It was one of the last shopping days before Christmas, and the mall was closing in less than an hour. I was not driving dangerously fast, but I could distinctly hear the Lord telling me to slow down, relax, and enjoy the season of His birth. But I didn’t listen. I wanted to make sure we got to the stores in the mall before it closed. So I continued to hurry, and I refused to slow down.
Then, a mall cop rolled through a stop sign and pulled out right in front of me. I did not hit him, but it irritated me that he made me slow down. So I laid in on my horn. Me, me, me, me, me! I was surprised when he stopped his truck, got out, and started walking back toward my car. By that time, we were stopped in the roadway. I opened my door, leaned out, and yelled at him, “You ran that stop sign.” “No I didn’t,” he said, “You were driving too fast. Slow down when you’re driving in this parking lot.” Then he turned around, got back in his truck, and continued his patrol.
But I was still mad. As I looked for a parking space, one of my companions said, “Let’s turn him in to his supervisor.” They said some other things too, but I didn’t hear them. What I heard louder than words was the Lord telling me that I was in the wrong, that the speed at which I was driving was the cause of the incident, and that I should not have yelled at that mall cop. He told me I needed to pull up next to him, apologize, and ask for his forgiveness. I quickly scanned the parking lot and did not see him. So I told the Lord, “See, he’s gone now. I can’t tell him I’m sorry.” But the Lord said, “Track him down.” My answer was, “We don’t have time for that.” By that time, I had found a parking space and pulled in.
As we got out of the car, it was clear that my intervention was needed to keep my friends from reporting the mall cop to his supervisor. I was being obstinate in not listening to the Lord, but I was not about to add to my pain by reporting him. So I told my friends that the incident was my fault and that we were not going to turn him in. That quelled that fire, but the one inside me was still raging.
Now it was clear that not only had my failure to listen to the Lord kept me from being content, it had also caused conflict with the mall cop and had led my friends astray. Instead of being a blessing to the people around me, I was causing a mess. And the Lord would not let me go. He kept on telling me I needed to find that cop and tell him I was sorry. And I still didn’t want to do it. But I was feeling bad about it, so I asked God to forgive me and give me peace. And He told me to go find that mall cop and ask him to forgive me. I reminded God that he was gone. And He reminded me that He told me to track him down.
Then I began to think about what would happen if I left the mall without doing what God said. Certainly, then, God would forgive me because He couldn’t expect me to find him then, right? Then, it was if God took out a big stick and wacked me with it. I cannot put my finger on the exact words God used, but they were something like this:
Look at what you are doing, son. Of course, I forgive you. But this season is an opportunity like none other to share my love and grace with those around you, and you are not doing that. You have made that man feel bad, you are leading your friends astray, and you are fighting me. If you do not obey me and tell that man you are sorry, then you will be even more grieved than you are now. And yes, you will eventually get over it, but the cost will be high. Spare yourself the pain, and tell that man you are sorry.
Right then, I decided to hunt down the mall cop and tell him I’m sorry.
By then, my friends had finished shopping. I told them what I was going to do. On the way back to the car, I explained my conversation with God. And by the time I cranked the car, we were all on the same page. I had won back my friends, and that was a relief. But now I needed to find that cop.
He was nowhere to be found. I drove halfway around the mall before I located a security truck. I stopped next to it and asked the driver if he knew where the other cop was. When I described him, he said he was inside the mall in the office. When he asked me why I needed him, I told him that I had been rude to him and wanted to apologize. “I can give you the phone number if you’d like,” he said. I really wanted to tell him to his face, but telling him over the phone would work too. So I said, “Okay.”
The mall cop answered the phone by giving his name. I asked him if he was the same one that had just had a confrontation in the parking lot. “Yes,” he brisked, as if I were going to attack him again. I told him I was a jerk, that he was right that I was driving too fast, that I should not have yelled at Him, and that I was sorry. I told him that Christmas should be a time that we are careful to share the love of the Lord with others. Instead of doing that, I had caused him grief. And I asked him to forgive me. He said okay, and he reminded me to drive slowly in the parking lot. I told him I would slow down and make his job easier from then on. And he closed the conversation by saying, “God bless you.”
On the way out of the parking lot, my friends and I thanked God for this outcome. I had done the right thing in doing what the Lord wanted me to do. The grief that I had experienced was waning. I still felt bad, but my pain went away sooner rather than later. But I also realized that it would have been a lot better if I had listened to the Lord earlier when He told me to slow down, to relax, and to enjoy the season of His birth.
It is always better to listen to the Holy Spirit and follow Him, than it is to disobey Him and subject ourselves to His correction. But we sometimes seem to forget that the Holy Spirit is the Lord God Almighty. We don’t always acknowledge that refusing His instruction is the same as refusing the instruction of the Lord God Almighty. But we must know that God is serious the very first time He tells us what to do. And if we disobey, He is serious when He corrects us to get us back on course.
As our fathers on earth were serious when they corrected us, so too is the Lord when He does the same. And concerning the respect we should accord the Holy Spirit when He corrects us, the Bible says, “Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live?” (Heb. 12:9).
God has not (and never will) forsake His right to tell us what to do. Any attempt by men to convince us otherwise (as when a church leader told me we cannot trust the voices in our heads) is met with a stern warning:
Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. (Heb. 3:12–13)
Through unbelief, we turn our backs on the God who lives in our hearts, and through unbelief, our hearts are hardened to His voice by the deceitfulness of sin.
The cure for unbelief is voluntary subordination. As Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27). Concerning the first part, hearing His voice, the Bible says:
Today, if you will hear His voice,
Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.
(Ps. 95:7–8; Heb. 3:7–8; 3:15; 4:7)
Concerning the final part, following Him, it says, “See that you do not refuse Him who speaks” (Heb. 12:25). When God speaks to us, we should not hunker down against Him and fight Him, but instead, we should embrace what He says and align our thoughts and deeds with what He tells us.
But we also must know that when we refuse to do what He wants, He chastens us until we change our minds. Hebrews 12:6 says:
For whom the Lord loves He chastens,
And scourges every son whom He receives.
And He does this “for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness” (Heb. 12:10), so that afterward, we may experience “the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:11).
At no point in time throughout our entire Christian lifetimes does God leave us alone (John 14:18; Heb. 13:5). He leads us and guides us every step of the way. And every time we go astray in our thinking or in our actions, He personally steers us back into alignment with Him. He never gives up until He succeeds (see one possible exception in 1 Corinthians 11:30). As a result, there is no way we can slowly drift away from God without knowing it. But when we start to drift away, we can be confident that He will show us the path back to Him immediately and patiently. And all we need to do to return to alignment with Him is listen to Him, receive what He says, and follow through in it. Then we will experience again the blessings of being at peace with God. Subjecting ourselves to Him is the activity of life that is most rewarding:
The Lord will guide you continually,
And satisfy your soul in drought,
And strengthen your bones;
You shall be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. (Isa. 58:11)