As I prepare my heart for the Easter season, I’ve been reflecting on something that happened when I was 12 years old. I was riding my bike and got lost in the woods. I spent hours pushing my bike through mud and greenbriar desperately looking for the trail. My attempt to find my way back failed miserably, and I was really scared, so I stood there in tears and prayed for help.
When I opened my eyes, the trail had not miraculously appeared. A thought came to mind that I should look for a place where there were fewer trees. Taking a nervous breath, I headed toward an area that appeared less dense, and when I arrived at the clearing, there it was! — the path that would lead me away from my fear and distress and back to safety. A euphoric feeling of hope and relief coursed through my veins in a rush unlike anything I had ever experienced. God taught me a deep spiritual lesson that day, one that I would remember throughout my life:
When we get lost, God will help us find our way.
Over the years, I’ve been impatient with God and taken matters into my own hands, choosing my way instead of His. There was a time when I let selfish ambition and the lure of prestige and financial reward divert me from the path I knew I was appointed to. A lack of obedience has often led me down a path of shame and regret. Whenever I’ve deviated from God’s ordained purpose for my life, I have felt lost, scared, alone, and in need of help to find my way out of the muck and greenbriar. Without fail, just as He did for me when I was 12, God has always directed me back to the right place.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
During this special season, our faith traditions call us to reflect on Jesus’ death and resurrection. He was crucified at Passover, the Jewish celebration of deliverance from slavery in Egypt — Jesus was The Lamb of God, the perfect sacrifice that would deliver us from our bondage to sin and death.
We should meditate on the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf and offer up praise and thanks, but there’s another gift to be thankful for …
Fifty days after the Passover, the Jewish people celebrate another feast called, Shavuot, in which they remember when God gave them the Ten Commandments. As God etched the commandments into tablets of stone, the people stood at the base of Mt. Sinai trembling. God’s presence enveloped the mountain with thunder, lightning, clouds, smoke, and fire. (Exodus 19:16-25) They saw the evidence of God’s presence, feared Him, and had to keep their distance from Him. His Law, written on stone, would be their compass — it would define sin, but it could not give them the power over sin.
The Feast of Shavuot correlates with the time of Pentecost, when God sent the Holy Spirit like “…a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them.” (Acts 2: 2-3).
Because Jesus’ death has cleansed us of all unrighteousness, the God who used to speak to us from a distance, now dwells within us. God’s Holy Spirit, living in our hearts, is our moral compass — giving us power to be witnesses (Acts 1:8), revealing our sin, empowering us to turn from that sin, and producing in us the good fruit of the Spirit — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”Eze. 36:26-27 ESV
In the gospels, Jesus reveals the most important rules for us to follow — “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31 ESV)
As I look ahead and prepare for Holy Week, I find myself revisiting the lessons of the past, and meditating on the gift of the Holy Spirit — a gift that recalibrates my instincts from being centered on self, to being focused on loving God and others. Even so, sometimes I can still get off track, inadvertently, or perhaps intentionally, allowing myself to be diverted from my God-ordained purpose.
Why do I do this? To summarize my pastor, he put it this way:
We all try to recreate our own Eden on earth, on our own terms, and for our own sake. We get off track when we disconnect ourselves from God who makes us whole. Sometimes we even use and exploit others for our own benefit. Apart from God, nothing will ever satisfy. It’s when we find our contentment in Jesus that we can do our work from a place of happiness, instead of working to try to create our happiness. Our God-given purpose then becomes working to glorify God and bless others. (“Songs of the Messiah,” Psalm 8, Pastor Joey Nickerson, Citizen’s Church Annapolis)
So, as we prepare to celebrate Jesus — His death and resurrection, and the forgiveness we receive through His sacrifice, let’s also remember the gift of The Holy Spirit. I’m humbled that the God of Creation’s most Holy Spirit lives inside of me. He guides me, directs my path, and gives me strength to resist my tendency toward sin and selfish ambition. And when I get off course, He is always there to lead me through the woods and back to the path of my God-ordained purpose.
Have you ever thought about your God-appointed purpose?
How can you be more intentional about listening to the guidance of the Holy Spirit with regard to how you live in obedience — loving God and others?