“In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed.” (Exodus 15:13)

I once heard a story about two young men who made a goal of riding through the Sahara Desert on motorcycles. There aren’t a lot of street signs in the Sahara and this was long before the days of GPS devices. They navigated by oil drum. A single oil drum marked the beginning of their journey and they could just make out another on the distant horizon. As they neared the oil drum on the horizon the one they had departed from grew fainter. When they arrived at the second drum they could just make out a third on the distant horizon. Quite quickly after striking out for the third drum, the first disappeared completely from the horizon behind them. Their entire trip, they could never see more than three drums, and for the vast majority of their journey through the desert all they could see was two; the one behind them and the one in front. Eventually they made their way across the world’s largest desert and most forbidding terrain, on motorcycles, navigating drum to drum.

I don’t know how many oil drums it takes to get across the Sahara but I imagine it’s a lot. Those two young men displayed a unique faith that when they left the first oil drum for the next that there would be a third somewhere on the horizon when they reached the second, and that there would be a fourth when they reached the third. Every oil drum they left on their way to the next led them deeper into the desert. At some point in their journey (they had no way of knowing when) they reached the halfway mark and with each oil drum they were traveling further out of the desert. Their perspective, however, throughout the entire trip, was just the oil drum behind and the one ahead.

Purpose Weekly is all about discovering and living out the purpose for each of our lives. But that journey doesn’t come to us in an Automobile Club ‘Trip Tik’ (those were page by page, turn by turn map books that AAA would custom make for you before you headed out on a road trip – way better than oil drums). Today I’ve got a GPS suckered to my windshield. A GPS is sort of like hi-tech Trip-Tik’s; I just punch in an address across the country and it plots the fastest course and tells me if I’ll arrive in time for lunch two days from now. But it’s sort of like the oil drums too, in that it only displays the next turn, not the whole trip.

So what’s your life journey plotted on? GPS? AAA Trip-Tik? Oil drums? God told the prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart …” (Jeremiah 1:5) God had Jeremiah’s life plotted, for His purpose, before Jeremiah was born. Like Jeremiah, God’s got your life’s journey mapped out, for His purpose, turn by turn. “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.” (Ephesians 1:11)

Your life isn’t an accident and it wasn’t an afterthought. Before the first atom of creation was spoken into existence, you were a part of God’s big plan. Think about that for a second. You (and I) exist as a part of God’s purpose in the universe. Your oil drums were laid out a long time ago. If you’ll open your eyes, you can see the drum behind you and the one ahead of you.

A lot of religious people have argued for a long time that if God has your whole life planned out then you really don’t have a choice in the matter; they call that ‘predestination’. You’re pre-destined for whatever fate God has laid out for you, so why bother looking for the next oil drum? Just keep walking, if God’s got everything laid out you’ll run into it eventually. A bunch of other religious people have argued that you choose your own journey; you can either head for the next oil drum or head the opposite direction or just sit down. It’s up to you whether you follow the path you’re on or strike off for a new one. This way of thinking is called ‘free will’.

The ‘predestination’ folks and the ‘free will’ folks are always arguing because they think that people can’t be pre-destined and have a free will at the same time. And they’d be right … if it was one of us laying out the route. But it’s not one of us who laid out the route in the first place; it was Him. And He can choose us for His purpose and let us choose at the same time.

When Elaine and I travel, I’ve pretty much quit using maps and just rely on my GPS. I punch in the destination address, the GPS figures out where I am and plots a course to where I’m going, and then it tells me to turn right out of our driveway. Even if I’m going a thousand miles from home it’ll only tell me to turn right out of our driveway … until I’ve turned right out of our driveway, then it tells me to turn left off our street. Kind of like the oil drums.

Another thing my GPS does is realize when I’ve gone off course. A few seconds after I’ve failed to turn right when the computer voice said “turn right” the computer voice will say “recalculating” (there’s edge to the computer voice when it says “recalculating”, like it’s frustrated that I couldn’t follow a simple command; maybe it’s just my imagination). Then it will re-plot my course and give me a new “turn left” or “turn right” or “turn around” to get me back on track.

Maybe that’s how predestination and free will work at the same time; the course is plotted and I follow it until I take a wrong turn, then the course is immediately re-plotted to steer me back on track again. I’m just glad I don’t hear a voice from heaven say “recalculating” every time I screw up. That would be more than I could bear.

Anyway, I doubt if my little GPS story is how all that works; a lot smarter people than me have been trying to figure out the whole predestination vs. free will thing a lot longer than I have and they’ve never gotten it completely resolved. I guess that trying to resolve questions we’re not capable of figuring out is part of our human nature. Just like holding predestination and free will in His palm of His Hand in perfect harmony as part of His eternal purpose is part of God’s nature.


Going back to those two guys on the motorcycles – what do you imagine ever possessed them to cross the Sahara Desert using only oil drums as their guide? There’s no way two sane people would cross the world’s biggest desert by going from one oil drum to the next … unless they knew that someone had placed those drums along a specific route – the shortest, safest path across the Sahara. That makes sense.

I’ll continue to make my way from drum to drum; not because I’ve got faith in the drums, but because I’ve got faith in the One who put them there.