— By JOHN CARTER
One of my favorite cowboy poets is Parker County’s own troubadour, Red Steagall. In one of his songs he describes how at night on cattle drives the cook would point the tongue of the chuck wagon toward the North Star. Tomorrow, he explains, might be cloudy and with no landmarks on the wide and rolling plains, they might point the herd in the wrong direction. The last chorus says:
Life is like a grassy sea,
The trail ain’t always plain.
One may lead to pleasure
And the other lead to pain.
But you’ll never lose direction
And you’ll know just where you are,
If you’ll always point your wagon tongue
Toward the old North Star.
Every year at this time I think of the wisdom in the poet’s words as Christians worldwide celebrate the season of Epiphany – the eventual arrival of the Wise Men in Bethlehem. They found the Christ child because they resolved to keep following the star – no matter how long the journey.
But more than that, it reminds me that arriving at our desired destination in this new, uncharted year will require that we stay pointed in the right direction – not just in January but in all the days that follow. Whether it’s at night or in the morning, for me, pointing the wagon tongue involves daily communion with our Creator through Bible reading, reflection, and prayer.
The Bible tells us the story of God’s saving work in history which culminated in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. And the story is not over – Jesus continues that work by his Spirit through His people. With the help of God’s Spirit, as we humbly make the scriptures (especially the four gospels) our daily spiritual food, we can come to better know the mind and heart of Christ – not just what he did in the first century, but what Jesus is about today in our personal lives and our world.
While the Bible is not always a detailed map that marks every current highway and back road, it serves as a compass whose true North is Jesus – the Word made flesh. When the terrain of our lives is rugged and the way is not as clearly marked as we might wish, the Bible points us to Jesus who always leads us home!
The beginning of the New Year is a good time to set our course again in God’s direction. And if we daily point our wagon tongue toward Jesus as our North Star, when next January rolls around, chances are we might be able to pray that beautiful prayer of a long dead slave:
“O Lord, I ain’t what I wanna be. O Lord, I ain’t what I oughta be. And O Lord, I ain’t what I’m gonna be. But thanks, Lord, I ain’t what I used to be. Amen.”