The Wanderers

“Beginning to think that I'm wastin' time
I don't understand the things I do
The world outside looks so unkind
I'm countin' on you to carry me through
Oh, give me the beat boys, and free my soul
I want to get lost in your rock and roll and drift away”

— Dobie Gray, Drift Away

“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.”

— J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Perhaps the most used phrase from Tolkien’s poem is the line, “Not all those who wander are lost.”  My guess is that Tolkien would likely disagree with the majority of people who have cherry-picked this one phrase for their personal, bumper-sticker “philosophy” of life.  Not all those who wander are lost.  The phrase itself implies that most who are wandering are indeed lost!  It speaks to an exception more than a rule, a fact in life not a philosophy for life.  Indeed, many wanderers are lost - even when they fail to realize it (or care).  Spiritual wandering by God’s children is particularly tragic because the ramifications are far more serious then simply being unable to find the right address in a strange neighborhood.  The souls of people are on the line.  Eternity hangs in the balance.  Not all those who wander are lost, but what about those who are?  Who are the wanderers you know?

Hebrews 2:1-3 NIV - We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 2 For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, 3 how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.

Do you ever get bored with the gospel?  Do you ever become more consumed with temporary things in this life than “so great a salvation”?  Does church become so routine that you think about just “checking out”?  I think most of us battle such instances, but it is when those moments become seasons that one’s spiritual drift becomes so dangerous.  The New Testament clearly teaches that drifting away is tied to what we pay attention unto (or fail to pay attention to).  In the old Dobie Gray song, his lyrics demonstrate the normal human emotions of one who is confused, frustrated, and nervous about the world around him.  Sadly, he turns to the idol of musical enjoyment with its priests (musicians, singers) to help him get lost and drift away, mistaking that for finding freedom.  Yet, how many Christians similarly believe that finding freedom is associated with their own spiritual drift into lostness?  It’s a prescient theme because we all go through seasons of such confusion and anguish, yet the typical fallen human response is to drift away rather than paying most careful attention to the message that transcends our temporary difficulties.  We may wrongly view wandering as an expression of freedom rather than what it most often is - lostness. 

Do we allow technology to diminish our ability to truly pay attention to things that matter most?  Notice also that we are to pay attention to what was “heard”.  We live in a day in which most not only learn but also think/feel with their eyes rather than their ears and minds.  What are we doing to ensure that our children will be able to truly hear the Word in a society that almost entirely promotes seeing images?  How deeply tied down is our ship of salvation or are we drifting away? Are you closer to God now than you were a year or two ago?  Five years ago?  Is you passion and zeal for so great a salvation (in your life and others’) more or less?  What about those in you sphere of fellowship?  Would you say your (and their) relationship with God is intentionally growing or unintentionally drifting?  Who are the wanderers?

“Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one--the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts…” 

— C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

James 5:17 NIV - Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

James clarifies that spiritual drift is not cured by turning over a new leaf nor even by a desire to reconsecrate one’s life, but it involves God-honoring, life-giving relationships with those to whom you will confess and receive prayerful healing and restoration.  In other words, right-living, prayerful Christians in a genuine relationship with us are part of the way God heals our brokenness when we have wandered or drifted.  In a wonderful spiritual reality, sometimes spiritual healing comes to us while the prayer for another’s healing flows through us!  Some of the best, most encouraging “sermons” you will ever hear tend to flow out of your own mouth while in a life-giving group or relationship that helps others.  

Too many want to “go it alone”, yet this is not the Biblical model.  God can forgive, but He often uses relationships to cultivate complete healing.  Arrogance claims to need no one but God , but God declares in Scripture that He chooses to use His church and its life-giving relationships.  Who would you be able to confess to?  Are you spiritually mature and discreet enough to hear someone else’s confession and pray for their healing?  The New Testament model for this ministry included house-to-house fellowship (what we may call “small groups”).  Will you participate in this apostolic ministry model and actively, regularly participate in small groups so that wanderers and drifters can find freedom, healing, and restoration?

James 5:19-20 NIV - My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins. 

James distinguishes that a wanderer from the truth is no longer a saint but a sinner.  Notice the New Testament does not portray God drawing the wanderer back to the truth independently but through a Christian.  As the body of Christ - the hands and feet of Jesus - we have both the responsibility and opportunity to bring wanderers back to the way, the truth, and the life.  Notice also it is not the job of pastors alone to rescue wanderers from error and spiritual death.  James presents the believer as one who turns these types of sinners around.  Who needs you to turn them back to the truth?  Will you reach out with grace and wisdom to save a wanderer?   Go win the wanderer.  Go deliver the drifter.  Go help someone’s story have the happiest ending.