The Spirit Guides

      Comments Off on The Spirit Guides

To listen to today’s reflection as a podcast, click here

During the month of November, we’re taking a look at 21 essential activities of the Holy Spirit, who represents God’s presence in and through every follower of Jesus.
“Do you want to know the secret of a long life?”
That’s the question Michael Gartner’s 95-year-old father asked him one day, seemingly out of the blue, while he was driving his parents.   
“I guess so,” replied Gartner, former president of NBC News, who recalled the conversation in a 2006 memoir in USA Today.  “No left turns,” said his father.  “What?” Gartner replied.  “No left turns,” his dad repeated. 
The elder Gartner went on to report that he and his wife, who was then 88 years old, had read an article that most car accidents involving senior citizens happened because they made ill-advised left turns in front of oncoming traffic.  Aging often diminishes depth perception.  “So your mother and I decided never again to make a left turn.” 
Gartner’s dad had long since given up driving.  He acted as navigator while his wife sat behind the wheel.  Neither had a very keen sense of direction.  “But it seemed to work,” remembers Michael.  Nevertheless, the revelation that his parents never made a left turn came as something of a shock.
“You’re kidding!” he said, turning to his mother for confirmation.  “Your father is right,” she said.  “We make three rights.  It works.” 
When you think about it, three consecutive right turns will indeed point you in the same direction as a single left turn.  But then his mother added, “Except when your father loses count.”
Gartner laughed so hard he almost drove off the road.  “Loses count?” he asked.  “Yes,” his father admitted, “that sometimes happens.  But it’s not a problem.  You just make seven rights, and you’re OK again.” 
Michael couldn’t resist. “Do you ever go for 11?”  “No,” said his dad, “if we miss it at seven, we just come home and call it a bad day.”
If you get behind the wheel of your car today, you’ll probably make your own share of right turns.  And left ones, too.  But that doesn’t guarantee that at any given moment you’ll know exactly where you’re going.
Guidance is one of the central concerns of walking with God.  How do we know that we’re heading in the right direction?  Can anyone ever be sure they’re pursuing the right vocation, marrying the right person, and investing their time and energy in the right pursuits?
There’s a cartoon in which two men, dressed in rags and half crazed from thirst, happen upon a table in the middle of the desert.  Four individuals in lab coats are sitting there.  “We’re saved!” exclaims one of the men.  “It’s a panel of experts!” 
We won’t, however, find our way through this world by means of expert opinion.  That’s the Holy Spirit’s job.  
The prophet Isaiah points out that God’s people have been gifted with an extraordinary onboard navigation system:
“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it’” (Isaiah 30:21).  The inner voice of the Spirit, that whisper that helps us discern where God wants us to be headed, is better than GPS.
There’s one caveat, however.  The Holy Spirit’s guidance system doesn’t work when you’re sitting in your car, parked in the driveway, waiting for God to send you a text with a detailed map and full set of instructions concerning the next 40 years of your life.
That message is never going to come.
Guidance arrives when we’re moving.  And it sometimes comes one turn at a time.  As Isaiah points out, it’s when we’re turning to the right or to the left that we hear God’s voice.
God’s directions may come to us through a variety of sources and circumstances.  As Dallas Willard points out in his exceptional book Hearing God, our call is to prayerfully listen for his voice, study Scripture diligently, and learn from those who have gone before us. 
All of those activities are on display in one of the lynchpin moments of the early church, a story which is reported in Acts chapter 15. 
A Who’s Who of New Testament leaders – including Peter, Paul, Barnabas, and Jesus’ brother James, who leads the Jerusalem church – have gathered in that city to discern God’s will concerning the most urgent question of the day:  Do Gentiles have to become Jews in order to follow Jesus? 
Emotions run high.  There’s a lot at stake. 
The assembled group hears personal stories from the mission field, vividly reported by Paul and his co-workers.  Peter tells the story of how God led him to preach the Good News to Gentiles in the first place.  James quotes key texts from the Old Testament – scriptures that clearly seem to be opening the door for everyone in the world to have unfettered access to Jesus. 
When all is said and done, a consensus emerges.  The Jerusalem Council concludes that Gentiles do not have to jump through the formal hoop of Judaism in order to become disciples.  Acts 15 is one reason why followers of Jesus meet on Sundays in churches instead of on Saturdays in synagogues. 
When it’s time to announce this epic moment of discernment to the whole Mediterranean world, it’s worth noting how their formal statement begins: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” (Acts 15:28).
This is spiritual collaboration. 
As we surrender our deliberations and discussions as best we can to the Spirit’s oversight, what emerges is something that honors both our voices and God’s voice. 
So put your life in drive.  Tell God that you’re listening. 
And be sure that whether you’re turning to the right or to the left, God’s Spirit will always be waiting for you at the next intersection.