Christian Teaching

Why Lost Direction is Worse Than Lost Time

By: Brian Harris

Have you heard the one in sixty rule?

It’s something that pilots are taught. If you are one degree off course, after sixty miles you will be one mile off course. That might not sound like much, but it is a big deal if it turns out the wheat field you thought you were due to fly over is actually a mountain – and history records some tragic accidents that have happened as a result. A bit of lost time checking your settings is far better than lost direction.

OK, I’m not a pilot and you probably aren’t either. So why is this relevant? Perhaps you remember the haunting lines of the theme song from the movie Mahogany, Do You Know Where You’re Going To – though as it came out in 1975, it’s ok if you don’t!

Do you know where you’re going to?
Do you like the things that life is showin’ you?
Where are you going to?
Do you know?

Do you get what you’re hopin’ for
When you look behind you, there’s no open doors
What are you hopin’ for?
Do you know?

Do you know? Does it matter?

The church I’m speaking at this week has asked me to preach on some of the questions of Jesus. One that he asks in a few very different contexts is “what do you want me to do for you?” Though I can’t ask it as beautifully as Diana Ross does in the song, let me still ask its question, “Do you know?” It is possible for Jesus to ask, “What do you want?” and for us to reply, “I really don’t know.”

A number of people I speak to say they are struggling with feeling directionless. Some were highly motivated in the past and had real clarity about the path they wanted to tread. But somewhere along the way a nagging uncertainty has set in. It’s not that they feel everything they ever aspired towards was wrong, but it is feeling a degree or two off, and after 60 miles – well, it means it hasn’t taken them where they hoped.

Some have faced major changes. For a few it has been around health – which won’t allow them to do what they once did. For others its a broken relationship which has left them confused and deeply hurt. For others, the answers their faith once provided don’t convince them anymore.

How do we counter this? Clarifying direction is a great start. And the question, “what do you want?” can be a helpful launching point.

But don’t answer it too quickly. As those confronted by the genie in the fairy tale who allowed them three wishes but no more, imagine you have to think deeply and carefully about your answer. An hour’s sleep, a bacon sandwich and 3 months free Netflix would be a waste of the offer. So what is it you really, really, want?

T.S.Eliot claimed that the most profound line in literature is Dante’s “In His will, is our peace.” Why not throw that into the mix? It’s kind of reversing the question back on Jesus, “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks, and you reply, “No, what do you want me to do for you? For in your will, is my peace.”

The answer Jesus gives might change over time. It certainly has for me. When I was younger it tended to guide me to specific actions – things I should agree to do. At times it involved a major change of location. It led to some deeply satisfying journeys. But now I sense a shift. It is more about disposition. Whereas once I sensed the whisper of Jesus saying, “do this”, I now more commonly hear him saying, “be this”… be the loving one, be the forgiving one, be the patient one, be the thoughtful one. My response often falls woefully short – but my, its an interesting journey. From doing, to being.

And so I’m thinking about direction – the things I do, and the person I am. And I don’t think it’s a waste of time, for the one in sixty rule is valid. Just a little bit off course becomes a long way off over time. And the “what do you want me to do for you – who do you want me to be for you” dialogue is a great start. And it’s a surprisingly tranquil discussion if you enter with Dante’s deep conviction, “In His will, is our peace”.


Article supplied with thanks to Brian Harris.

About the Author: Brian is a speaker, teacher, leader, writer, author and respected theologian who is founding director of the AVENIR Leadership Institute, fostering leaders who will make a positive impact on the world.

Feature image: Photo by Brian Mann on Unsplash 

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