have no sense of direction or vision for our lives, then we can effectively perish. Our lives can be without any purpose and we can end up wandering around in circles, potentially even in a wilderness for years.
In Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the heroine Alice encounters the Cheshire Cat at several points in the story. In one particular exchange with him, she asks for directions:
“Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don’t much care where.
The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.
Alice: …So long as I get somewhere.
The Cheshire Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.”
Since Alice has no sense of where she wants to go, then the Cheshire Cat tells her that it doesn’t matter which way she travels.
If you have no idea where you are going or where you wish to eventually arrive, then both a map or a compass will be of little use in themselves. Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages. However, we need a balance between being a map or a compass Christian.
As we’ll see though, it isn’t having these things which helps us know where to go, but who we know.
Our direction comes not from a map or compass but a personal guide
Our sense of direction and our purpose in life comes not from simply following a map or chart or using a compass. It depends not on what we have but on who we know.
We need a personal guide who will steer us through the forests or deserts of life. Unfortunately, we can’t simply rely on a map or a compass alone. This is because on our own, we are unable to read it or navigate it. As a result of the Fall, our own reason is corrupted. While it can get us so far, we need someone to show us the way.
In some versions, Proverbs 29:18 is translated as “where there is no revelation or prophet vision, the people are discouraged or the people are without restraint.
In the Good News translation, it says that “a nation without God’s guidance is a nation without order.”
We need the revelation of Jesus in our lives. But this is not a process or event. It comes through a relationship with Him.
Jesus is our personal guide. In John 14:6, he says “I am the way, the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me.”
Jesus calls us to follow him. Sometimes we don’t know exactly where we’re going, but He asks us to trust Him as He guides us. He already knows the way through the terrain and what is coming up ahead.
We often like things to be laid out clearly for us and avoid any sense of uncertainty. However, if we were certain of everything, then we would no longer need faith.
Hebrews 11:1 says
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
When we follow Jesus as our personal guide, he is able to show us the way.
Jesus is our Great Shepherd
We may not always know where God is leading us next. However, Jesus is our Great Shepherd. Psalm 23:3-4 assures us that he is guiding us along the right paths and is there to comfort us.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
The Hebrew word for “paths”carries with it the meaning of clearly-defined trails or routes. Sheep, when left to themselves, are prone to wandering off these paths and going their own way. Like sheep, we have a tendency to do the same thing.
Shepherds in Bible times carried both a rod and a staff. They used their rod to direct the sheep back onto the correct path. The shepherd did this by throwing his rod in front of the sheep whenever there was danger ahead. This had the effect of startling the sheep and causing it to bolt away from the danger and back to the safety of the shepherd.
By contrast, the shepherd used his staff to guide the sheep in the way to go. He did this by placing the end of the staff against the sheep’s side and applying pressure gently. This helped steer the sheep back on course. However, another function was simply to touch the sheep with the staff. Having that contact between them let the sheep know that the shepherd was near and allowed it to feel the shepherd’s presence.
As our Great Shepherd, Jesus does the same for us. We are like sheep, and often go astray. There are times when we can’t see where God is leading us. However, we have the assurance that even when we walk through the darkest valleys, we have Jesus as our guide and our comfort. We can trust that He knows the way ahead and we can follow in His righteous path.
Are you more of a map or a compass Christian? Do you like having things planned out well in advance or do you prefer having a general sense of direction?
Do you have trouble trusting God when you can’t see the direction for your life? What’s the hardest part of following Him when you can’t see the way ahead?
Leave your comments in the section below. Also, please share if you found this article useful.
Finally, be sure to subscribe to this blog to receive the latest updates by entering your email below.
I won’t send you any spam and you can unsubscribe at any time.
Robert is the founder of Drawing on the Word. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Theology and a Master’s degree in Systematic Theology. He also has a degree in Law and was called to the Bar. Robert previously taught religious studies and was a theology lecturer. He is an artist, musician and writer, and has created a graphic novel version of Luke’s gospel. You can follow him below.