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Stick shift or automatic Christian?

Have you ever driven a car equipped with standard transmission? Under certain circumstances it can be totally cool and fun to do. Moreover driving a standard – often euphemistically referred to as a “stick shift,” can teach us something about our faith.

Let’s back up a bit (engage clutch, move gear to “R” which is over left, and up, then release clutch – cheeky aren’t I?! )

Then the Lord said because this people draw near with their words,

And honor me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me,

And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote.”

Isaiah 29:13 (New American Standard Bible)

How many of us pay attention to the road we are on, besides the pot holes, traffic, and speed bumps? If you drive an automatic transmission, you have little need to. But roads you thought were pretty flat, while driving an automatic, you soon realize are full of not so subtle inclines and hills when driving a stick.

Consider for instance how many exit ramps have a stoplight at the end of them. No big deal; hit the brake, and wait for green if you’re in an automatic.

But in a standard, all of a sudden you also realize the end of most exit ramps are on a hill. And you often have cars on your bumper, waiting with the “patient” expectancy of a six year old on Christmas Eve, only instead of Santa, they await a green light. This can be more problematic than you think.

For those unfamiliar with driving a stick, a fair amount of coordination is required to handle a hill at a stoplight. Mess it up, you stall, and the car behind your may slam into you. Or you roll back on the car behind you. Or a symphony of horns resonates on the road until you get the car moving again. None of these scenarios is especially appealing.

Been there, done that (except for rolling into someone, thank God!), and got the T shirt.

As a rookie stick driver, we are all surprised at the amount of hills present on roads we drove on for years, but never noticed the nuances in an automatic. Driving a stick makes you more aware of the road, and how you drive. In an automatic, you are, like Isaiah 29, pretty much in “rote” mode.

Perhaps that’s why as a rookie, I often planned my route to include as few ‘stop on hill’ opportunities as possible. I spent more time route planning, and my driving became more intentional.

How many of us treat our journey in Christ as if we were driving a stick, planning our spiritual adventure, and being intentional about our faith practices? Or are we on automatic, worshiping by rote, as noted in Isaiah 29?

The difference between an automatic and standard transmission applies to more than cars; it reminds me of my spiritual life. Driving a stick reminds me that I can be as intentional about being a Christian, thinking about the journey, the road ahead, and my relationship with God, as I was at planning routes that limited exit ramps with hilly stops.


Numerous clergy have written about living intentionally, and/or worshiping with intent. While Rick Warren often comes to mind when this topic is presented, I’m going to defer to one of my favorite authors – the Apostle Paul, in one of his letters to Ephesians…..

15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of time….17 Therefore do not be foolish but understand what the will of the Lord is.”

Ephesians 5:15-17 ESV

Understanding the will of the Lord, building our relationship with Him, and finding ways to fulfill His desires for our lives requires effort. We cannot be on automatic. We must be actively engaged in the process. Like driving a stick, being a Christian is not a passive endeavor.

Similar to how automatic allows us to cruise along the highway, religion based on rote leads us to coast on our spiritual journey. We miss a lot in the process.

But by being actively engaged, akin to driving a stick, we end up looking carefully, paying attention, planning our journey attuned to the teachings of Jesus, the voice of the Holy Spirit, and in the process we “make the best use of time,” which is to say our lives.

Paul understood the difference between “rote” and “intentional,” even without ever driving a car, or having to choose between an automatic or a stick. Few disciples or evangelists have studied their prospective journeys, audiences to be visited, and the people needing the message of Christ more than him.

Paul also knew what it was like to be the public worshiper of mans laws as a Pharisee; the very type of worship Jesus warned about. Christ wanted personal, relational, loving, and intentional worship, not repetitive, theological expressions born of ritual.

Jesus wanted stick shift Christian not automatic ones.

To be sure, our love of Christ, need for relationship with God, intent towards closeness with the Holy Spirit, practice of the sacraments (prayer, communion, communal worship), our sense of forgiveness, our commitment to serve, and our desire for grace should be our “default” or automatic position.

But we shouldn’t take for granted our journey in Christ, relegating it to automatic. We need to actively participate.

13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do. Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 3:13 – 14 NIC

Paul reminds us that we must make an effort to discern what God has in mind for our lives. It doesn’t come to us passively. How we learn and then translate that knowledge into action requires constant effort throughout the journey.

Just like getting good at driving a stick, or any new skill requires perseverance, so does our faith journey in Christ. There will be setbacks, rollbacks, and challenges. Paul survived a shipwreck, and other difficulties. But he knew, and wanted to remind us….

58 Therefore my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

1 Corinthians 15:58


Are you a stick shift or automatic Christian?

The road is long, the journey often difficult, the work demanding, and the commitment constant if we are to truly embrace our role and responsibility as Christians. Sometimes it would be easier to just drive automatic, hit cruise control, and coast on the ride. But as followers of Jesus, much is expected of us.

Jesus knew we would get tired. He knew we would sometimes falter, stall, even slide backward. But we can take comfort in His promises that putting forth effort into the journey, clutch, shift, clutch, shift, moving forward, “giving ourselves” into our faith…..

12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial (or hills with a stick shift) because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”

James 1:1


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