September 26, 2000
A few years ago, one of my articles used an illustration about pruning an apple tree. A friend reminded me of that illustration: “Remember how you told the story about an apple tree, how you first go after it with a scalpel, then a pruning knife, then an ax.”
I replied, “No, Reg. You got it backwards. First you use an ax, then something smaller.”
His face fell, then he laughed. “That’s what I did wrong. No wonder my tree is dead!”
The maxim says, “When all else fails, follow the directions.” Does your eagerness to assemble the product or finish the task tempt you to bypass those complicated instruction sheets?
I often toss directions in a corner too, but when I bought a new desk and saw how many parts and pieces it had, I knew immediately I had to follow the instructions. Even at that, it took my husband and I over eight hours to figure out dozens of steps before finally putting that monster together.
As frustrating as some sets of directions are (such as those in eight languages with English in fine print), we do need them for many assembly projects. Directions come in other forms too, such as recipes and owner’s manuals.
My favorite is the set given to us by our Maker. In that manual, we can find out how we ought to live and how to plug into the power we need for doing so. Scripture also has several trouble-shooting sections that diagnose problems and point us back on the right track.
For instance, when my husband had not yet trusted Christ for his salvation, I didn’t know how to relate to him. He didn’t seem interested in my faith and that put a wall between us. No matter how much we shared, we could not share on a deep, spiritual level.
I turned to my owner’s manual and found instruction about my attitude and actions. It was not a huge surprise to discover that God did not want me to preach at him. Instead, I was to live out my faith without fear, putting my confidence in God.
After Bob became a Christian, I also experienced times when I was not sure how to relate to him. He was still my husband but also another believer. Again, I looked in the Book. There I found all the help I needed about relating to him as a Christian husband. I also found instruction about relating to him as my friend and when neither of these seemed to be precise enough for particular situations, my manual gave me solid principles of how Christians should relate to one another. These principles work well for couples who both believe in Jesus.
Occasionally things go wrong because one or both of us get off track. Scripture offers help with that too. It diagnosis the problem, explains what to drop from our lives, and gives alternative behavior that will bring back harmony and joy.
The Bible offers step by step instruction too. While this may not be the same as assembling a desk, some steps should be followed in a certain order.
For instance, if I say something that hurts Bob’s feelings, my manual says, “If you are offering your gift at the altar (implying giving, but also including offering God worship or service) and there remember that your brother (another Christian) has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”
In other words, don’t try to worship or serve God if you know you have offended someone. First go and make things right.
God’s instructions are generally quite clear. They often become more clear as we do what He says. On the other hand, if I go to the manual and can’t make head nor tail of it, then I can be sure I’ve disobeyed something He already made plain or taken a wrong step. This must be remedied.
I notice that the condition of my owner’s manual reveals my condition. If it gets dusty, it shows I am not using it; a sure sign of being out of sync with my Maker. However, right now, it is tattered, like a worn-out road map. Hopefully that indicates that I am eager to find and follow God’s directions and keep my life moving along on the right track.