I bought a car a while ago, and as the first step I did some research into how cars work. One thing that came to my mind was the phrase, “get it in gear.” Now a car’s transmission, or gearbox, is exactly that: a box with several gears in it. The gears mesh together or stand apart according to which gear the engine is in. In a car with a standard, or manual, transmission, you choose which gear to be in, according to the situation. In a car with an automatic transmission, an extra piece of equipment does the choosing for you. Basically, being in the right gear is a matter of making the right connection. All of which raises the question, How does this apply to our spiritual lives? How can we get it in gear spiritually?

Out of Gear

One way to answer this question is to ask what can put us out of gear, or keep us from getting in gear. I’d like to look at three things that can do that, and what we in turn can do to make sure we don’t get out of gear. One thing that can put us out of gear is fear. This seems to be what happened to the apostle Paul’s assistant Timothy. It appears that when Paul was arrested, Timothy became afraid that he would be arrested too. That is why Paul writes to Timothy,

For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, and of love, and of self-control. Do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join me in suffering for the Gospel, relying on the power of God (2 Tim. 1:6–8).

Here Paul offers Timothy—and us—an effective way of making sure that fear does not paralyse us. As believers, we have access to all the power of God to help us do what he wants us to do. He is able both to empower us and to protect us in every situation. Noted Bible teacher Beth Moore asks in one of her books, If God had enough power to raise Jesus from the dead, is there any situation that he doesn’t have enough power to handle? If we know the God whom we serve, we’ll know that he is worthy of our faith and trust because nothing is beyond him. No wonder Paul can tell Timothy, only a few verses down from the ones I’ve just quoted, “I know the one whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that he is able to keep until that day what I have committed to him” (2 Tim. 1:12). Similarly David says, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Ps. 27:1). We might add, Of what shall I be afraid? Whatever situation you might be facing, God is able to help. Now that doesn’t mean that if only we have enough faith nothing will go wrong for us. Jesus said, “In the world you will have trouble.” Nor does it mean that when things go wrong for us it’s because we lack faith. There are many reasons why things go wrong for believers, but we haven’t time to discuss that subject here. What we can know is that we don’t have to let fear stop us because the power of God is at work in us and for us.

Another thing that can put us out of gear is disobedience. If we know what God wants us to do and don’t do it, we’re not going to grow spiritually. As the apostle James puts it,

Be doers of the word, not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing” (Jas. 1:22–25).
And Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

Another thing that can put us out of gear spiritually is self-focus. This is an easy trap to fall into in our modern Western culture. We’re so often told to exercise our rights, not let anyone take advantage of us, have things our way. I haven’t hear anyone say “Do your own thing” since the 1970’s, but the attitude hasn’t changed. This is also an easy one to fall into because it’s so gratifying to the flesh. But putting ourselves first is the same as putting anything else ahead of God: it’s idolatry. Actually you could say this is the oldest problem in the book, because it’s how Adam and Eve fell. The serpent told Eve that if they ate the fruit of the forbidden tree, they would be like God (Gen. 3:5). It was a temptation that neither she nor Adam could resist. But giving in to it put their relationship with God, and their descendants’ relationship with him, out of gear until Jesus came to put it back into gear.

I should say here that self-hatred and self-pity are also forms of self-idolatry because they both get our focus onto ourselves. Nor is self-hatred to be confused with humility. Meekness and humility come from knowing who we are before God. If we understand who God is, and who he says we are, we’ll be able to keep our focus on him, not on ourselves. That’s making the right connection. And how do we learn what God says about himself and us? We’ll get to that in a minute.

The Owner’s Manual

Another thought that occurred to me as I thought about cars was that any mechanic will tell you that after you buy a car the first thing you should do is to read the owner’s manual. It has all kinds of information about how the car works, what features it has, how to maintain it so that it runs its best, and what the various bells and lights mean when they come on. All this is useful to know if you want to get the most out of your car that it has to offer. And maintaining your car properly will make it last longer, and save money in the end.

Well, just as every car has an owner’s manual, so do we. Our owner’s manual is the Bible, the Word of God. In it God has given us all the guidance we need to live the abundant, fulfilling lives that he intends for us. As Paul puts it, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is beneficial for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the person of God may be proficient, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17). Or as David puts it,
The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the decrees of the Lord are sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is pure,
enduring for ever;
the ordinances of the Lord are true
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey,
and drippings of the honeycomb.

Moreover by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward. (Ps. 19:7–11)

And another Psalmist said,
Oh, how I love thy law! It is my meditation all the day.
Thy commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me.
I have more understanding than all my teachers, for thy testimonies are my meditation.
I understand more than the aged, for I keep thy precepts.
I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep thy word.
I do not turn aside from thy ordinances, for thou hast taught me.
How sweet are thy words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through thy precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.
Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Ps. 119:97–105)

In God’s Word we find both positive instruction telling us what we should do, and warnings telling us what to avoid. I should say here that when God tells us not to do something, it’s always for our good. God loves us, and when he tells us No, it’s not to be cruel or restrictive, but to protect us from things that he knows might harm us, even if we don’t recognise the danger. By the way, to get back to the question I just asked. How do we learn what God says about himself and us? You guessed it—read the Owner’s Manual!

Food and Fuel

Another thought which came to me is that cars need fuel. This is obvious enough, especially to anyone who has ever run out of gas (which I never have). But as I considered further I realised that just as cars need fuel, so we need spiritual fuel. But if cars need gas, what kind of fuel do we need?

This question leads me to the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John. At the beginning of this chapter, Jesus multiplies five loaves of barley bread and two small fish to feed five thousand men, plus women and children. But elsewhere the Scripture says, “Mankind shall not live by bread alone.” Not surprising, then, that Jesus offers an explanation that points beyond the sign of the loaves to Jesus himself, the Bread of Life.

More than that: Jesus says, “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever” and again, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink” (6:54–55). At this point the crowd gets upset with Jesus, and no wonder; for cannibalism was as repugnant to first-century Jews as it is to us. And to consume blood of any kind was against the Jewish dietary law, as it still is today. No wonder the crowd asks, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” The problem disappears, of course, when we realise that the food which Jesus provides is not physical but spiritual. He gave us his flesh by dying on the cross for our sake, and we eat it by receiving the life which he offers us.

So how do we receive this life? This question is answered when we realise that verse 54, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day” is parallel to verse 40, “Whoever looks to the Son and believes in him has eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.” In other words, those who eat his flesh and drink his blood are the same people as those who look to him and believe. That’s how we receive the life he offers.

Jesus says, “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never thirst” (John 6:36). This is one fuel we never have to worry about running out of. There’s always a supply ready when we need it. And we don’t eat it just once; we must continually feed on it in our hearts by faith.

What does Jesus mean when he says, “My flesh is true flesh and my blood is true drink?” He means that what he provides does what food and drink are intended to do, and more. What Jesus gives meets all our needs, physical, emotional and spiritual. Physical food, money, fame, possessions, and relationships won’t meet our needs—only the Lord can do that. Maybe this is why Jesus says at verse 35 that whoever comes to him will never be hungry and whoever believes in him will never get thirsty. Once we’ve found our satisfaction in him we’ll never need to look anywhere else.

Augustine, who was bishop of the city of Hippo in North Africa from 395–460 AD, said, “Lord, you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in you.” In other words, God has designed us to have a need that only he can fill, so that we will seek him, because that’s what he wants us to do. God said to the prophet Jeremiah, “When you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you seek me, you will find me; if you search for me with all your heart, I will let you find me” (Jer. 29:12–14).

Now some of you may be wondering why I haven’t yet mentioned the Lord’s Supper. It’s true that throughout the history of the Church, churches of many denominations have connected the Bread-of-Life passage in John 6 that we’ve been talking about with that sacrament. But I suggest that this passage, the sign of the loaves, and the Lord’s Supper all point beyond themselves to Jesus.

Another thing that needs to be said here is that bread is not a delicacy. In the first century bread was a necessity of life. And even today, when there are so many other foods easily available, bread is considered a staple food. Notice, then, that Jesus says that he is bread; he does not say that he is candy. In many other religions the god or gods are said to offer honey or sweet milk, which represents an ecstasy which is usually only temporary, and only the privileged few can attain it. But what Jesus offers is lasting spiritual sustenance to meet our everyday needs, every day. And the Bread of Life is available not just to a few, but to anyone who wants it.

These, then, are a few thoughts which occurred to me in connection with cars and our spiritual lives. Sin has put us out of gear, breaking the connection with God which he intended us to have. By his death on the cross Jesus made it possible to make that connection again. If you’ve never made that connection by receiving Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, I hope you’ll consider doing it. We shouldn’t let fear, disobedience or self-focus keep us from getting it in gear spiritually.

We also said that just as cars need fuel, so do we. Our spiritual fuel is Jesus, the Bread of Life. He provides the sustenance we need to meet all our needs, every day. We receive this sustenance by looking to him and believing in him. We also said that the Bible, the Word of God, is our owner’s manual. It provides all the guidance we need to live the abundant lives God intended us to have. So let's get it in gear, and make sure we're fuelled up.