Back-Alley Following

When driving to an unfamiliar location, have you ever had to follow a friend who was driving in another car?  In today’s world of electronic maps and directions, I suppose that this is less common.  Still, I have often found myself trying to keep up with another vehicle, driving through strange streets to get to a place that I haven’t been to before.

There’s a little bit of art to this activity, whether you are leading or following.  A yellow stoplight can be awkward: if both parties don’t stop, or both don’t go through, they get separated.  Here, the lead car may pull into a parking lot just past the light, and then merge back onto the street as the light changes, resuming the lead role.  If there isn’t an opportunity to do so (or if the lead driver isn’t paying attention), the car in the back may be relegated to alternate navigation options.

When I’m in this situation, and my wife or I have a navigation app or our GPS set to the same location, it will sometimes chirp at us to take a different route from what the lead car is doing.  We typically choose to follow the drive who is leading, though.  Not only do we trust them to know things that even AI and machine learning might not know, but there’s a bit of twisted fun in forcing the algorithm to keep recalculating.

Have a look at this verse from Romans, talking about why God sent Jesus and broke the hold that sin had over us (at least, that’s how I read v.3 – you can read all of Romans 8:1-4 for context and decide for yourself).

He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.
Romans 8:4 NLT

God had a purpose in His plan.  When we couldn’t follow the path to righteousness by the law, Jesus paid the cost.  But, note how followers of Jesus are described: The second part of this verse defines Who we follow now, rather than following something that was leading us down a harmful and self-destructive path.

That – the direction provided by the Holy Spirit – is the key “GPS” (God-Provided Signal?) that makes a difference in how Christians should live.  The basics of good and bad are offered to each of us, and some people try to do good out of sheer force of will.  Without the right directions, though, it is easy to get lost and turned around.  Even Christians who think that their role is to “just do good things” can find themselves frustrated and unfruitful if they don’t first hand over their map to the Holy Spirit, and the choose to merely follow where He leads.

While the trip can be challenging in some ways, the Christian walk is really that simple: Once we turn our lives over to Jesus as our Savior and Lord, our role is to just follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance.  I see this less as “just try harder”, and more “let go and listen”.

To be fair, the Spirit may lead us to new places, even ones where we don’t know where to turn next, or where the environment is uncomfortable to us.  (“Uncomfortable”, by the way, is sometimes just a practical synonym for “unfamiliar”.)  His leading may take us through regions, relationships, and responsibilities that we would prefer to not visit.  However, if (since?) we trust that He has a plan, and that He is leading us to the right destination, we can remain confident that following Him is better than the squawking of other voices around us, telling us to go in a different direction.

What does this look like?  I think that my smartphone is a good example.  Just as the GPS app might direct me differently than the path taken by a local resident, other apps on that phone can pull me in another direction: Maybe I read well-meaning – but factually-incorrect – stories or online posts.  Maybe the Internet pulls me towards junk that takes me away from God.  Maybe the games on my phone take my attention away from other people, who need to see me extending grace, compassion, and service (just like Jesus did).  As a result, I have to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, and watch where He is guiding me, even as my smartphone is trying to convince me to travel where God doesn’t want me to go.

Just as a map application doesn’t always choose the best route for us, since it doesn’t know the reality of the route like a local driver, we can’t trust machines or fallible human beings for the decisions we make in life.  When the Holy Spirit signals that we should make a turn, let’s put on our own blinker, and get in the correct lane to follow!


Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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