So I’m driving to work last week. Just an ordinary early morning trip in our town, driving west down a two-lane highway past the high school, the community college and the UK agriculture extension office and a nursing home.
I was following a small blue pick-up truck, with three people filling the bench seat. We slowed down at the city limits sign (where a turn lane was added to the road) cruising towards the big intersection at the McDonald’s.
Suddenly, I was aware that there were headlights in our lane. Headed east. It was surreal moment, as the brain tried to adjust to something unexpected and nonsensical. Headlights in our lane, not the other lane or even the turning lane.
In a blink, a small white car slammed head-on straight into the blue pick-up. There were no squealing brakes or screeching of tires. Just the sound of sudden impact, of breaking glass and crumpling metal.
Fortunately (and by God’s grace) I was able to avoid hitting the back of the blue-pick up. I pulled around the crash and into a small business parking lot. Looking in the rear view mirror, I saw a teenage boy kick open the back door of the white car and pull his younger brother out onto the road.
Running back to the scene, I checked over the older boy, who just had a burn mark on his neck from the seat belt. His dad or older brother had been the driver. And he just kept saying, “I told him he was swerving! I told him he was swerving into the other lane! I told him he was swerving!”
I don’t know what happened exactly. The insurance adjuster I talked to mentioned that perhaps the driver had leaned over to pick up a cigarette lighter. Or maybe he was on the phone. Whatever happened, it is clear that for a brief time, the driver became distracted. Lost perspective. Took his eyes off the road.
And then he crashed.
The swerve- and the crash- can happen to any of us, and not just while we’re driving. Even followers of Christ can swerve from the path of gospel faithfulness, or Jesus-centered joy, or the abundant life saturated with the promises of Jesus that are always Yes.
How does that happen? The same way it did to the driver who came into my lane.
We swerve when our hearts get distracted, usually by things that are trivial or temporal, things don’t have much weight in God’s big scheme of things. To delight in and spread God’s glory in the gospel of Jesus to all people and all places is the huge and wonderful story in which we get to live. Distraction means we live beneath the wonder and settle for mere existence. The enemy of our souls has a knack for disguising the mundane as marvelous—and we have been falling for that since the Garden.
We swerve when we lose perspective. Our internal compass goes haywire; we lose a sense of direction and our place in relation to God and the world. Big things get small and small things get big. We get bigger and God gets smaller. Which means that faith becomes harder and idolatry easier. Sin becomes less offensive and holiness less attractive. Self-righteousness more common and grace less necessary. My religious behavior grows more dominant and Jesus’ gospel grows less compelling. Generous compassion towards others (in terms of life needs or their eternal destiny) wanes and selfish consumption marks my daily life.
We swerve when we lose sight of the road we’re on. And the big thing to remember is that it’s not our road. It’s Jesus’ road. “Come follow me…whoever would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me…whoever says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which [Jesus] walked….I am the Way” (Mark 1:17, Luke 9:23, 1 John 2:6, John 14:6) We’re not highway engineers who design the road; we’re travelers on a journey who simply follow the road He opens before us. Isaiah saw it:
And a highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Way of Holiness;
the unclean shall not pass over it.
It shall belong to those who walk on the way;
even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.
No lion shall be there,
nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
but the redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the LORD shall return
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain gladness and joy,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (35:8-10)
We travel on Jesus’ way. On that Way, we always know where we have been, where we are — how far He has brought us and in His purposes, and where we are ultimately headed—and that it is all Mercy and goodness. On that road is our only hope of blessing, for “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.” (Ps.84:5)
If the road is that good, how can we avoid swerving from it? Listen:
Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Cor. 10:11-13)
A simple way to stay on the road:
- Stay in the Word—nothing is new. The principles and truths that we see worked out in the personalities and circumstances of the Bible are there to warn and train us.
- Maintain a healthy suspicion of your own soul. We are far too easily convinced that we have our act together much better than we do. Remember our hearts are deceptively wicked (Jer. 17:9) and the swerving is so, so subtle. Be vigilant and prayerful about the state of your soul.
- Look for God’s way out of the swerve—and realize that escape will often come in the voice or warnings of a faithful friend. It’s important to develop an acute sensitivity to the Spirit’s promptings—when He is directing you to the right or left, to a yes or no.
But—and this is crucial—the Way is not solitary. There’s a reason why we are placed in a faith-family. We all need a friend who walks with Jesus, delights in the gospel, knows our journey well, loves us deeply and has the courage to yell from the back seat “Watch out! You’re swerving!” This is what it looks like to “bear one another’s burdens and fulfill the law of Christ (love one another)…to stir one another up to love and good works.” (Gal. 6:2, Heb. 10:24) How many crashes in marriages, in morals, in relationships, in ministries, in churches could be avoided if more Christ-followers had friends like that!
So, keep your eyes on the Way of Jesus.
Avoid the swerve, so you avoid the crash.
Enjoy the ride.