Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation; for You I wait all day long. (Psalm 25.4-5)
The Best Way
People look at me like I’m crazy when I say I can’t remember the last time Walt or I drove. We own a car on the off chance we’ll want to drive it somewhere. Living in Chicago makes driving an unattractive option, however, since it’s quicker, easier, and cheaper to get around on foot or via cab and mass transit. Consequently, I know next to nothing about GPS devices. But I like idea of them. It amazes me that we’re able to consult a satellite to tell us how to go. Perhaps more amazing, it helps us when we’ve gone wrong. When we've missed a turn or misunderstood its direction, it remaps our course. It even gives us choices. Do we want the quickest or shortest route? Would we rather take surface streets than highways? Are we more comfortable dealing with traffic on main thoroughfares, or do we prefer less-traveled roads? I like that.
Since I don’t regularly use a GPS, I’m always amused when riding with friends who do. They seem to have a relationship with their devices and talk back to the voice as it tells them what to do. When it advises them they’ve gone too far, they’ll say, “I know! I know!” When it steers them down an unfamiliar path, they’ll ask, “Are you sure?” When its directions aren’t clear—when what it says and what’s on the map don't appear to match what they’re looking at—they’ll moan, “I don’t know what you mean.” Sometimes, when they let the gizmo lead them despite their consternation, they’ll exclaim, “Oh, now I see what you’re doing!” Much of the time, however, they seem to express more frustration with the system than appreciation for its guidance. I asked one my friends about this once. Why even bother with the thing, if it gets you worked up? “The GPS isn’t the problem,” he told me. “It knows the best way. The problem is me. I’m the one who doesn’t do what it says.”
Availing Ourselves to God’s Direction
By now you probably know where I’m headed with this, because the parallels between how we use GPS technology and engage our living God explain themselves. Aside from the metaphor, however, the relationship similarities interest me. Even when we rely on God’s guidance, we’re not fond of being told we’ve missed a turn, turned wrong, or gone too far. There are many times—often long expanses of time—when we hear what God is saying and we see it in God’s Word, but what we’re told doesn’t seem to resemble what we’re actually looking at. Sometimes we move ahead without a clue where God is taking us and it takes a while to understand what God is doing. And I think we need patience with ourselves if we’re going to let God work in our lives, as our problems with God’s guidance rest with us—our distrust, inattention, and resistance to do what God says.
In Sunday’s readings, geared to reflect Lenten themes, we hear Psalmist David pray, “Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation; for You I wait all day long.” (v4-5) Teach me Your ways. Tell me how to go. I trust You to save me. I wait for You to show me what You’re doing. All of that sounds terrific on paper. We ask the same of GPS devices; it’s why we buy them. Yet availing ourselves to God’s direction can quickly fall to the wayside when what God says and where God leads doesn’t jibe with our ideas and desires. We’re sure we’ve found a better way—a shortcut, maybe, or a scenic route, or a less problematic path. We’d rather steer clear of heavy traffic and construction. We like to believe we’re too smart and experienced to get lost. We prefer to travel what we’re told is an easier road, one with lots of rest stops and restaurants and pleasurable distractions. Teach me. Tell me. Save me. Show me. We’re good with all of it, as long as God teaches us what we want to know, tells us what we want to hear, saves us when we want to be saved, and shows us what we want to see. The moment God’s guidance detours from the map we’ve drawn for our lives, it’s not as simple or easy as it sounds.
Lives of Non-Stop Learning
In Sunday’s Gospel (Mark 1.9-15), we read that after God declares Jesus to be God’s Son, “the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” (v12) Surely this is not the route we’d want to take if we were in Jesus’s shoes. After all, none less than God has just confirmed that we are divine—“the Beloved,” God calls us—which makes us really, really special. A parade to City Hall, invitation to the White House, if nothing else, a trip to Disneyland would seem more appropriate. But to be driven into the wilderness, dropped off in the middle of nowhere, with no entourage or provisions to survive until we’re picked up 40 days later? That’s just nuts! And get this. The Spirit doesn’t even show Jesus the common decency to drop Him in a safe neighborhood. Verse 13 says He’s “tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on Him.” Having angels on stand-by isn’t much consolation when you’re staring evil in the face and sleeping with wolves and scorpions. We'd pass on the whole “Beloved” thing and find a decent hotel. But Jesus goes because Jesus knows. He knows that what’s on the other side of this wilderness ordeal will require more strength and wisdom than He presently possesses. This is God’s teachable moment with Jesus—and what Jesus learns from it will prove invaluable from Day One of His ministry until the day He dies.
Our faith ancestors, in a flash of holy inspiration, instituted Lent as our annual opportunity to rekindle the desire to be taught, told, saved, and shown. It’s a back-to-school exercise that strives to fix our problem with following God’s guidance. That is, it strives to fix us by reminding us God sees each of our lives as one long teachable moment. In the wilderness we learn ours can be lives of non-stop learning. We can allow God to lead—to teach us God’s ways, tell us God’s truth, save us from our losing ways, and show us what God needs us to see. When God guides us, it doesn’t matter where we are. We can stare evil in the face without submitting to its temptations and lop-sided logic. We can outlast beastly predators and danger. We can wait to see what God is doing in us, because in the wait God’s angels wait on us, providing us the grace and stamina to get through our wildernesses. Teach me. Tell me. Save me. Show me. We may not always like where that takes us. But if we’re open to God’s guidance, we’ll learn there’s no better way to go.
Lent’s wilderness lesson teaches us that when we trust God’s direction our lives become one long teachable moment.
Postscript: Teach Me, Oh Lord
We take a Sunday departure from our “40 Questions” to channel our weekday pondering into prayer. While working on the post, this recording rang in my ears. With apologizes for not having better video, I invite you to pray along with Vanessa Bell Armstrong as she sings, “Teach Me, Oh Lord”.