Most people have heard the expression, but many have no idea what it means: DEER IN THE HEADLIGHTS. It’s a reference to the instinctive freezing action that takes place when a deer is caught in the twin beams of light from an oncoming automobile. It’s a reaction of instantaneous surprise, fear and paralysis all at the same time.
Ironically, it’s not the headlights or the car that poses the greatest threat to a deer. It’s actually their survival instinct that gets so many of them killed.
Vincent Roazzi writes, “When a deer is threatened by an oncoming car, its instinct tells it to go back the way it came. Because up to that point, it experienced comfort and safety. Now, it doesn’t matter that the deer could easily make it to the other side of the road; it will turn around and recross the highway, even if it means going back into traffic. That’s why there are so many auto accidents involving deer. They can’t help it. Their reaction is automatic. Occasionally, you’ll see a deer actually continue to cross the road, but that’s because it didn’t feel threatened and its survival instinct was not activated. I’ve seen other animals react the same way.” 1
People often find themselves like a deer in the headlights too! They make a decision to step out in faith and do something great for God. But then, find themselves in the middle of the road and, instead of deciding to keep moving forward, their survival instinct kicks in and they return to their previous peace, comfort and convenience. Rather than sail into uncharted waters, they return to the shallow water by the shore, where they can sit down and keep their head above water without any effort.
It happens to people spiritually. Every Christian wants to follow Jesus. But few, like Peter, are willing to get out of the boat and attempt the impossible. Like the Israelites of old, who pled with God for a deliverer to get them out of Egypt (and He did lead them out and was taking them to the Promised Land), we sometimes get out of the mess we’re in only to return right back to it, because it’s comfortable, convenient and the way we know.
It happens to people physically. They sit down and set some goals to get in shape. Off they go to the gym or out to run. They’re doing great, seeing some progress and know they’re headed in the right direction. But one day, for some unforeseen and unexplainable reason, they don’t feel like working out. Or a muscle aches or their schedule gets crowded with other things, and before they know it, rather than staying committed to the new regimen, they’re standing in front of the old refrigerator, reaching in for some raspberry ice cream.
It happens to people financially. They make the decision to start tithing or to get out of debt. You name it. And they do great for awhile. They’re trusting God, being disciplined, following a plan. But all of a sudden, they face a setback or a hurdle of some kind. It’s not an oncoming car. Just a bump in the road. But, instead of pressing on, full steam ahead, pursuing the goals they’ve set and the dreams they’ve dreamed, their survival instinct kicks in and back they go to the old ways, old habits and same old misery of the past. Even though they know it’s not what they ought to be doing, it’s what they’ve always done and it’s always easier to be comfortable than challenged. And that’s when the trouble begins.
"The Way We Were" might be a good song, but it’s not good stewardship. God doesn’t want us doing the same thing week after week or year after year. He doesn’t want us staying where we are spiritually, physically or financially. Maintaining, marking time or being mesmerized by mediocrity. He wants us pioneering new paths, blazing new trails, taking new ground, reaching new heights. He wants us to “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called (us) heavenward in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 3:14).
The way we used to do it is not the way God wants it done. Comfort, convenience and same old – same old is not His sovereign plan for our lives. He didn’t want Abraham to stay in Haran, the Israelites to stay in Egypt, or you and I to stay where we are or head back where we were. Yes, there will be some wilderness to get through. But there’s also a Promised Land on the other side if we just keep going.
The Apostle John gave this advice, “But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
In other words, don’t allow yourself to get caught like a deer in the headlights. Frozen with fear instead of forging ahead. Keep following JESUS by faith and keep doing what He says no matter what distractions the devil sends your way.
© 2016. Barry L. Cameron
1 Roazzi, Vincent M.; The Spirituality of Success: Getting Rich With Integrity, Brown Books, 2002, Pg. 129
Barry L. Cameron has been the Senior Pastor of Crossroads since 1992 when the church was averaging 188 in morning worship. Pastor Cameron and his wife, Janis, have three children and two grandsons. He’s the author of the bestseller: The ABCs of Financial Freedom, Contagious Generosity, and The Financial Freedom Workbook. The Cameron family has been completely debt free since November 2001.