The Compass

Dear Friends:

This is the ninth message in a series on the artifacts that symbolize the spiritual importance of events, gifts and people in our lives.

ar-ti-fact n. An object produced or shaped by human workmanship; especially, a simple tool, weapon or ornament of archeological or historical interest.
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People travel to wonder at the height of the mountains, at the huge waves of the seas, at the long course of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars, and yet they pass by themselves without wondering. — St. Augustine
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The case is shining, silver, with my initials “K.A.H.” engraved in elegant script on the front. Inside is a beautiful, simple liquid compass, with a slender red and black needle, notched, numbered bezel, and a colored map of the world on the inside of the lid. But it is the engraving of the words of Solomon on the back of the case that turns the beautiful into the true.

In all Your ways acknowledge Him,
and He will direct your paths.
Proverbs 3:6.

The compass was a Christmas gift from my wife and son in 2006. I cherish the gift as I love its givers. What humbles me into gratefulness is their aspiration for me to be a man who devotes his life and his ways to God and follows God’s lead. That is a wonderful expression of grace.

Much is expected of husbands and fathers and rightfully so. Both marriage and parenthood require a commitment of oneself to the best interests of another in fulfillment of the very thought of God at the Creation, “It is not good that man should be alone. . . .” (Gen. 2:18a).

Without the grace of the Creator that commitment to be a husband and father is limited to the imperfect and limited template of broken humanity, marred by sin and wounded by the fear that what we have or don’t have now is all there will ever be for us. In that fear we seek power and possession to preserve our existence instead of surrendering in the trust that we are the “Beloved” of God.  It is the continuing gift of our God that “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

The point is that “Since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). Henri Nouwen wrote that the most important thing that a mother and father can do for their child is to love each other.

Solomon’s words inscribed on the compass are another way of stating this truth. If we put God first in every aspect of our lives, then God will lead us out of the cycles of fear and selfishness that rule us when we think that we have to take care of everyone and everything ourselves. To put it bluntly, our stark choice is between following God or trying to replace him in our own strength.

Everyone has a story that contains both good and bad elements. Patricia and Andrew know me as a good provider, faithful husband and devoted father. They also know me as a driven, self-absorbed, and irritable man.

There came a point in my drivenness when I had expended my intellectual, emotional, physical, and spiritual resources in the pursuit of success and status. Even though I was achieving my goals, I was still coming up short in what really counted. I was looking into what seemed a dark abyss. If I kept going I would plunge into it. The other choice was to turn around.

I had a loving family, home, excellent position and recognition as a community and professional leader. Why did my heart ache so with a longing that there must be something more?

Kathleen, a Christian marriage and family therapist who was a friend and client was dying of cancer. She asked me to meet her for dinner. She asked me about the disparity that she observed between my hectic professional life and my spiritual emptiness.

“Kent,” she said, “God loves you and has a plan for your life. When are you going to start living his way instead of yours.”

I drove home that evening with mixed emotions. I was the product of a Christian family and a Christian education from first grade through college. Many of my clients were Christian institutions. It mildly annoyed me that she would think I had some spiritual lack.

On the other hand, I could not deny that I keenly felt that lack, but was it God that I was missing despite all the religious trappings?

I stuffed the question down under a lot of work and activity which is my typical method of dealing with discomfort and loss. I underestimated the tenacity of God in pursuit of me.

Two months later, on the very day that Kathleen died, I had a direct and undeniable encounter with God. I have written about that encounter at length elsewhere, but the ground of confrontation was my distrust expressed through my busyness. God spoke to my heart with a very clear message: “You are convicted of your sin. Pride and busyness are choking me out of your life and killing your relationship with your family. Don’t you think that I can take care of everything that concerns you? Trust me.”

Trust is a learned behavior. People tell you, “Just let go, and let God,” but that is impossibly easier to say than to do unless you have experienced the “Love that will not let me go,” as the old hymn describes God.

Trust in God buds and grows through whispers, echoes and occasional shouts; in mercy received after the fits, starts, and jerks of our anxious impatience; in the blessing of the ordinary amidst the pretentious pressures to be extraordinary; in the miracle of the sun rising in silence the morning after a devastating defeat; the healing grace of unexpected kindness; the hope that somehow stays afloat and rides over waves of pain and grief; the clarity that comes in the still darkness of 3:00 in the morning; and the surpassing desire to praise and worship the Maker in moments when the continuation of one’s very existence seems doubtful.

It isn’t so much that the Lord points us in a specific direction, as it is that he works in our hearts to change the direction that we want to go. I’ve come to realize that, “Take delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4) does not mean that I will get what I want, but that if God is my all in all, he will give me the right desires in my heart. As Jesus put this, “[D]o not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’or ‘What will we drink?’or ‘What will we wear?’. . . [I]ndeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:31-33).

It is easy for magnetic compasses to become inaccurate through the influences of stray magnetic fields, nearby electrical currents or nearby masses of ferrous materials. Space age compasses, are built into navigational systems and detect magnetic directions without fallible moving parts. Just so, God “put eternity in man’s heart” at creation as a magnetic direction to follow into a limitless future with him (Ecc. 3:11). The Father gave us secure direction into that future by sending us Jesus who said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)  Christ dwelling in our hearts protects it from the influences that would lead us off course. This is what the Apostle Paul meant when he wrote, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27).

I am still learning to trust in God. Every time I think I have arrived at a place of maturity I receive jarring reminders that I cannot trust my performance, but the power of Christ comes alive to me in my daily, hourly, minute-by-minute admission of my weakness and need for his grace (2 Cor. 12:8-10).

A compass does no good if one does not follow its lead. I cannot love my wife and son, or anyone else for that matter, as I should unless I accept the love of Christ as my truth and my guide. To quote the Apostle John again, “This is real love–not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear Friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God, but if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. . . We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love” (1 John 4:10-12,16, NLT).

If you were to ask Patricia and Andrew about me, they would tell you I am an imperfect man who is loved by his Abba Father and who, in coming to know and trust that love, is learning to become a loving man.  They would tell you that remembering and living in God’s complete love makes all the difference in our home and family. So they gave me the compass with Solomon’s instruction engraved on it that is at once simple and comprehensive:

In all Your ways acknowledge Him,
and He will direct your paths.
Proverbs 3:6.

Those few words point us to living and loving well for our loving God is the “True North” from which our journey into eternity takes its direction.

“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him” (Ps. 34:8).

Under the mercy of Christ,

Kent

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