A few weeks ago I went for my second Covid jab at a large vaccination hub. I only vaguely remembered the location from my first time. “No problem”, thinks I, “the sat-nav will know the way.”
However, this time I was in a borrowed car with a borrowed sat nav and its maps were out of date. So as I neared a large (new) roundabout I was surprised to be sent to the right instead of straight ahead as I had expected.
“Perhaps it’s a shortcut,” I (unsuccessfully) persuaded myself as I turned towards an unfamiliar village. Hmmmn. Nope. That new roundabout had led to a by-pass, and my sat nav’s supposed through-route was now blocked by bollards and hedges.
Quickest way ahead now? Turn around and go back. The inimitable C.S. Lewis mused on this exact dilemma:
“Progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turn, then to go forward does not get you any nearer.
If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”
C.S. Lewis (Mere Christianity)
It can be difficult, sometimes, to tell whether we are on the right path, in which case progress means going forward, or on the wrong path, in which case progress means turning around.
There have been plenty of times when I’ve regarded my sat nav with great scepticism as I see the road before me dwindling to a goat path. Do I assume my sat nav has flipped its electronic lid and do a three-point-turn before I end up in a duck pond, or do I trust it and plod along in the hope of emerging onto the main road having gained a glorious 5 metres over the normal route (whoop)?
I wonder how many times David felt like that as he waited for God’s promise to be fulfilled.
In this passage we see David finally being anointed king. But hang on. Hadn’t that already happened? David had been anointed king waaaaay back in 1 Samuel 16 – that’s not even in the same book of the Bible! Back then, David was a ‘ruddy youth’ and now he is 30. So what’s that, 16 years delay, maybe?
Sixteen years of everything looking like it’s going the wrong way. Sixteen years of wondering if you should about-face and try something different because you have clearly heard God wrong. Sixteen years of plodding on and hoping that it comes out right in the end.
There is no right answer. Sometimes we do hear God wrong. I’m pretty sure I do that most of the time (Except when God told me to marry Colin Firth. That was definitely God, not my wishful thinking.) If we’ve heard God wrong, the best to thing to do is turn on our heels and try a different way. At other times, we need to just keep on keeping on, even with no apparent results. (Those are God’s business anyway, not ours.)
How do we know which it is?
Ummn, sorry. No idea.
It’s like a maze. How do I know if the path I’m following leads to the centre or to a ravenous minotaur?
Answer: I don’t. I just have to keep trying things and kinda hope for the best. It’s like that maze in Takeshi’s Castle.
Or is it?
(Side note: the legend says that the minotaur was imprisoned in a labyrinth, but if that’s so he must have been a particularly dim minotaur. Labyrinths have only one path, with no branches or dead-ends. It’s not the same as a maze, which is a tricksy puzzle. It is impossible to get lost in a labyrinth.)
I like labyrinths because they help me to think about following God’s voice. In my real life I get a lot of things wrong, and I often have to back track and change my mind or actions. It’s like a maze.
God’s kingdom, however, is more like a labyrinth. By his grace, God can redeem, even use, all the rubbish stuff that I do and have done and bring it to his glory. The path through life is certainly not straightforward – there are lots of twist and turns and it often looks like I’m going backwards – but always, always, God is walking beside me and with such company, I will never be lost.
As for my jab, many turnings-around later I bumbled out of the far side of the village, emerged onto the road I should have taken in the first place and made it to my appointment on time (yippee!)
On the way home I followed the road signs.
Here’s a labyrinth you can use to think about following God’s voice.
New International Version – UK
5 All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, ‘We are your own flesh and blood. 2 In the past, while Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel on their military campaigns. And the Lord said to you, “You shall shepherd my people Israel, and you shall become their ruler.”’
3 When all the elders of Israel had come to King David at Hebron, the king made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel.
4 David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned for forty years. 5 In Hebron he reigned over Judah for seven years and six months, and in Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah for thirty-three years.
6 The king and his men marched to Jerusalem to attack the Jebusites, who lived there. The Jebusites said to David, ‘You will not get in here; even the blind and the lame can ward you off.’ They thought, ‘David cannot get in here.’ 7 Nevertheless, David captured the fortress of Zion – which is the City of David.
8 On that day David had said, ‘Anyone who conquers the Jebusites will have to use the water shaft to reach those “lame and blind” who are David’s enemies.’ That is why they say, ‘The “blind and lame” will not enter the palace.’
9 David then took up residence in the fortress and called it the City of David. He built up the area around it, from the terraces inwards. 10 And he became more and more powerful, because the Lord God Almighty was with him.
New International Version – UK
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