Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.
Those words come from a line in an old hymn written in 1757 by a 22-year-old named Robert Robinson. They express an important biblical truth — we’re prone to wander away from God. Sometimes it happens without us even being aware of it. Psalm 119:10 says, With all my heart I have sought You; Do not let me wander from Your commandments. I’ve been thinking lately about why we’re so prone to wander. Four biblical characters come to mind, each having wandered for different reasons.
Abraham wandered because he failed to trust God in a crisis. God called Abraham to leave his home and travel hundreds of miles to arrive in an unknown land of promise. The first thing he did was build an altar to worship the God who brought him there. The journey was off to a great start. But no sooner had he arrived in Canaan that he encountered a crisis — a famine. This was his first opportunity in this new land to trust God. But instead we read, “Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe.” There’s more going on here than Abraham running to the next town to buy groceries. God never told him to go to Egypt. He never consulted God about this. In the Old Testament, Egypt almost always represents a worldly response to a spiritual challenge. Instead of trusting God to provide in Canaan, he took matters into his own hands. The journey of faith isn’t easy. The moment you make a decision to follow God, you can count on something going wrong; some disappointment, setback, or temptation. God allows these things so he can meet us there and reveal his character and shape ours. So one of the ways to prevent wandering is to trust him when life throws you an unexpected challenge.
Solomon wandered because he made small compromises that set him on a bad trajectory. Another example is King Solomon of Israel. This guy was blessed with a great model in his father, David. Early on God offered to fulfill any request he made. Solomon asked for wisdom. God was so pleased that he asked for wisdom and not wealth that he gave him both. So he was not only the wisest man on the face of the earth, he was also one of the wealthiest and most powerful. But he wandered. It started when he made a small compromise: “Solomon made an alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt and married his daughter.” That’s what kings did back then — they made political alliances thru marriage. But God had clearly said not to do that. We might say, “Okay, he slipped up. No big deal.” But a few chapters later it says this: “King Solomon… loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter… As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God…” All that started with a small compromise. Sin always has a trajectory. It almost always starts with a small compromise, a minor concession, a brief indulgence, but that can make a huge difference in your eventual destination.
Peter wandered because he was overconfident. Peter was one of the original apostles chosen by Jesus. He was the first one to discern that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. But the night before Jesus was crucified, something happened that forever changed Peter. At a meal with his twelve disciples, Jesus announced that he was going away.
Peter asked, “Lord, where are you going?”
Jesus replied, “Where I am going you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.”
Then Peter said, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”
Then Jesus said, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!”
That very night, while Jesus was on trial, Peter denied three times knowing Jesus. It’s a classic case of overconfidence. One of the things that will make us vulnerable to wandering is thinking we could never wander! Because when we’re overconfident we let down our guard, and when we let down our guard, we’re sure to fall. We need to stay humble and dependent, knowing how prone to wander we really are!
Martha wandered because she was distracted with many things. Martha and her sister Mary were some of Jesus’ best friends. One night Jesus and his disciples were at their house for dinner. Here’s what happened: “Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.’” You can understand why Martha is upset. They had to feed 16 people and her sister isn’t lifting a finger. But Jesus’ response may surprise you: “But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.’” It’s clear that Mary gets the high grade and Martha the low one. But why? It’s not that serving is bad and sitting around is good, but Martha was so distracted with serving she forgot about Jesus! Sometimes we wander from the Lord because we’re distracted with other things, even good things can become bad things if they cause us to take our eyes off of the Lord and stop listening to him, as Mary was doing.
What do you do when you’ve wandered away from the Lord? The first thing is simply to admit it. This sounds simple, but the further away you get, the harder it is to do. But you’ve got to admit it to the Lord. God just wants us to stop hiding and be honest with him. And when we do that, we can count on his grace. Ps. 51:17 says, “A broken and contrite heart, you, God, will not despise.” Second, take some time to reflect on what happened and why it happened. Do a kind of post mortem. What can you learn from it? How can you avoid making the same mistake twice? Finally, build some accountability into your life. Having others in your life that you give permission to ask you the hard questions will keep you accountable. “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”