Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Tom-Tom Theology

This Christmas, my husband gave me one of those portable GPS devices for my car to aid me in navigating more efficiently around our metropolitan area. I really LOVE using it and am quickly becoming dependent on it. The kind he got me - a Tom Tom - has different voices and languages to select from - I chose Tim. I like Tim. Tim talks to me in a very suave British accent. Tim doesn't get impatient or yell at me. Tim gives clear progressive directions saying, "In 800 yards, turn left...Take the next left...Left turn here." And then, when I cruise right past the left turn I was supposed to make, Tim very calmly announces something like, "In 400 yards turn right and then take the next right." I could miss my left turns thirty times over and Tim would continue to speak to me in that calm, suave, clear voice. And what Tim doesn't do or say is most impressive. Tim doesn't snipe angrily at me. Tim doesn't yell, "WHAT ARE YOU? BLIND? I SAID TURN LEFT YOU PRAT!" But best of all: Calm, clear, suave Tim is at my beck and call. Did I mention that I really, really like Tim?

It truly is an amazing little piece of technology. If you're not familiar with these gizmos, basically the way they work is that a few satellites get a read on where you are. You tell the GPS, through touch screen menus, where you want to end up. It puts all the pieces of intelligent information together and tells you the best way to get where you want to go. First it shows you a "big picture" route map and then, once you start driving, it gives you turn by turn instructions to get there. Frankly, that's how I'd like God to work in my life. And, in reality, that's very much how God does work in our lives.

But lately life's been complicated. I've been feeling a little bit adrift, a little bit restless. I've been wondering how to make the best decisions about what ministry "opportunities" to take on, what new initiatives to support and follow, what current ministry engagements to let go of. Now, in my experience, when that restlessness begins to overtake the sense of settled inner peace, it's God's signal to start paying closer attention. It's like God is saying, "You-hoo, Reverend Mother, too much going on...you're getting too distracted with too many things...you're veering off course." So, I begin to look for signs that will point to a clear direction. In these times, I really become dependent on my spiritual GPS - the Holy Spirit. I pray more and I listen harder for the calm, clear voice that will spell it all out for me: "In exactly 17 days, leave this bit behind and then take the next right turn to follow that path." But there's one problem. Usually when I'm in this more-restlessness-than-peace place, the picture just isn't that clear.

The other day I was heading out and was a little bit under the gun timewise. So, naturally I wanted to know the route I should take to get me to my destination via the quickest route with the fewest problems. As I reached the top of my driveway, tapping in the destination on Tim's touch screen, I realized that the picture on the GPS wasn't so clear. It was darker than the normal bright colors and the picture was incomplete. I checked to make sure that I didn't have it set for "night colors." In checking I saw the little memo floating across the screen: "Please wait - searching for more satellites." I sat there paralyzed for a moment and then I realized that I had two viable choices: 1)I could continue to just sit there patiently and wait for the signal. That way I wouldn't risk losing precious time or have to turn around in case I set out in the wrong direction. 2) I could begin to guess which way to go, head out, and if wrong, turn around when the route was spelled out more clearly. I wasn't too worried - I knew it would just be a matter of time. And I knew that when the GPS picked up those missing satellite signals the way would become clear and I would have a dependable route to get me where I was heading.

That is the way the Holy Spirit seems to work. We might think that the Spirit is at our beck and call, but sometimes we're simply not in the right place to get all the signals, to have the right connection. But we always have options: We might decide to go ahead and set out, trusting that in moving we'll get closer to where we're supposed to be and then the signals will get stronger and we'll get those clear, calm turn-by-turn directions. At that point we might either discover that we're on the right path or be told "at the first opportunity, make a legal "U" turn." Conversely, we might decide to just sit and wait until the satellites reposition into a place where the connection can be made and then the path becomes clear before we set out. Either way, the point is that the satellites are there, they can eventually get a fix on us, and we will get the direction we need. All we have to do is make the decision to turn on the GPS: whether we wait or whether we set out knowing that we might have to change course is up to us.

This is also the way the Christian life works. There are an infinite number of routes we can take to get where we're headed. However, not all of those routes are good choices - some are long, some have roadblocks, some will take us through unsafe areas and, sometimes we might luck into a pretty good route. But early on, we can make a decision to engage that Spiritual GPS. Once we do there are still going to be choices for us to make, but they are clearer and shorter term with more reliable outcomes. They will also each have their own consequences so we have to decide which consequences we can live with (e.g. waiting longer or turning around?). Basically we must decide how we're going to position ourselves as we wait for that full connection with God. But, once the connection is established the way becomes clearer and clearer. And God is so gracious - God never snipes, or yells, or calls us names. But here's what's really cool: Always, even before we're connected, God is there patiently waiting for us to engage.

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