Many years ago a friend of mine bought an early model of a GPS device for her car. We decided to try it out as we drove through a large, busy city.
We set our desired destination and the robot-sounding voice began to dictate directions. However, the traffic was heavy and we were unfamiliar with the streets, so we constantly missed the turn we had been told to make or couldn’t go in the direction we had been instructed to head.
Each time we didn’t do what we’d been told, the GPS would announce, “Recalculating route” and then would give us an alternate plan. I am sure it was my imagination, but by the tenth time, I think there was a tone of exasperation from the robot-guide and somewhere inside the device, eyes were rolling.
Nevertheless, repeatedly hearing the phrase “recalculating route” prompted me to consider the process of “recalculation” and the need we have as believers to be responsive to God’s leading when our lives are rerouted. This can happen suddenly (such as with a diagnosis of a serious illness or unexpected unemployment) or with some forewarning (such as with a decision to marry or move to another location), but in each instance we find ourselves changing direction and heading into the unknown.
The children of Israel faced a major rerouting when their future was recalculated and they moved out of Egypt to Canaan. After their wearying, winding path through the wilderness they finally stood at the doorway to the Promised Land. It must have been an exhilarating, terrifying moment. Joshua saw the need to reassure the people that though, “You have not been this way before,” (Joshua 3:4) they would not have to navigate the way alone. The Ark of the Covenant—the word of the Lord and the presence of God—would go before them to show the way.
Likewise, as Jesus was anticipating his death, resurrection and ascension, he tried to prepare his disciples that though their route was about to be recalculated, they, too would not be left alone to find their way. “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26 ESV)
When our path takes a sudden turn, when our trajectory gets rerouted we can be assured that God is not taken by surprise. The same ‘guidance system’ he provided for daily life (his word and his spirit—his rod and his staff) will guide us through the unexpected and the unknown.
In addition to the times when circumstances of life set us on a new course or when God directs us to a different journey, there are times when we need to “recalculate” or correct our own route. This is particularly true when the Holy Spirit convicts of sin. To repent actually means to change direction. It happens when we choose to move off the path of resentment, or gossip or lust, and restart down the path of obedience, holiness and humility. As Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery, “Go, and sin no more” (John 8:11). He tells her to recalculate her route and head a different direction.
In this story, the crowds also are prompted to choose a new course for themselves. Jesus reminds them of the sinfulness of judging others: "’Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her’ … they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones” (John 8:7-9 ESV). They left the path of arrogance and accusation. We can hope they rerouted themselves toward grace and compassion.
Our family lived in East Africa for a time and had the privilege to visit many large game parks. Because we lived in the area, we drove through the preserves in our own car and were able to explore some of the more remote areas. Often, though, the innermost roads were rugged or muddy or just petered out. U-turns in the high savannah grasses where common. And more than once the siting of a too-near rhino or approaching lion prompted us to quickly recalculate our route.
When we need to navigate difficult times in our lives and the route needs to be changed suddenly and often, even then we can be assured that God is right with us giving real-time direction. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you” (Isaiah 43:2 ESV).
Unlike my imagination about the GPS my friend and I depended on, as God directs our steps he never gets exasperated with our many mis-steps or our frequent need for a fresh map. We are reminded in James 1:5: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”
As you look ahead on your path daily, consider starting each morning with this prayer for guidance: “Lord grant me the grace to choose well—to engage my world with the peace that you give me, to have courage in the face of difficulty and confidence that you are guiding me” (Alone with The Lord, Gordon T. Smith).