Echoes of the psalmists in the words of Shadrach.
It was midnight on San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge when my 11-year-old Volvo died and stopped — right in the middle lane. I could see my beautiful wife and 9-month-old daughter at my side — but nothing else. The fog was so thick we could barely make out other cars, much less the bridge or the bay.
Suddenly, out of nowhere a booming voice spoke to us, "PUT YOUR VEHICLE IN NEUTRAL." I looked up, thinking I was getting a heavenly revelation. Coming to my senses, I then glanced in my rear view mirror, only to see a giant truck with tires attached to its front bumpers about to start pushing us. Its job was to keep the bridge clear of any obstructions, and it propelled us forward (stopping to allow me to pay the toll, of course) with increasing speed.
Off of the bridge, I had no idea where the driver was directing us. "VEER RIGHT!" the voice bellowed again. I could see he was pushing us onto an exit ramp and up a narrow, winding and deserted road with a drop off that's (presently) giving me sweaty palms as I write about it. After about 300 yards, he stopped, turned around and disappeared back into the fog.
So there we were — all alone — past midnight on a pitch-black moonless night without as much as a flashlight or matches to help us find the problem with our lifeless car.
"Oh God," I prayed silently, trying not to alarm my wife or wake our sleeping baby, "I need Your help right now!" I felt like I was exposing my family to one of the most lonely, isolated, and dangerous places on the planet. Why? Because I had taken the wrong exit ramp. "Why did I not service my car before we left?" I thought. "Why did I allow that guy to push us all the way out here into never-never land? How in the world can we get back to the main road — and to safety?" I wondered.
How about you? Have you ever taken a wrong exit ramp in your life? Whether it was of your own doing, or you allowed someone — or some thing — to do the pushing, have you found yourself out of God's will, wandering around in the wilderness, coming face to face with temptations and trials you never thought would come your way?
Welcome to the real world.
Getting on and staying on God's road is one of the greatest challenges we face as followers of Jesus Christ. Allowing Satan, the world, or our own flesh to get us off track might just be a temporary detour, but it could mean total destruction! Peter warns us in 1 Peter 5:8:
"Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour."
The enemy's goal is not just to distract or disrupt you, but to DEVOUR you! I'm not trying to frighten you (too much), but if you take one of the four exit ramps I'll describe, you could end up being the main course at one of Satan's late night dinner parties.
Exit Ramp No. 1: Fear
In his excellent book, When Fear Seems Overwhelming, Dr. Larry Crabb notes that we live our lives based on fear. We do the things that are safe and comfortable for us and we avoid (or run from) things that frighten or intimidate us. I once thought courage was the absence of fear. Not so. In fact, someone interviewed congressional medal of honor winners and asked them what their definition of courage was. All of them, in one form or another, said that courage isn't the absence of fear — it's doing what you're afraid to do.
Whether it's facing the Nazis at Normandy or trusting God with your future, you must walk toward your fears. It's easy to say and hard to do, but letting the fear of what others think of you, the fear of the lordship of Christ, or the fear of earthly dangers control you can be an exit ramp you don't want to take. Paul challenged Timothy, his young disciple, saying, "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7). If God has given us everything we need for victory, why are we still relying on our own puny little resources? The real issue is not how to escape our fears, but how to handle them. And you can — if you stay on God's road with your eyes fixed on Him.
Exit Ramp No. 2: Pride
As a cocky young freshman, I was walking along one day with an upperclassman who was attempting to help me spiritually. Impressed by how many students I was influencing for Christ, I subtly boasted, "Terry, I'm really struggling with pride." He stopped, looked at me and shot back, "What do you have to be proud about?" Having my arrogance totally exposed, I stuttered and stammered, "I guess, nothing."
I was focused on building up my little kingdom, building a name for myself, stealing glory from the only One who deserved it. "I am the Lord, that is My name. I will not give My glory to another" (Isaiah 42:8). Pride is usually evident to everyone except the person who manifests it! It raises its ugly head in the forms of defensiveness, prayerlessness, comparison, and unteachability.
One question you can ask yourself: "Am I an able follower?" You'll never be a great leader until you learn how to be a great follower. For instance, if you don't have someone discipling you, it's probably because you don't want someone discipling you! If so, decide now to turn in your "Loner for Christ" membership card, humble yourself before God, find someone who has been on God's road for a while and start to follow and learn from him or her. You'll be glad you did!
Exit Ramp No. 3: Immorality
I believe that sexual sins leave the deepest scars in people's lives. We can be forgiven for any sin, but, for some reason, it's almost impossible to forget these "sins of the flesh;" they seem to be seared into our conscience for many years to come. Whether it's premarital sexual involvement or the cheap substitutes we find on TV, in movies and in romance novels, we're robbed of our purity, self esteem, and, worst of all, our fellowship with the Lord.
2 Corinthians 10:4 – 5 tells us that Satan uses all of his resources to influence and control our minds. The solution, Paul says, is to saturate ourselves with the Word, seeking to "bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ." This is especially tough for guys because we are so stimulated by what we see. With the advent of the Internet, the enemy can now help a young student take this exit ramp with the mere touch of a computer key. Images will instantly appear that can be forever stored in the back of your brain's hard drive, producing a spiritual virus with devastating long-term effects to your life and marriage.
As you traverse the road of life the Lord has you on, be careful what you look at, what you think about, and what you touch. God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. Stay true to Him and you will get to experience it fully.
Exit Ramp No. 4: Bitterness
As I was graduating from college, I was burned big time by a landlord who chose to keep our security deposit, even though we kept her rental house in immaculate shape. Frustration turned into anger, anger into resentment, and resentment into deep-seated, deeply entrenched bitterness.
I had been wronged. The fury swelled inside of me and started to permeate every hour of my day, every conversation I had, every relationship in my world. The writer of Hebrews 12:15 described me when he said, "See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many." I was not able to accept, nor extend, the grace of God. As a result, I was not only poisoning myself, but everyone around me as well.
Of the four exit ramps listed here, I believe this is the hardest one to come back from. This toxic "root of bitterness" can imbed itself so deep in our souls that it may seem that nothing can uproot it. It may not be a confiscated security deposit that rattles your cage, but when you get bitter over another person's unfaithfulness, betrayal, or slander the one it most destroys is staring back at you in the mirror. Take a long look and determine to extend the same grace to others the Lord so lavishly poured out upon you.
Oh, I almost forgot. Wanna know the end of the Golden Gate/dead car/lonely exit story?
Desperate, I squinted hard and could see the parking lot lights of the maintenance building far away, next to the bridge at the bottom of the exit ramp. I pushed the Volvo around, put it in neutral, and, by faith, coasted all the way down (with no headlights or power steering), hoping I would not run into anyone or anything on the way.
Relieved to finally roll into the brightly lit parking lot, guess who drives up? None other than the truck driver with the booming voice and front bumper tires! He kindly got out, gave us a jump, and sent us on our way. Not such a bad guy, after all! I breathed a prayer of thanks, compliments of Willie Nelson:
On the road again.
Just can't wait to get on the road again.
Copyright 2003 Steve Shadrach. All rights reserved.