The first coup d’etat I was ever involved in was at Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimmaron, N.M. The experience was a once in a lifetime event, especially for someone from a modest upbringing. My parents sacrificed so I could go, and a generous friend of the family made it possible for me to enjoy not being left out of the trading post and other additional cost activities while I was there.
I think back on that trip often and with great fondness. It did not start out well. On the first day of a 10-day, 85-mile hiking adventure, we set out under the leadership of our senior Scout. After a half day of walking in circles, no closer to our destination than when we left that morning, our group decided that to continue following his guidance would lead to our ultimate demise. I had visions of old, dry bones and buzzards circling overhead. Realizing something had to give, the rest of our expedition overthrew him, took the compass and map, and within a couple hours had made it to our first stop. It felt great to be part of a revolution that ended in success!
The second one is when God revealed to me that I was no longer going to be left with the compass and map. This time, I was the one being overthrown. There are times we believe we are in control of our destiny. We think we are leading our lives, but in reality we are merely living it as if we were in control. The truth of the matter is that God is always the one who is leading. We just aren’t always following His lead. We make choices that we deem best. Though our intentions and our motive may be as pure as they can be given the human condition, we have to acknowledge that we have clouded vision at best. The world view surrounding us inevitably influences our thinking, our judgment, and ultimately our actions.
Sometimes we buy in to the idea that we alone can make the most sound decisions that will ultimately lead to the greater good. After a while, we get so caught up in the good we are doing that we think we are the ones who are making it happen. The further along this road we travel, the more confident we become in our own ability. Our success in one thing leads us to attempt another, and another. The cycle begins to repeat itself with greater frequency, until one day we are on autopilot at cruising speed.
There is a difference between developing our talents so they become second nature and running blindly into the fog. Of course we get better at a thing the more we do it. Golfers – the real ones, not ones like me who go for the best per stroke value for their money – have a smooth and rhythmic swing that is the result of muscle memory. It only takes a few seconds to assess the shot, choose a club, and aim before the nearly automatic nature of their swing kicks in and makes the game look so incredibly easy.
When it comes to living the life God intends for us, however, memory does not count. If we are not attentive to the signs, the intimacy of a relationship with God can morph into a “hit the ground running” approach. As I now look back on what I had allowed my calling to become, I realize the folly of it. I thought I was modeling a good work ethic, when in fact I was modeling poor spirituality and an unhealthy relationship with God.
As tempting as it is to mistake activity for spirituality, guard against it. The people around you will let you do it, and even applaud and reward you for it. But in the end, you will be left with a form of godliness that lacks the power of God to go with it. Hand over the compass to Him who is far better equipped to direct our steps and lead us to our destination.
The Rev. Randall Monk is the lead pastor of Ekklesia Faith Community in Grovetown.