Your spiritual GPS



by Lawrence W. Althouse Background Scripture: Hebrews 12:1-13. Devotional Reading: Proverbs 3:5-12.

You probably know what the initials “GPS” stand for. But, as I am critical of those who use initials or jargon that they don’t explain, let me establish that GPS stands for “Global Positioning System,” a technology that employs satellites to, as one advertisement put it, “enable you to know where you are at all times.” Some of these systems use a simulated voice that tells you: “Turn left,” “turn right,” “you’re on the wrong road,” etc. I understand also that GPS technology can also help you find your pet that has strayed from your backyard.

Remembering that the earliest Christians were called “followers of the Way,” wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was GPS system that would say to us, “you’ve just made a wrong turn,” or “stay in this lane to reach your goal”? But, in a sense, we already have such a resource available to us on our pilgrimage as followers of Jesus Christ! THE PIONEER

If much of Hebrews is difficult for us, chapter 12 is as clear today as when it was written: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith…” (12:1,2).

The terms “pioneer and perfecter of our faith” are more comprehensive, but some of us might understand better if we called Jesus “our spiritual GPS,” for as in the words of the advertisement, Jesus Christ can “enable you to know where you are at all times.” The writer of Hebrews uses six analogies: (1) the “cloud of witnesses,” (2) the race, (3) the need to travel light, (4) Jesus, our “pioneer,” (5) joy: our goal, and (6) our conditioning (12:5-11).

The “great cloud of witnesses” is a reference to the long list of heroes of the faith who precede the writing of this letter (11:1-40). These heroes and heroines have run the course before us and now they stand along the way to cheer and help us on. If it sometimes seems we are solitary on our spiritual trek, this is an assurance that we are far from being alone. THE WAY

Early Christians were called followers of The Way and the analogies of Christian discipleship as a race, trek or pilgrimage have been popular throughout Christian history. The analogy of Jesus as “pioneer and perfecter of our faith,” can be particularly helpful when we realize that Jesus has trod this course before us and is the one who challenges us to follow his “Way.” He is available to help and guide us as we go. As a pioneer blazes a trail so that others might follow him, so Jesus has left signs and warnings along the route we trod.

Hebrews reminds us of the spirit in which made this journey: “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (12:2b). What does Hebrews mean when it describes his attitude as one of “joy”? Surely the writer is not suggesting that Jesus carried the cross along the Via Dolorosa shouting ‘Oh joy! I’m on the way to the cross!” No, the ‘joy’ of which he is speaking is a deep satisfaction that one is doing the right thing, God’s will, and the satisfaction and justification will be the final result.

This conviction that made it possible so that he “endured the cross and despised the shame” (12:2c). Jesus kept himself focused on the “joy that was set before him. The pain was shockingly real, the shame truly humiliating, but Jesus stayed focused on the goal. My high school track coach used to warn us that, in a race, we were never to look back, lest we break our stride. If you want to know where you are and where you’re going, consult your SPS (spiritual positioning system), “Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”