Does Your Compass Point True North

I am a collector of home-spun wisdom – not the wisdom of deep philosophical thinkers, but the down to earth wisdom generated by plain ordinary folk. If I want to find the good stuff, I follow my wife into gift shops in small mountain towns.

The latest addition to my collection was discovered in a gift shop several weeks ago in Brevard, NC. On a placard was an artist’s drawing of four hikers walking along a mountain ridge. The inscription said, “Don’t forget your compass. Eating your friends can be difficult.” The wisdom seems pretty obvious: to make sure you don’t lose your way in life and end up having to take drastic action to save yourself, always make sure you bring along your compass.

When you think about it, it’s actually impossible to forget our compass as we journey through life. Our life compass is an internal “device” which accompanies us wherever we go. Ultimately, then, the question is not have I remembered to bring it with me. The important question is, does the compass I have with me point to true north so it gives me accurate readings and keeps me on the right path in life?

Just like an orienteering compass typically consists of three main parts - a magnetic needle, a revolving compass housing, and a transparent baseplate—a life compass consists of several parts as well:

  1. Faith
    Whether or not a person believes in God, faith is the most important component of a person’s life compass. Whether a person believes in a world created and managed by God with a specific purpose in mind, or believes in a world of random events ruled by natural laws to no particular purpose, faith is based on one’s understanding of truth and that understanding of truth gives him direction in life. The faith component (with or without God) gives directional help by answering life’s most important questions: why am I alive; why is the world so messed up; how does a messed up world get fixed; after death, then what? How one chooses to answer those questions will determine the overall path he chooses to follow in life.
  2. Conscience defines conscience as “the inner sense of what is right or wrong in one's conduct or motives, impelling one toward right action.” What is important to realize about using conscience as a source of direction in life is that it is not infallible. Conscience can be informed, influenced, and ignored. It can only point a person in the right direction if the right direction has been programmed into it.
  3. Intuition
    Some call this gut instinct. While some gut instinct seems to be innately derived, for the most part gut instinct comes from wisdom and insight gleaned from life experiences and life circumstances. Like our conscience, gut instinct is not infallible. It, too, can be informed, influenced, and ignored.
  4. Other people 
    This is the advice and counsel received from others. While advice and counsel from others can help us choose a path, its limitations are tied to the fact that advice and counsel from others always comes wrapped in the other person’s faith, conscience, and intuition. Therefore, it, too, is not infallible.

For an orienteering compass to work correctly, the magnetic end of the needle must accurately point to true north. Only then can decisions about direction be made accurately. For our life compass to work correctly, the “needle” must also point to true north. Conscience, intuition, and other people cannot be relied upon to identify true north. That leaves faith as the only component which can be. But even faith cannot serve as true north if it doesn’t conform to true reality and not just to our perception of reality.

If you’re looking for true north, I recommend you look no further than the truth found in the Bible in Proverbs 3:5-8. There Solomon, the wisest man to ever live says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him [God], and He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your body and refreshment to your bones.”

Jerry Long

Jerry Long is a retired minister [38 years] living in metro Greenville, SC. He and his wife Lynne have two daughters and three grandchildren. He holds degrees from Clemson University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He may be reached at