My work as a Hospice Chaplain requires me to drive to homes and to care facilities, which means I regularly make navigational decisions: Where am I going? What’s the best route? The address is on the patient’s medical chart, loaded onto my work-provided-iPad. The roads to take appear on my phone. Thank you, Google Maps.
The routine is automatic. Not much thinking needed or required, especially if the facility is a regular destination or I have had multiple visits at the patient’s home. Sometimes it’ s too habitual; I don’t even think about which route to take … until I’m crawling along in traffic or encounter a detour.
In general, the process is simple: Type in the address. Press Directions. Choose a route based on my two personal operating principles – gas mileage and minutes. Press Start. I’m on my way.
I’ve included a screen shot of my Samsung phone. A group of three dots in the upper corner can change everything. If I press it, choices appear:
Route Options (such as avoid freeways or tolls).
Search along route.
Based upon what I prefer and what I want to do along the way, new recommended routes will appear.
Hmmm. Today we’re going to reflect on our navigational decisions – not in driving, but in life. It follows the January 2023 Blue Spigot post about enlisting the Lord to be our shepherd, as he is called in Psalm 23.
The first verses in that Psalm give an image of One who is very involved in David’s personal decisions: He makes me lie down; He leads me; he refreshes my soul; he guides me along the right paths.
“Right paths” implies that there are also wrong paths, choices we make that often are later accompanied by groans and laments, and the rhetorical question what was I thinking?
That question has a simple answer with many layers: our thinking is influenced by our ingrained operational principles. The voices in our head automatically influence our words and our actions. Every day. All our lives.
Everyone has them. Psst. If you think you don’t, or you’re just oblivious to your inner thoughts and motives … well, not knowing them is not helping you.
Granted, some of our instincts are admirable and positive, endearing us to other people. They might echo the disappointed dad or overly mothering mom of our youth. But they are just as likely to be our personal convictions or compulsions about how to act or react, to grow, achieve, and improve.
What will people think?
How can I help you?
I’m such an idiot. Don’t screw up again.
What’s the right thing to do?
What’s in it for me?
Be strong. Stand your ground!
Let others go first. After you.
Take heart – not all your instincts are warped or wicked. Sometimes they make Jesus smile, because you’re reacting like he would. Some wise, some foolish. Some proud and self-centered, some humble and helpful to others. We rarely think about them. We just act.
Jesus wants us to learn to rely on the trinity of three in the upper corner of our minds. [Did you catch that? Trinity. Three. Father, Son & Holy Spirit? OK, it’s cheesy, but it works.] We practice that because it matters how we live. How we navigate life.
Let’s make this personal. First person singular.
Some time back you decided to follow Jesus. Since Jesus is with you, he wants you to pause and seek his counsel before you act and react. What should I do? What do you prefer, Jesus? What should I avoid? What would be the loving thing to do? What or who might you want me to do or see? As you learn to take this intermediate step, new recommended route options for your life will appear. It changes everything.
I find it incredibly wonderful that the God of the universe is not just viewing us on his earthly monitor with a skeptical eye toward our behavior – naughty or nice? – but is actually interested in helping us make wise choices.
Like a benevolent coach (or shepherd) he delights in our good decisions, ones that bring inner peace and healing to our little corner of the world and to ourselves.
And yes, he still loves us when we make foolish choices. Again. And again.
Walking in the way of wisdom is one of the common biblical themes. The people of God have always been called to seek his counsel in our choices before we automatically follow our personal operating principles.*
In that same vein, Jesus called his followers to a higher path, the way of love.
If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. **
If you’ve made it this far in reading my post, thanks. This is where our thoughts move from …
Nice idea, Brian, but make this practical, will you?
Oh wow, this is life changing!
Did you notice that Jesus combined two words that don’t normally belong in the same sentence: command and love. Jesus commands us to love. Barking orders to your friends? Huh?
For us to thrive, we must learn to think differently about God’s role in our lives.
And you already know how to do this. In fact, you’re already doing this in another area of your life – your physical health. You just haven’t applied the same mindset to your spiritual health.
About a dozen years ago, I went to see my Primary Care Physician about shoulder pain. I was pretty sure that I had injured the rotator cuff and would likely need surgery.
Dr. Johnson knew some things about the human body that I didn’t. Because of medical imaging, he could also see something I couldn’t: my rotator cuff was fine; I had bursitis.
He did what Doctors are supposed to do: he gave me two prescriptions.
Take Ibuprofen (like Advil) because it reduces inflammation. That meant I needed to stop taking my preferred choice of pain relievers: Acetaminophen (Tylenol).
See a physical therapist and do what you’re instructed. Huh? Exercise my way out of pain? That didn’t make sense to me. But after about six weeks of appointments with the therapist, and faithfully doing the prescribed exercises at home, I was amazed at the results. The pain was gone.
Prescriptions. They’re also called Doctor’s Orders. I trusted my doctor and did what I was told. It made all the difference.
Hear again Jesus’ words to us but substituting one word:
If you keep my prescriptions, you will remain in my love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My prescription is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I prescribe. **
Does it sound different now? The commandments of our faith are God’s prescriptions for health and wholeness.
The Ten Commandments become the Ten Prescriptions.
The Great Commandments – Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself – become the Great Prescriptions.
His wisdom, the way of love – need to become our primary operating principles in life.*** We do well to follow them, substituting them for our ingrained habits.
Why? Because he knows more than we do, sees things more than we can, and gives us wise counsel. He knows that learning to walk in his ways will relieve our inner pain and give us lasting peace.
And yes, he knows that learning this will be a lifetime venture, and he promises to see us through to the end.
This is not an option the truly devoted might take. No, this is what it means to be a disciple. The Shepherd leads, we follow. When we recite the Lord’s Prayer, we mean it: Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
And it all starts with some simple actions:
Pause and look to the trinity of three in the upper corner of your mind.
Talk to Jesus regularly and frequently about how to act and react.
Set aside your personal preferences and automatic operating principles if they’re not in line with his wisdom.
Follow the leading of the Holy Spirit throughout your day.
But can Doctor Jesus really be trusted?
Great question. That’s our topic next month.
Benediction of Blessing:
May God give you the grace to re-cognize – have a new understanding – the Lord as your Shepherd.
May love be your primary operating principle – love of God, your neighbor, and your enemy.
May you accept and put into practice the benevolent prescriptions of the Good Physician.
* Five books of the Old Testament are devoted to the question of how to make wise choices – Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs. Here’s how J.I.Packer summarized them:
· Job: How to suffer
· Psalms: How to Worship [I prefer How to converse with God]
· Proverbs: How to behave
· Ecclesiastes: How to live
· Song of Songs: How to love
** Portions of John 15:10-14
*** The book of Proverbs has one stated purpose: for gaining wisdom and instruction. Reading the book regularly makes sense. Thirty-one chapters, each with about thirty verses. And about the same number of days in a month. Sound simple, right? For several years I tried to read a chapter a day but found it overwhelming. For many more years, I stopped reading them.
Recently I came up with a workable plan. I divided each of the chapters into three segments, about ten verses each. Yes, I wrote a line in the margins of each chapter in my Bible.
· In the 1st, 4th, 7th & 10th months, I read the first segment, around 9 – 12 verses.
· In the 2nd, 5th, 8th & 11th months, I read the second segment.
· In the 3rd, 6th, 9th & 12th months, I read the third segment.
Bingo – Four times yearly I’m reading the book of Proverbs, or at least most of it. I miss a day now and then. No big deal. I hope this idea may help you. Get wisdom, get understanding. Proverbs 4:5
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All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version, NIV. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. TM