Are You Headed the Right Direction?
Are we going backward or forward in our spiritual lives? The direction we are headed is vitally important.
In Jeremiah 7:21-24, the Prophet Jeremiah warned the Children of Israel that they were not walking in the way God had commanded. He told them, “Thus saith the Lord of hosts,...I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices: but this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people: and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you.”
In spite of the prophet’s warning, the Children of Israel wanted to do things their own way. We read that they “hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in the counsels and the imagination of their evil heart, and went backward, and not forward.” They rejected God’s instruction and ended up in captivity in Babylon for seventy years. That was not God’s plan for His chosen people. If they had heeded the prophet’s warning and turned in God’s direction again, His mercy would have prevailed. However, they persisted in their disobedience, and eventually, judgment was meted out.
Look again at those words: they “went backward, and not forward.” The best way to assess which direction we are going spiritually is to measure ourselves by God’s Word. The Bible is straightforward; it instructs us in the way we should go. If we follow God’s direction, we are headed in the right way and will be blessed. If we do not follow His direction, we are headed “backward, and not forward,” and will reap the consequences.
We must be careful as Christians to not confuse activity with accomplishment. Taking action does not necessarily mean we are taking the right action. Even if we are doing the right actions, if they are done without the proper kind of heart and motive, we are going in the wrong direction.
Assessing our spiritual direction starts with evaluating our hearts, because whether we are going forward or backward really is an issue of the heart. In the original language, the word forward has to do with the direction one is facing. We might assume we should measure progress by the distance that has been covered, but God measures progress simply by the direction we are facing.
We must remember that God does not measure like we do. The Lord made that point clear to Samuel when he went to the house of Jesse to anoint one of Jesse’s sons to be king. When the eldest son, Eliab, came before him, Samuel thought surely he was the Lord’s anointed. However, God said to Samuel, “Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). One son after another came before Samuel, but God did not choose any of them. When they had all passed before the prophet, Samuel asked Jesse if he had any other sons. Jesse answered, “There remaineth yet the youngest, and behold, he keepeth the sheep.” The prophet told Jesse, “Send and fetch him, for we will not sit down till he come hither” (1 Samuel 16:11). The youngest son, David, was the one God had chosen, and he became an ancestor of Jesus Christ.
God called David to be king as a result of the previous king’s failure. King Saul started out right: he was humble and obedient. However, after a time he decided that he could do what he wanted instead of what God had commanded. He had been instructed by God to “slay utterly” the Amalekites, but he disobeyed God’s command and spared the king. Saul also saved alive some goats and sheep to sacrifice to the Lord. When the Prophet Samuel arrived on the scene, Saul told him, “I have performed the commandment of the Lord.” Samuel’s response was, “What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?” (1 Samuel 15:14). Clearly, Saul had changed direction. When Samuel confronted Saul with the evidence of his disobedience, he told the king, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22). The best form of worship is to do what God says!
We see those in our day who, like Saul, choose to go their own way. God gives specific directions in His Word, but they do not obey. Some may initially intend to do what God said, but they get sidetracked. Their faces do not stay pointed in the right direction, and before long they are heading down a path of their own choosing. They may be convinced that they are doing the will of God but they really are going backward.
My wife and I have a small cocker spaniel that we rescued. Our dog had learned some bad habits before she came to us, and though she is lovable when things are going her way, it is a different story when she doesn’t want to do something. We use the phrase, “she is willful.” She is willful to the point that all four feet dig in—she is determined not to do what we want her to do! She needs a little attitude adjustment so she learns that she is the dog and not the master!
Willfulness may be humorous when we see it in a dog. Unfortunately, sometimes people evidence the same sort of attitude toward God. They “dig their heels in,” so to speak, and refuse to obey. They want to chart their own paths. Little thought is given to what “thus saith the Lord.” People with that mindset are facing the wrong direction. They are going backward instead of forward spiritually.
In every season of life, there will be storms to face. The question is, will we go forward into them at God’s command, or will we allow the storms to shift us off course?
At times, circumstances in life present challenges. Young people have problems at school; there are relationship issues between husbands, wives, and children; health concerns may arise for the elderly. In every season of life, there will be storms to face. The question is, will we go forward into them at God’s command, or will we allow the storms to shift us off course? A well-known Christian author once said that the problem with Christianity is not that it has been tried and found wanting, but that it has been tried and found difficult. When the winds of adversity blow, too often people give up. They get discouraged and do not persevere to the end.
That does not have to be the case. If we are going the right direction, we can be assured that God will make a way through every challenging circumstance. In Exodus 14:13-15, we read that the Children of Israel were in a seemingly impossible situation: the Red Sea was in front of them, and the armies of Egypt were pursuing them from behind. You have heard the expression, “Between a rock and hard place.” The Israelites certainly were there! We read, “And the Lord said unto Moses, Wherefore criest thou unto me? Speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward.” Forward movement seemed impossible, but God made a way, and He will make a way for you, too, no matter what challenges are before you.
Today, I believe God would have each one of us evaluate what direction we are facing. We can do so by simply asking ourselves: Am I doing what “thus saith the Lord”? If God has revealed something to me, am I obeying? Am I listening to the voice of the Lord in everyday matters? Am I doing my best to follow in every aspect of my life?
If we can answer yes to those questions, we can be confident that we are facing God’s way. We are headed in the right direction, and the Lord is standing by to help us. When trials come, He will sustain us. We may not be aware of forward progress, especially when the winds of adversity are blowing strong, but God sees our hearts and takes note of our purpose to please Him.
We thank God for the wonderful, instantaneous change that salvation brings, but that is not the end. That is just the beginning! The Bible says, “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little” (Isaiah 28:10). As we continue to keep our faces pointed toward Him, He will teach us, and lead us, and help us move forward according to His will and plan.