This posting is in a series of reflections from my time in Chartres, France.
“You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, whose thoughts are fixed on you!” (Isaiah 26:3, NLT)
A labyrinth located in the nave of the Chartres Cathedral serves as a pathway of prayer for believers. It winds back and forth, symbolically representing the many twists and turns throughout our life’s journey. Christians have walked the labyrinth in the Chartres Cathedral to meditate, pray, and seek a closer connection to God for over eight centuries. While walking, believers often experience something that mirrors some aspect of their life, giving them new insight and prompting prayer.
While traversing the winding path over the past two weeks, I have been praying that God would help me to know better what it means to deny myself and to pick up my cross to follow Jesus, as he instructed all of his disciples to do (Mark 8:34). I have been asking Christ to set me free from the fears that have been holding me back from surrendering my will to God’s at a deeper level, and from the distractions and impulses that take me away from the Holy Spirit’s leading.
On one walk, as I approached one of the dozens of hairpin turns on the labyrinth pathway, I suddenly saw a picture of how easily I get off track with my thinking or behavior. For example, I may be thinking about my writing, or my family, or something to do with my work, and suddenly, I’m off rehearsing how someone hurt me or of how I would like to get revenge. Or, I can be doing well with living by my priorities, and then I’ll make some stupid decision that dissipates my energy or health. Or, I’ll feel love and kindness toward someone, only to bite someone else’s head off in the next instant. Or, I’ll be all set to go forward with God’s leading in some important aspect of my life, and then I get cold feet and start to question myself. I let myself get distracted from the calling and opportunity at hand, or my faith wavers, my confidence diminishes, or I start hedging my bets.
The 180 degree turns in the pathway in front of me were suddenly illustrating a troubling aspect of my life that I wished were different. Indeed, my life is full of contradictions and competing values and impulses, and I frustrate myself often (not to mention how I must negatively affect others at times).
Now, I know my path is going to keep winding back and forth in my life, shifting direction from time to time, but that’s not what I’m concerned about. What I what to know is how can stop letting my “flesh” (sinful impulses and fear) so easily cause me to veer away from the Spirit’s leading onto a path that is contrary to God’s will for me?
As I prayed about these things this past Friday, I realized again that on my own I do not have the power to change my most deep-seated instincts and habits. God has to do the deep inner work within me to set me free and to keep me on the Spirit-led path. Yet, my experience also teaches me that my response to the Spirit and the ways that I order my thinking and living can help.
• The path of the Spirit is pretty well marked out for me—not necessarily all the details, but the character, the spirit, the intention of God’s ways are well known to me. I can consciously remind myself of what I already know to be true.
• I can set out to walk this path every day, and in every circumstance, setting my intention to listen, learn and follow the Spirit.
• I can make a point of not letting other things or people so easily distract (disturb, entice, annoy, consume, intimidate, threaten) me. I will react often, but I can catch myself and ask, “Is this how I want to react?”
• I can choose not to distract myself when I become afraid, anxious, or overwhelmed. I can simply remind myself, “Yes, this task is scary or hard, but the Spirit will show me what most needs to be done, and help me to do it.”
• When I discover that I have taken a sharp turn away from the Spirit’s leading, I can stop, reconnect with God, look around for how to get back on the Spirit-led path again, and start fresh.
• I can focus on walking the path that leads to God, rather than focus on trying to change myself or others. That is, instead of trying to make things happen so much, I can put my energy into connecting with God and letting the needed changes in me and in others flow from the Spirit’s activity.
• I can choose to trust God.
If I close my eyes I can see distinctly the spot on the Chartres Cathedral labyrinth where the Spirit spoke to me about how I am living my life. While, at first, the 180 degree turn painfully illustrated to me how easily I switch directions, change focus, and move out of the Spirit into the flesh in a moment. Yet now this mental picture also depicts how I would like to navigate the twists and turns in life by staying in the Spirit.
I leave today for Africa. I’m a little nervous, but now, after spending time seeking God in prayer, I feel ready. I do not know all of how God intends to use us there, but I’m sure the Holy Spirit is leading us, and will work in us and through us to serve Christ’s purposes. The most important thing is that I stay on the path.
Isaiah said that God would keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfastly fixed on God. Focusing on the Spirit-led path before us is what a steadfast mind is all about.
When you feel yourself starting to veer off the path in your mind, heart or behavior, try simply saying to yourself, “Stay on the path.” As your mind and spirit obey your instructions, feel the temptations diminish in power, and the peace within you deepen and strengthen.
What helps you to stay on the path?