In hiking over unfamiliar terrain, a compass is valuable. While a map of the foreign terrain is also precious, a map may not be at our disposal. In such a situation, the compass will point to the North. Once we know the direction of the North, we can then chart the direction to take to reach our destination.
Life is hiking in ever-changing terrain. No map is at our disposal because tomorrow’s terrain is the unknown. The magnetic compass does not work on our journey through the terrain of life. How then do we navigate the unknown terrain?
Thankfully, God has given us his Spirit to guide us. His Spirit inspired the writing of Scripture to communicate God’s guidance to lead us forward (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The same Spirit lives in every believer to prompt us as we read the Scripture (John 16:13). God’s Spirit baptising every believer into Christ’s body speaks to us through the other members of the body unless we refuse to reflect on what they said (1Cor. 12:13).
Despite having all these Spirit’s resources, we still fumble and stumble in discerning what God desires for us. We struggle because we have to learn to recognise the Spirit’s prompting, to interpret the Spirit’s inspired Scripture and find members of Christ’s body whom we are confident to confide. Discerning what God desires for us is a learning process while we navigate tomorrow’s terrain.
Another reason is that we have to ‘unlearn’ our usual way of deciding the best direction for ourselves. While we should use reasoning in deciding what we think is best, our reasoning is not the final arbiter. The Lord calls us to trust him by not relying on our understanding, which is our reasoning. Instead, we are called to acknowledge him in all our ways (Prov. 3:5-6). Acknowledging means talking to the Lord about our reasoning and asking him what he thinks about our assessment. We talk to him alone and with other members of Christ’s body.
While we are learning and unlearning, how do we utilise the Spirit’s resources in navigating the future landscape? If we want to know the best direction to take for tomorrow, we need to know God’s desire for us. Knowing God’s overall desire for us is like recognising which direction is North.
How do we know God’s North for us? God has given us the Spirit’s inspired Scripture. Although there are things hard to interpret in the Scripture, God’s desire for everyone is clear from the sacred writings. God loves humanity even though we are sinners. He sent his Son Jesus to save the human race and not condemn us (John 3:16-17). God desires that everyone should know him and his Son, which is eternal life (John 17:3). To those who respond to his love, his Son called each of them friends (John 15:12-17). God desires his Son’s friends to love one another just like how his Son loved them so that the world may recognise that they are his Son’s friends (John 13:34-35).
While these are not exhaustive details of what God desires for every believer, these details sufficiently give us a picture of what God’s North is. God’s desire for every believer is that we maintain an intimate relationship with him and his Son and intimate friendship with his Son’s friends. If we desire to keep moving toward God’s North, then the best direction for tomorrow’s landscape must steer us toward God’s desire (1 John 4:7-8).
Is this the fundamental conviction of our hearts? Here we rely on the Spirit, whom God has sealed in every believer (cf. 2 Cor. 1:21-22). We voluntarily seek the Spirit to convert our head knowledge into heart’s conviction. Praying alone and with others over this fundamental truth to become our inner conviction is part of the learning process. Just as a new compass needle needs to be magnetised before it points towards North, all believers’ hearts need the Spirit to magnetise God’s desire into their hearts as the fundamental conviction (cf. 1 Thess. 5:19).
While the magnetising of our hearts may take time, the Scripture provides another criterion to direct us. Since we are called to love God and others, this criterion will eliminate some obvious options before us (cf. Matt. 22:34-40). Options that lead to denying God or hurting ourselves or others should be eliminated from our list. What remains are neutral or good options that lead us to intimacy with God and his Son’s friends.
In deciding which neutral or good option is best for us? We acknowledge God by praying over the reasonings of our preference (cf. Prov. 3:5-6). God’s Spirit will guide our reasoning if we seek him. The Holy Spirit will also guide us if we ask for feedback from those maturing in Christ (cf. Prov. 20:18). While we are personally responsible for our decisions, God lives in our spiritual family to guide us (1Cor. 2:16; 12:12-13).
How do we navigate the terrain of today and tomorrow?
First, all our decisions must steer us toward God’s desire, which is intimacy with him and his Son’s friends.
Second, our options should never be contrary to loving God and others as ourselves.
Third, our final choice is our personal responsibility, but God guides us through our spiritual family. In this way, we will not be trapped in subjectivism unless we choose to do so.
Fourth, if we discover that our choice is not steering us toward intimacy with God and his people, we should rechart our course and learn from our experience. Navigating life’s terrain is a learning process.
Cheng Eng Hwa