Earlier this week, I spent quite a few hours refinishing an oak table and chairs that some kind friends had given me. I sanded everything carefully and kept a vacuum cleaner at hand to keep the dust down. When applying the stain — which I shouldn’t have done at the end of a tiring day — I thought I was applying a combination stain and polyurethane mixture, because the label on the can said “Wood Finish” and it claimed that the finish “penetrates, stains, and seals.”

The color looked really good as I applied it, and I quietly congratulated myself for getting such a uniform shade. I planned to sand it lightly the next morning, then apply another coat.

The next morning, however, the table was still tacky to the touch. I looked at the can more closely, and realized that it was really just wiping stain — which means I should have wiped the surfaces down the night before instead of thinking all that shine was coming from polyurethane. In the fine print, under “Stain Application,” the instructions switched to all caps for this admonition: DO NOT ALLOW STAIN THAT HAS NOT PENETRATED THE WOOD TO DRY ON THE WOOD SURFACE.

Oops. I was able to salvage the effort and it still turned out nicely, but I could have saved considerable time had I been more careful to read (and follow) the directions. The same could be said for a bookcase headboard I put together a few days later — one missed direction meant half an hour of backtracking and starting over: I was glad I had not been reinforcing it with glue.

There are times when we may think we know better than the directions, and when using a GPS in familiar territory, that may be true. In most cases, however, following the directions helps us to avoid mistakes and have a more positive outcome.

That’s one reason I’m so grateful for the Bible. I don’t believe the Bible should be read as simply a rule book or instruction manual, but there are parts in which we do find wonderful instructions for living. The Ten Commandments, for example, in Exodus 20. Or my favorite Old Testament text, Micah 6:8: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good, and what does the LORD require of you — but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

I especially love the way Jesus managed to offer a set of instructions that is both succinct and all-encompassing: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).

My goal for today is to read — and follow — the directions. 

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