Following your inner compass

“At the roundabout take the third exit and bear right”. Anyone who owns or has used a satnav is familiar with this kind of instruction. You can even choose the voice that speaks out the directions. It can be a man’s voice. Or a woman’s voice. Our particular model allowed us to change the accent as well. So rather than having an accent straight off the BBC news, we have a soft spoken Irish brogue telling us where we need to turn right or left and what roads we need to follow. Somehow it seems reassuring  – even when we don’t end up where we think we should be!

We’ve become so used to the wonders – and blunders – of GPS, that the days of having to read maps seem a long time ago.

Before the days of GPS, the compass was the essential directional tool for the more serious traveller or explorer.

Compasses were in use for hundreds of years. A compass does not give you precise directions. It does not tell you when to turn right or left. It does not speak to you in a male or female voice with a BBC accent or an Irish brogue. It just points in a direction.

When it comes to spirituality, the leading of the Spirit is sometimes, even often, more like a compass than it is like satnav. Certainly, there are times when God gives very clear instructions. At other times, however, He gives us a sense of direction, much like a compass gives to someone on a journey.

Acts 27 records Paul’s journey to Rome. It was a journey that turned out to be fraught with danger. At one point the ship encountered a serious storm that lasted for at least two weeks and, understandably, threw the crew and the passengers into despair.

Paul was not overcome with the hopelessness of those around him. Why? Because he knew that God had called him to go to Rome and therefore he would eventually reach his destination. Because of his confidence, Paul was able to encourage the despairing crew:

 ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ 25 So keep up your courage,men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. Acts 27.24-25

Paul had been called by God. His calling was his inner compass. Even though everyone else had lost their bearing, Paul retained his sense of direction because his conviction about his calling was stronger than the intimidation of what seemed like a never ending storm.

Every Christian is called (Romans 8.28-30). That calling is our inner compass. And provided we base our sense of direction on what God has done within us and the calling He has given to us, we will retain our sense of direction.

There would be quite a few more days of uncertainty on the ship Paul was sailing on. But uncertainty could not undo Paul’s calling because he stuck with what his inner compass told him. And uncertainty cannot undo your calling. You don’t have to come unstuck, if you stick with your calling – your inner compass. 

Thriving in a toxic wasteland

Some of us are old enough to remember the meltdown of the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl. The consequences were appalling for people who lived in that area of the Ukraine. For the rest of us many of the fears of nuclear fall out never materialised, at least not with the kind of severity that some thought possible.

Nearly three decades on, the area around what was the nuclear power station still bears the scars of what happened all those years ago. The land will be contaminated for hundreds if not thousands of years to come.

Despite the obvious health risks of living in such an area, some people are returning to their former homes. One journalist covered the stories of a group of babushkas -Russian for “grandmother” or “old countrywoman” – who had returned to their villages.

These women were living what was more or less a normal life, if any life next to a ruined nuclear power plant could ever be described as normal.

In fact some research revealed that those who returned to their homes in the contaminated areas had greater life expectancy than those who were living in some of the settlements, created by the Soviet authorities in the wake of the disaster. One Russian journalist, who devoted his career to studying settler communities, even claimed that those who returned to their ancestral homes outlived those who remained in their new settlements by a decade!

Thankfully, most of us have never had to choose between living in a kind of refugee camp or returning to a home subjected to radiation. But we do sometimes have the choice of withdrawing from the world or engaging a sometimes toxic world, or at least what feels like a toxic world to us! Relationship fall out can contaminate the atmosphere of a home, a workplace or a church. “In this world you will have trouble,” said Jesus (John 16.33a). The atmosphere will never be just right. And sometimes it will be just wrong.

The good news is that with the help of the Holy Spirit we can thrive in what seems like a toxic wasteland. Jesus added to those words in John 16.33: “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

How can you make that work in your world?

Like the babushkas you need to have a conviction that you are meant to be where you are. God has placed you there and He will bring good out of it. Disengaging might seem like a safe option, but you may well lose your sense of direction and purpose.

Secondly, you need community. A sense of camaraderie, being in it together, often helps people face the toughest times and the most demanding challenges. Christians call it fellowship. Remember the Band of Brothers motto? “We stand alone together”.

Finally, you need faith. In fact, firstly, secondly…finally, you need faith!

One of the babushkas was called Galina. One of the things she did in her spare time was make images of Christ on cotton fabric.

Is Jesus there in your toxic world? You’d better believe it.