By Greg Grotewold
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. – Romans 15:13, ESV
The terrain of northeast South Dakota has always fascinated me. Its corn and soybean fields are adjoined by an assortment of winding creeks, sprawling lakes and wetlands, and the majestic prairie of the Coteau Hills. Growing up, I spent a significant amount of time hunting and fishing this motley topographic masterpiece.
Recently back to see my dad and in a reminiscent mood, I asked my son, Luke, if he wanted to go for a drive. He needed some additional hours behind the wheel for his license, and I wanted to revisit some of my old stomping grounds. We weren’t but five minutes into the drive when all of these wonderful memories started to come flooding back. A particular field or lake would produce a particular recollection of a certain shot or catch.
And, of course, there was the added benefit of seeing the abundant wildlife that continues to thrive in this rich habitat. Acting like a little kid in a candy store, I startled Luke more than once as I perhaps too enthusiastically pointed out a pheasant running in the ditch or a red-tailed hawk flying overhead. Of particular note were the thousands of snow geese we saw. Taking a respite from their spring migration to the breeding grounds in Canada, the large flocks seemed to cover every inch of open water.
It was a Saturday afternoon well spent.
The following day, as we headed back home to the Twin Cities, I found myself thinking about those geese, particularly their annual trek north. Knowing that they typically nest in the exact same location every year, I began wondering how they navigate the long journey with such precision. In doing a little research, it appears that in addition to various natural landmarks, geese (and other migratory birds) have a built-in compass. The mechanism allows them to see the Earth’s magnetic field, which aids in deciphering direction and triggering flight pattern adjustments so as to stay on course.*
The ingenuity God used in creating these birds, particularly their navigation system, is astonishing – especially to someone like me who, on road trips, becomes quickly disoriented even with the aid of Google Maps. What’s even more impressive, though, is the navigation system the Lord bestows on His redeemed. We too have a built-in compass. The Holy Spirit helps us navigate our spiritual trek, empowering a life of joyful hopefulness.
That is, if we avail ourselves of such assistance. While perhaps a strained analogy at best, we could learn a thing or two from our feathered friends. Unlike us, they are always conscious of the compass’s existence. And unlike us, they always heed its promptings. The comparison is useful to the extent it helps us recognize the consequences of neglecting the resources available to stay on course.
While the Holy Spirit assists with all aspects of life, the role is particularly salient when danger looms. His is the one true source of power that permits us to prudently navigate the various entrapments life presents. He helps us either avert such enticements altogether or, if unavoidable, from acting on them. Equally important, the Spirit is also the only One that can break a besetting sin and its accompanying enslavement. To not heed His overtures, regardless of why, is welcoming a fate often marked by anguish. I don’t need unnecessary anguish in my life, and I gather you don’t either.
What’s at work when the Spirit’s impact wanes in a believer’s life? Why do we go through seasons where proper consideration isn’t paid to the readings our compass produces? While the answer may vary, for me it’s fairly straightforward. The Spirit’s leverage over me at any given moment is directly correlated with my level of intimacy with Christ. The more I abide in Jesus and seek my satisfaction in Him, the greater the Spirit’s influence in guiding me. In other words, I am the most acutely aware of threats to my joy in Christ when I am the most joyful in Him. My alertness is highest when my fellowship with the Lord is sweetest. It’s a beautiful cycle of Holy Spirit-enabled proximity, contentment, adoration, and obedience. One leads to the other with ever-increasing force.
Unfortunately, the opposite is true as well. The more I separate myself from Christ, the less delight I take in Him. With my affections dulled, it becomes easier to look elsewhere to satisfy the longings of my heart. I deceive myself into believing that treasures exist whose glories rival the Lord’s and thus mistakenly conclude I have little to lose in seeking them. With my thinking dulled, I begin resisting the Spirit’s warnings, compromising my defense. It’s a vicious cycle of self-initiated distance, discontentment, indifference, and disobedience. One leads to the other with ever-increasing force.
I’ve always found it interesting how cycle-prone I am, particularly when it comes to my besetting sin of self-exaltation. Too often I see myself as the better treasure, the one whose glories rival the Lord’s. It’s a reality that you would think after this many years of being a Christian I would be more adept at confronting – expediting that which keeps me glued to Christ and impeding that which doesn’t. I’m encouraged though. The fact that the Holy Spirit put this topic on my heart is perhaps a sign of increased growth and maturity.
Regardless of where in the cycle I find myself, if I am to glorify Christ, I must let my compass direct my path. Whether it’s returning to the arms of Jesus sooner and preventing a small gap from becoming a large one or clinging even tighter to an already beautiful embrace, I need the power of the Holy Spirit. I will not consistently abide in Christ without a keen sensitivity to and adherence of the Spirit’s direction.
May the Holy Spirit have His way with both you and me so that we stay on course and abound in the great hope that is Jesus Christ.
*Taken from The Daily Mail Reporter (author’s name not given). “Birds navigate by being able to SEE Earth’s magnetic field.” Dailymail.co.uk, 7-14-2010.
Greg lives in Oakdale, Minn. with his wife, Sandi, and their two sons, Luke and Eli. He is a deacon in his local church and greatly enjoys serving in this capacity.