You’re familiar with this thing, aren’t you? It does its whole green, yellow, and red bit. Green means…..go. Yellow…..caution. And red means….stop! Now that’s what those colors mean on paper, but I’ve discovered that here in Colorado Springs, green means: “I’ll put down the phone and pay attention to the light so I can go fast.” Yellow means: “Floor it!” And red means: “Well, how long has it been red? Could I still get through the intersection without being hit? If I think I can I will… otherwise, I’ll have to stop!” Now, the local, homegrown folks like to say, “It’s the Californians.” I respond by saying, “Okay…I’m fine with blaming them for just about anything.”
But, seriously, the green go, the yellow caution, and the red stop —these traffic codes—are something that we need in order to safely get where we need to be. By using them, society has been able to “direct” chaos; and it’s not that all these cars are chaotically driving around…it’s that we all have different places to be and we need to coordinate our getting there. Does that sound right?
Well, I don’t want to reduce God into a traffic signal, but when we start thinking about how God directs us in His time, we can think of the traffic signal colors: green, yellow, and red. Know that God does have plans for each and every one of us that fits into His Divine Plan. Know that God is speaking to us, directing us through our lives. But we have to recognize God’s leading and timing. In God’s timing, we sometimes get a “go,” in other situations we receive the “caution,” and then there’s the “stop” of God. Look at Paul’s life as recorded in Acts. Try and see how the traffic light colors might apply to these verses (Act 15:36-41; 16:6-10):
36 Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” 37 Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, 38 but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. 39 They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. 41 He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
6 Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. 7 When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. 8 So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. 9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
Where are the green lights Paul received from God? The opening sentence gives us the first one. Paul feels the prompting of the Spirit to retrace their gospel-planting steps and, ultimately, that is what he does–he leaves with Silas, under the blessing of the brothers and the Lord, to go through Syria and Cilicia to do ministry. And later, we see Paul receiving a green light to go over to Macedonia (that’s Greece/Europe) to bring the good news about Jesus Christ to a whole other continent.
But it wasn’t all green lights, was it? There were other lights that happened in between these two green lights.
Go back to the verse… Paul gets the green light to go and visit the churches he and Barnabas had planted on their last missionary journey. Now, Barnabas has a green light to take John Mark on the trip, Paul has a red light–here we have a yellow light. We have two amazing Believers who have heard God giving them a green light to a follow-up ministry, but they have not heard exactly how they are to go about it. So, there is conflict—disagreement…and the decision to go two separate ways. There is a yellow in verse eight where Paul and Barnabas are traveling from one spot to another, waiting “in between lights”…like a holding pattern.
Finally, there is the red light. Paul believes he is being led to further expand the Gospel into Asia, but what ends up happening is a big red light. We don’t know the events that led Paul and Silas to see that the Spirit had given them the stop, but we know that it happened and Paul had either assumed or desired to go in a direction that God didn’t want him to go.
Green, Yellow, Red. Wouldn’t it be easy if our lives were filled with green lights–those times where the way is clear and we see where we’re going, knowing that God is blessing it? But God can’t use just green lights…we don’t always drive where we’re supposed to go. Sometimes we need something other than green to tell us how God wants us to go forward. That means we need to be able to recognize the difference between green, yellow, and red.
Do you recognize God’s red lights in your life–those times you expect to go forward but are prevented from it? A number of years ago (when I was 20!), I applied to be the youth pastor at church in Oregon…I didn’t get the position. That was a red light–God had a different direction for me. It wasn’t that God didn’t want me in ministry…it was that God had something else for me at that time. Looking at your life, do you see the red lights?
What about the yellow lights? One of the most recent yellow lights in my congregation’s life was probably whether or not to extend a call to me as pastor. It could have been a carbon copy of the Paul and Barnabas dilemma. People saw God working or moving in different ways. Yellow lights often involve disagreement with people because it is not a clear “yes” or “no” at the time. I think it becomes clearer with time, but when you’re in the moment and things are not clear, it warrants caution in how we proceed.
Green means ______, Yellow means ______, and red means ______. We learn these traffic rules way before we get to drive on our own, don’t we? How early did you learn…five, seven, when? But, regardless of how early I learned them, I have to admit that I don’t always pay attention to them…I get distracted. And I also have to admit that I drive recklessly…sometimes I do floor it on yellows. And, I have ran red lights and I have sat still at green lights. I’ve been in wrecks because of this recklessness…my inattention or my disregard of the signs makes me a dangerous driver.
Can the same be said in the spiritual direction of our lives? Do we live spiritually like we drive—distracted by other things, not paying attention to the light or reinterpreting the rules for our benefit? Have we ever had a spiritual wreck because we treated a yellow like a green? Have we ran too many red lights because our timing and priorities were more important than God’s?
Friends, God is lovingly directing us with His “greens,” “yellows,” and “reds.” But we’ve got to recognize and follow God’s lights. If we don’t know it, we’ve got to learn it. If we’re distracted, we’ve got to get refocused. If we’re ignoring the lights, we’ve got repent. Each of us are on the road right now… and God is calling us to begin to follow the Light He is giving us.
This guest post was written by Chad Riggs. Chad is a former Oak Hills professor and currently serves as the pastor of First Friends Church in Colorado Springs, CO