Bishop's Message

The compass and the map

HOW is it that migratory birds can fly thousands of miles and arrive at the right place? Researchers have offered several answers but most have agreed that such birds have an inner compass that helps direct their flights.

Taking their readings from the earth’s magnetic fields, the birds instinctively fly in the right direction. As if this is not already fascinating, it has been further discovered that many night-flying birds also calibrate their inner compasses by using polarised sunlight at dawn and dusk. They do this everyday before taking off in flight. We can learn a lesson or two from these birds.

We, too, are on a migratory journey – from darkness to light, from sin to righteousness, from the things of this world to the city whose architect and builder is God, from hostility to hospitality, and from self to Christ. To help us make the journey, God has given to us each an inner spiritual compass.

God has “set eternity in the hearts of men” (Eccl. 3:11). This sense of eternity is something inherent in our human souls, as God has intended it to be. However, sin has spoiled this spiritual equipment, and the inner compass often malfunctions. When
we come to Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit, our inner compasses are restored to working order. The Spirit testifies to our spirit that we are the children of God, and through such spiritual assurances and feedback in our journey, we are directed to our eternal Home.

The challenge, though, is to make sure we are using our spiritual compasses. Also, because we live in a poisoned environment of worldliness and evil, our compasses need maintenance and regular calibration. Many Christians do neither – they neither ensure they are travelling in the right direction, nor ensure that their spiritual compasses are accurate and in good working order.

People are often too busy following the crowd that they forget to check their directions. Our modern culture seems to be
obsessed with speed rather than direction, with efficiency rather than destiny.

A pilot was flying a plane and unfortunately got lost because the instruments in his plane malfunctioned. He managed to contact a control tower and reported his situation. The flight controller, wanting to help the pilot find his way back, asked for his co-ordinates. Not being able to pinpoint his current location, the pilot radioed back: “I don’t know where I am, but wherever I am headed, I am making it in good time!”

We are often like this pilot. We don’t know where we are or where we are going; all we know is that we are making it in good
time. We watch the clock and congratulate ourselves for the efficiency of our lives. We manage our schedules and timetables well; we make the best use of information technology; we organise our lives meticulously. And yet, something is missing. Our lives may have efficiency but no direction.

OBSERVE your fellow travellers in a train. They are busy checking their PDAs and using their mobile phones. These are modern gadgets that are supposed to assist people on the move. But they make people so busy that they become disconnected with real life. They have no time to pause and reflect, and examine the course of their lives. They are like the poor dog in a funny animal video that is busy going round and round, chasing its own tail. They are so distracted by the world and their selfish desires that they have no time to be still to notice the rhythms, patterns, and longings of the soul. Their souls find it
hard, keeping up with their busy bodies that they get lost or stuck in the frenzied living.

God wants us to live lives that have direction. He wants us to be connected with real spiritual life. As Paul put it, we are to “take hold of the life that is truly life”. (1 Tim. 6:19). It was in this light that Paul had advised Timothy to watch his life and ministry. In other words, Timothy was to constantly check and assess his primary directions in life, and how he was travelling spiritually.

God’s Word does warn against the unexamined life, a life whose direction becomes neglected by relentless busyness or slothful laziness. It is possible to begin a journey with promise, but because of distractions and carelessness, to lose the way and end the journey tragically, way off the mark.

Paul exhorts us, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.” (2 Cor. 13:5). We would do well to listen to him carefully. Check your compass, make sure you are going in the right direction. The right direction of a Spirit-led life must surely point towards Jesus, for the purpose of our spiritual journey is to become like Him.

In what ways are we moving closer to our destiny? Or are we moving further away from it, as we get carried away by the popular currents of worldly and self-indulgent consumerism?

Paul’s advice is echoed in the Old Testament by the prophet Haggai. “Give careful thought to your ways.” (Hag. 1:7). Check the direction of your path. Examine your destinations. Think about it carefully. Give attention to these things, and you will not regret later about wasted years, or a wasted life.

A compass is best used with a map. That is why reading the Bible and meditating on it is such an important spiritual discipline that we must practise faithfully. This discipline will help us to develop a spiritual road map, with which we can use our inner spiritual compasses. A Christian who does not have a working compass and a map is pathetically lost. In fact, he has to ask himself whether he is really “in the faith”.

It is time to take up the unused compass and unfold the map. As children of modernity, we are more used to checking the time, rather than the compass. But even as we check the time at the beginning of another new calendar year, may God help us to check our directions, and to find the life that is truly life. “Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the LORD.” (Lam. 3:40).

Like the migratory birds who always end up in the right destination, may we also journey well and find our true eternal home.