Paper Drivers

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works…”                               Ephesians 2:10a

On the morning of my 16th birthday, I was first in line to take my driver’s license test, but promptly failed my initial attempt. Eager to gain my freedom through driving, I returned the following day and this time managed to bring home the coveted prize. Obtaining a driver’s license was viewed as a major step towards adulthood, almost like a rite of passage. The Japanese, however, seem to be much more ambivalent about achieving this goal. In fact, many who have obtained their driver’s license don’t even use it. In Japan, they are called “paper drivers” (ペーパード­ライバー), indicating that although they possess the paperwork certifying their right to drive, they choose not to exercise it.

When we first heard of this phenomenon, it struck us as rather odd, particularly in light of the time, expense and effort required to obtain such a license in Japan. But as we settled more deeply into the Japanese culture, we realized there are many reasons why some people may elect not drive, despite being authorized to do so. For example, many Japanese, especially those living in urban areas, simply do not need to drive due to the availability of efficient and economical public transportation systems. In space-starved areas (of which there are many), parking is also very pricey, so this can further discourage car ownership. These are significant factors, but perhaps the main reason for becoming a paper driver is a matter of confidence, or lack of it. Venturing out on crowded, narrow roads is not for the faint of heart, especially when alternative modes of transportation are readily available.

When we gaze across the church landscape around the world, it seems that the same phenomenon, in a different form, exists in many churches. Sadly enough, many believers dutifully report at their appointed time Sunday after Sunday, but neglect to exercise their full calling and privileges as the redeemed people of God. They are what we might call “paper Christians.” They have a license to drive, but they choose not to. Although they were created to fulfill the purposes of God, they lead measured lives, refusing to venture out and trust God for whatever lies ahead. In this regard, there is a “paper driver” in all of us, but we must resist our natural inclination to live primarily for ourselves. Instead, we were created to do good works. While there may be many valid reasons for not driving a car in Japan, we are entrusted with all the authority and power we need to fully accomplish God’s purposes on earth. We walk, and drive, by faith.

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