I shall walk at liberty, for I have sought your precepts.
Jesus said, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” John 8:31-32
I recently did a stint as an employee for the U.S. Census Bureau, and one of the first things I learned through my job training sessions is that there are a lot of precepts to be obeyed when working for The Government. There’s a particular method for completing each particular task, and that includes the way a census worker canvases a block of homes. The rule is to always move methodically in a clockwise direction, making only right hand turns, covering every building in order and never doubling back or crossing the road until returning to the starting point. The supervisor emphasized this repeatedly even though, at the onset, it didn’t seem like that big of a deal.
Thinking they could increase efficiency, some of my co-workers chose to abandon the instructions and instead designed alternate maneuvers. I’m all for creativity, and so I didn’t fuss about the practice. That is, I didn’t fuss about it until the record keeping became so fouled up that it impaired the work of the whole team and we faced daunting consequences because of it. As it turned out, the parameters were there for a reason.
Actually, the parameters were there for more than one reason, and they did save me one day. As I moved from surveying houses in town to surveying houses in the thinly populated backcountry on the fringes of Appalachia, the concept of a block changed drastically. Instead of traversing around neatly paved streets matched up as though they had been plotted on graph paper, I now found myself on washed out dirt surfaces that meandered next to muddy creeks and up into shale foothills. The harsh environment was softened only by flooding that rushed across the roads leaving them the consistency of quicksand and with the capability to swallow my car. “Where am I,” I wondered, the beginning symptoms of panic setting in when I realized that cell phone service did not extend to this part of the world. I pressed forward, driving ever deeper into the middle-of-nowhere.
And then there it was. A hint of a road. Off to my right. It didn’t look like the road back to town any more than it looked like the road to salvation, but I remembered the precepts I’d been taught: move methodically in a clockwise direction, making only right hand turns. . . . I made one. And another. And another. I found myself back to my starting point and, more importantly, back to security.
While God’s precepts are a bit broader than those of the Census Bureau, they are also in place to help me find my way. God’s precepts instruct me to love God with heart and soul and mind and strength. God’s precepts teach me to love my neighbors as myself. How I relate to God and how I relate to others—these are the ways I navigate. And how much more does God care about the direction I take than does the Regional Census Bureau Supervisor!