Seagull flying - Galveston, TX

Obeying God’s rules sets you free

I like doing my own thing. I don’t like to be bossed around. I’d much rather be on my own and accomplish my own goals and make my own mistakes and get credit for my own victories. Not to say I like the spotlight. I don’t. At all. But when it comes to living, my default is to follow my gut.

But the longer I live and the more I get to know the Lord, the better I understand that my gut–my own reasoning and my heart–aren’t always right. That is to say, my default isn’t to make choices that glorify God. My default is to make choices that make life easier for me.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. It’s not unique to me or to you or to anyone else on Earth. It’s not even unique to this culture or this period of time. It’s born into us, and it’s something God has been dealing with since Mankind decided to take life into their own hands.

Seagull flying - Galveston, TX

Seagull flying – Galveston, TX

Today’s verses are Psalm 81:8-14.

“Listen to me, O my people, while I give you stern warnings.
O Israel, if you would only listen to me!
You must never have a foreign god;
you must not bow down before a false god.
For it was I, the Lord your God,
who rescued you from the land of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it with good things.
“But no, my people wouldn’t listen.
Israel did not want me around.
So I let them follow their own stubborn desires,
living according to their own ideas.
Oh, that my people would listen to me!
Oh, that Israel would follow me, walking in my paths!
How quickly I would then subdue their enemies!
How soon my hands would be upon their foes!

It’s really easy to see God as this big fun-squasher in the sky. The eternal babysitter who’s only interested in reinforcing our bedtime or making sure we eat all our vegetables. But that’s a childish way to see God.

I mean, after all, as a grown up, you learn to recognize the benefits of a bedtime and eating your vegetables, don’t you? As children, they seemed like unfair rules, but as adults we recognize that those rules were for our good.

Christians, don’t you think it’s time we grew up?

The history of Israel and its relationship with God is written down in the Bible so that we could see just how faithful God is. If He hasn’t given up on Israel after all this time, He won’t give up on anyone. But the story is also there for us to understand what happens when we try to live life on our own terms.

You may be smart and respected and moral and kind. You can be all those things and still not know what’s good for you. You can be the best person in the world and still make choices that go against what God says is right.

God’s been very plain with us. He’s gone out of His way to help us understand what He says is right and what He says is wrong. It’s written down in plain language for everyone to see and read. And if you’re a Christ-follower, if you say you follow Jesus, then surely you’ve read the Bible. Surely you’ve made an attempt to understand what God says is right. And so surely when the moments come for you to obey, you obey. Right?

I can’t say I always have. I wish I could, but I’d be lying. It’s so much easier to just do what I want to do. That’s what I tell myself. That’s how I rationalize it. I tell myself that I’m not hurting anyone or that my choices won’t affect anybody else but me. But that’s not true. I don’t know the future. I don’t know what’s coming. My choices today could have a huge impact on my future and anyone else I know. I can’t know that. But God does. So when God tells me to do something–or when He tells me not to do something–I should listen.

God won’t bless me if I live a life opposed to what He says is right. He won’t rush to my rescue when I’ve fallen into the pit I’ve dug for myself. Yes, He’ll hear me, and if I turn back to Him, He’ll come for me.

My own ideas and my stubborn desires have gotten me into more trouble than I care to admit, and it’s only in turning away from them and turning to God and to God’s rules that I’ve found true freedom. Funny how obeying the rules can set you free, while following your gut leaves you in chains to the consequences of your choices.

God hasn’t given us rules to keep us from having fun. He’s laid down His expectations so that we can live free.

Downtown Chicago at night, Chicago, IL

The GPS made me do it

Last year, I ended up in Miami for a work trip. I was down there interviewing some plumbing contractors for a story I was writing for my company magazine, and while we were down there it was decided that we needed to rent a vehicle. We ended up with a manly Nissan Versa and my coworker, our videographer, our guide, and I spent a couple of days trying to get ourselves killed in Miami traffic. Fortunately for us, the manly Nissan Versa came with a GPS. But unfortunately, it only spoke Spanish.

One night after we’d had dinner out with some of our Latin American sales team members, we were trying to get back to our hotel, and the GPS (it had decided to speak English for us) got confused. And I mean really confused. The poor thing kept directing us back to the Miami airport, and once we were at the airport, it kept telling us to turn right, turn right, turn right! … But turning right would be turning into the arrival terminal! Not a good place to turn right.  The GPS was obviously glitching out, but the driver had enough common sense not to listen.

I heard a story on the radio yesterday that tourists in Alaska are running into a similar problem. Their GPS systems are giving them directions that send them onto the runway of an Alaskan airport that is clearly marked with signs and fences, and the people are doing what the GPS says in spite of the fact that it’s obviously wrong.

Can you imagine what would have happened if my coworker took the GPS’s word for it and turned our Nissan Versa into the airport terminal? I think we would have gotten in a lot of trouble. People might have gotten hurt. I’m sure we would have gone to jail. And our only reason would be that the GPS told us to do it.

Sometimes I think I’m like a broken GPS system, not because I get easily lost but because I get easily confused and then I stubbornly insist that I’m right even when the truth of my ignorance is staring me right in the face.

Downtown Chicago at night, Chicago, IL

Downtown Chicago at night, Chicago, IL

Today’s verse is Isaiah 48:17-18.

This is what the Lord says—
    your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
“I am the Lord your God,
    who teaches you what is good for you
    and leads you along the paths you should follow.
Oh, that you had listened to my commands!
    Then you would have had peace flowing like a gentle river
    and righteousness rolling over you like waves in the sea.

None of us can trust our own senses or our own understanding of circumstances and situations because we don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle. We don’t know what the big picture is supposed to look like. So how on Earth can we know which direction we’re supposed to go when we aren’t even sure where we’re going? That’s why we have the Bible. That’s why God is leading us in the direction He wants us to go, and He expects us to trust Him.

If we trust Him, He brings us peace. If we trust Him to take care of the details, He’ll handle the real problems before we reach them. Everything else we encounter on the road is just an opportunity to get stronger, to grow our faith, and to learn something we didn’t know the day before.

But it’s our choice to trust Him. We don’t have to take His word for it. We can go off and do our own thing, blindly groping in the dark, facing the insecurities and uncertainties we thought we understood. But it won’t be very long before we realize we don’t know as much as we thought we did. We’ll learn soon enough that we’re trying to navigate with a GPS system that isn’t functioning properly, and either we’ll end up more lost than we started out or we’ll crash and burn. Following our own path always ends up one of those two ways.

But God never gets confused. He never gets turned around. He always knows exactly where He’s going and exactly where we need to be, and He’s not about keeping secrets. No, He tells us everything we need to know. And the stuff He doesn’t tell us? Well, we don’t need to know it.

So if you’re tired of getting bad directions, if you’re tired of driving your proverbial Nissan Versa into the proverbial Miami airport, consider a word of friendly advice: ditch the broken GPS. Get directions from somebody who knows where they’re going. You’ll be less frustrated, and you might even learn to enjoy the ride along the way.