Direction

“Light for the Path,” © 2017 Lynn Abbott Studios. Used with Permission.

© 2017 Lynn Abbott

I love an adventure.  I supposed that’s why I periodically get the impulse to travel.

That, and the need to find new subject material for paintings drives me out of my comfortable studio and into the wide world beyond it.

For this reason, I recently packed my suitcase and persuaded my “GPS” to accompany me on my grand art safari.  Yes, my husband and his Google maps generally can be trusted to get me where I need to go.

Fortunately, my husband loves to travel, and so very little arm twisting is ever involved when I decide it is time to seek artistic inspiration.

This particular quest for the ideal composition led me to a foreign country.  Thus, our Google Maps Application became extremely important as my husband and I attempted to navigate our way through the unfamiliar countryside to various cities and hotels.

After a full day of exploration, we understandably looked forward to a good meal and a comfortable bed.  On this particular occasion, I noted that Ms. Google would be overjoyed because we planned to follow a small, yet direct highway.

Ms. Google was unusually silent…

Late afternoon light warmed the car, and that, in tandem with the gentle motion of the vehicle, soon put me to sleep.  I awakened to catch the deep purples and blues of dusk dancing on the peaks of snow drizzled mountains.

“We’re almost there,” my husband cheerfully announced.  I glanced at his iPhone and noted that Ms. Google estimated an hour left to drive.  The road became increasingly windy, and ski chalets peppered the foothills.

Moonlight and our rental’s headlights lit the road before us.  I thanked Abba that we would soon be safe in a lovely, little, alpine lodge.  I did not relish the idea of steering through those hairpin turns after dark.

But Ms. Google was unusually silent.  And my husband and I grew suspicious. Our chatty piece of technology evidently snoozed… or perhaps, she was simply miffed because we had spent so much time on back roads that day. She generally prefers the most direct to our beloved scenic route.

Whatever the case, we pulled into what we presumed to be our destination. My misgivings began to grow when we could not find our “hotel.com” booking in that charming hamlet.  My husband rebooted his phone, and then, groaned.

Apparently, our hotel was an hour behind us. The seemingly temperamental Ms. Google had failed us.

Obviously, we had placed our faith in a capricious guide.

It’s really very simple: the directions you follow invariably determine your destination.  And that’s why, for any traveler,  the trustworthiness of the guide is crucial.

Got it.

But in day-to-day practice,  it becomes much more difficult to discern the trustworthy from the unreliable messenger.  My experience with Ms. Google reminds me of this.

I think that’s why Paul exhorts you and me to “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the Word of truth,” (2 Timothy 2:15).

If I haven’t thoroughly studied God’s  “map,” it becomes easy for a capricious guide to lead me in the wrong direction.

And when the way is dark, uncertain, or unclear, I desperately seek direction.  Unfortunately for me, the proffered alternatives to God’s wisdom may at first appear trustworthy.  The messenger might reveal some truth.  Many communiqués may appear to fit my sense of “rightness.”

Obviously, we had placed our faith in a capricious guide.

Yet, such words may also lead me in the wrong direction.   Understandably, then, God warns us:  human experience, feelings, and reasoning often lead us astray.

Or worse than that.

Solomon wrote, “There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death,” (Proverbs 14:12).

And the life of Saul certainly bears this truth out.   His story actually provides a chilling example of someone who appeared to have a genuine encounter with God and yet, as he made life decisions, he ultimately granted ungodly voices equivalent weight to God’s Word.

Yes, Saul listened to the wrong spirit.

I think it likely that he didn’t initially recognize the spirit as evil.  After all, our cunning enemy doesn’t reveal himself as a ferocious beast, but rather comes as a seeming “angel of light.”

On the surface, the message sounds fair; yet, deep down, it is “oh so foul.”

When we first meet Saul in 1 Samuel 9, his untapped potential appears boundless. He seems the perfect solution to Israel’s cry for a human king.

God, of course, warned that to choose human leadership over the divine would ultimately spell trouble.  However, the people wished to be like their neighbors.  They begged for a king, a human figurehead for their government.

And God sent His prophet Samuel to choose Saul.

It’s a curious story, actually.  Scripture describes Saul as the most handsome in the land.  In addition, he towered over most of the people.  Thus, his physical stature commanded respect.

Yet, despite appearances, Saul lacked confidence in God’s messenger as well as in God’s Word or message.  Although Samuel had previously met Saul and by God’s direction had privately anointed Saul as king, Saul nevertheless hid behind the people’s luggage on the day of his public “inauguration,” (1 Samuel 10:22).

Upon first reading, I believed Saul’s reticence to be a sign of humility.  After all, he had remained quiet about his meeting with Samuel.  Even the king elect’s father didn’t know that Samuel had anointed Saul.

But God included a brief account between the description of Saul’s anointing and his official inauguration that on closer examination has reshaped my perspective.

You see, Saul had what we might call a religious experience.  After Samuel anointed Saul, Saul personally encountered God.

Scripture records, “As Saul turned to leave Samuel, God changed Saul’s heart, and all these signs were fulfilled that day,” (1 Samuel 10:9).

As Jesus described in His parable, the sower scattered seed… and in this case, some of that seed took root in Saul’s life.

Further evidence of God’s work in Saul’s heart is found in the same chapter.  On the road home, Saul encountered a group of godly prophets.

And 1 Samuel 10:10 describes that meeting in this way:  “…the Spirit of God came upon him [Saul] in power, and he joined in their prophesying.”

Thus, God clearly demonstrated that He had chosen Saul for the task and that God would give him both spiritual insight and strength for the task.

Despite appearances, Saul lacked confidence in God’s messenger as well as in God’s Word or message.

Yet, when Samuel looked for Saul on inauguration, the chosen king hid behind luggage in the baggage claim.  He cowered in the shadows. Saul had arrived, but he feared the future.

Understandable.  Yet, God had swept into Saul’s life in a huge way.  Saul had truly experienced the Holy Spirit’s work in his life.

Nevertheless, the seed had fallen on rocky soil.  And certainly, Saul’s reign proved extremely rocky.  In fact, only two chapters after his inauguration, Saul comes to a spiritual crossroad, his faith put to the test.

Saul sought to rout the Philistines, Israel’s long-time enemy.  Scripture indicates that Saul was to wait for Samuel to arrive before engaging Philistia in battle.  Samuel would offer a sacrifice to God and bless Israel’s undertaking.

But one day’s wait dragged on to seven.  Saul’s men grew fearful and restless.   Saul’s already shaky confidence in God and His prophet crumbled.  Worldly pressures overwhelmed him.

And he chose to follow “the way that seems right…”  He offered the sacrifice himself, and prepared for immediate battle with Philistia.

Upon arrival,  a dismayed Samuel asked,  “What have you done?”

But Saul really didn’t “get” it.  He expressed no remorse.  He didn’t understand the difference between simply plunging ahead on his own or waiting on God for direction.

Instead, he made excuses.  Although he had experienced God,  experiences alone cannot sustain faith.  Faith is fertilized by the Word of God.

Unfortunately, Saul likely never moved from the “milk” of the Word to the “meat,” (Hebrews 5:13-14).

He evidently did not differentiate between his human pragmatism and God’s Word.

And that spelled big, long-term, trouble.

Samuel said, “You have acted foolishly… You have not kept the command the LORD you God gave you; if you had, He would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time.  But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after His own heart…” (1 Samuel 13:13-14).

Saul actually spent the remainder of his reign seeking to destroy the “man after God’s own heart.”

Without God’s direction,

Without God’s blessing,

Without faith in God’s word,

Saul lacked confidence and peace.

Turmoil characterized his career as king.

He chased, but it continually eluded him.

And he employed manipulation, murder and deceit in his attempts to secure his kingdom.

Experiences alone cannot sustain faith.  Faith is fertilized by the Word of God.

Waiting on God had never been his strong suit, and so at the end of his reign with his back against the wall, he ultimately turned to an evil guide.  In desperation and fear, Saul sought direction from a medium before battling the Philistines, (1 Samuel 31:4) .

There is a way which seems right to a man… 

The battle did not go well for Saul.  And facing death and dishonor, he chose to end his life.

The rocks and weeds choked the seed.  Saul did not value or trust God’s Word above human reason.  And although he seemed to begin well, he soon lost his way.

He followed a capricious guide…

There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death

And there, but for the grace of God, go you and I.

Isaiah writes, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him [Messiah translated “Christ”] the iniquity of us all,” (Isaiah 53: 6).

By Grace, we have been found.  Without a doubt, Grace bridged the gap.  Christ has brought us back to God’s flock and by His Word, He leads us.

He promised, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me–” (John 10: 14).

And our Sovereign-Shepherd is the Light of the World.  He is never capricious. He is the “same yesterday, today and forever,” (Hebrews 13: 8).  We can count on Him.

His lead yields clear direction, God’s blessing and peace.

When life grows dark and uncertain, when our path is unclear, His Word will light our path.  When ungodly alternatives seek to waylay us, Scripture will strengthen and sustain us.

And even if we sometimes lose our way, there is grace.  Indeed, Jesus seeks and finds us.  No lost sheep is forgotten.  So great is His love for us.

For this reason, you and I study Abba’s message.  We long to follow our gracious and loving Savior.   Through His Word, we learn to correctly wield the light He has given us, (2 Timothy 2:15).

And so we say with the Psalmist, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path,” (Psalm 119:105).

Yes, who you follow makes all the difference…  my GPS clearly demonstrated that.

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the Word of truth,”  ~2 Timothy 2:14

“For the Word of God is living and active…”  ~(Hebrews 4:12a)

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