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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Pathway Choices

Psalm 119:1-8 (The Message) "You're blessed when you stay on course, walking steadily on the road revealed by God. You're blessed when you follow his directions, doing your best to find him. That's right - you don't go off on your own, you walk straight along the road he set. You, God, prescribed the right way to live; now you expect us to live it. Oh, that my steps might be steady, keeping to the course you set; then I'd never have regrets in comparing my life with your counsel. I thank you for speaking straight from your heart; I learn the pattern of your righteous ways. I'm going to do what you tell me to do; don't ever walk off and leave me."

Yesterday, we looked at the importance of paying attention to the little details, the subtle instructions, the "fine print" of God's wisdom. The benefits of staying on course, having a guide to take us through life, and being assured of arriving at our spiritual destination are assured to us when we do.

Paths come in all shapes and sizes. Some are quite narrow, barely big enough for us to pass through, while others are quite wide, easily traversed and seemingly quite welcoming. Many paths seem quite well-worn, while others may only be freshly blazon. Still others are like clearly charted courses with a clear end in sight. Then there are those paths we venture onto in life that unfold before us like a carefully folded map revealing our next turn or intersection one move at a time - no end in sight, just plodding step by step until we realize we have arrived, sometimes quite oblivious to how we got there.

Regardless of the pathway quality, they are open to us if we are attentive to finding or making them. Speak with someone who has experienced the sheer panic of being lost in a wooden thicket and they will share the intense sense of doom that comes in not knowing which way to turn. They look, but every turn looks like the last; every path seems to lead right back to where they started or somewhere quite far from where they hoped to end up. Paths can challenge us, or offer us smooth passage. Those that challenge us because of their many twists or turns, and those that merely welcome us into smooth passage afford viable opportunities for us to move from one location in life to another, yet the "getting there" can be quite different with each path.

We would be insincere if we said we don't gravitate naturally to the smoother paths in life - they are more welcoming, often offering us easier access, and quite frequently, they have more travelers to offer us companionship as we venture down that path. The harder, less worn, more challenging paths in life are not as welcoming. They promise us the reward of more obstacles than we often want to encounter or deal with, throwing us twists and turns, rocks and crags, thorns and thistles - all serving to discourage us along the way. These "harder" paths seem to be "less traveled" - not much companionship along the way to build us up, encourage us to finish the course. Seriously, do we really want to walk down the path "less chosen"? Most of the time, the answer is a clearly resounding "NO!" - we want comfort, assurance of our end results, clearly defined steps to take along the way, and even companions to walk alongside us as we make the journey.

Which path do you choose most often? I daresay that for most of us, we go the way that others seem to have gone. We take the path of least resistance because it appears to offer us the smoothest sailing. The writer of this Psalm points out some important "pathway lessons" that I don't want us to miss.

First, a good path is a path that is revealed by God. Nowhere does God promise us a path that is consistently smooth sailing. Job was a great man of Old Testament times, yet he faced tremendous "twists and turns" in the path he chose to follow. His path of choice was to follow the Lord with all his heart, soul, and mind. When disappointments came his way, (like losing his entire herd of sheep in one fell swoop or losing his family in some freak accident) he faced each with unwavering commitment to the path he had chosen. Yes, he was disappointed and expressed that disappointment on more than one occasion. Yes, he suffered the hardships and endured tremendous emotional upset. But he endured! In the end, he enjoyed the blessings of the pathway - restoration of all that was lost, even more than what he had lost.

This God-revealed pathway requires some commitment from us. God does the revealing, but the Psalmist points out that we must stay on course, follow his directions, doing our best to find God along the way. It has become clear to me in my 38 years of following Christ that God can be found in every turn of the path - we just need to be looking! David goes on in this Psalm to outline the choices we make on the path. God reveals the right way to live - we make the choice to live by the standards he reveals. God expects us to remain steadfast in keeping to the course he has set for us - we choose steadfastness with each opportunity for compromise in our lives. He opens the path before us, sometimes one step at a time. We step out cautiously because the way seems uncertain. David wants us to grasp the reality that even the most "uncertain" way that God reveals is infinitely more "certain" than any path we could blaze on our own! (And boy, have I blazed a few paths that I'd recommend others not follow!)

Look at David's reminder - no regrets in choosing God's path! No regrets in "checking out" our every move against his wise counsel in the Word. No regrets in leaning on his arm as we traverse the uncertainties of life's paths. God "speaks straight from the heart" when he speaks with us. He is not some unreachable, untouchable deity. He wants us to know him - really know him. He wants us to see the "patterns" he outlines in his Word - so we can learn from them, embracing those truths that cause us to walk steady, stay on course, and enjoy the blessings of the pathway just as much as we enjoy the destination.

David made a steadfast determination in his heart to "do what you tell me to do" - he was choosing to listen intently with the hope of hearing; looking with the expectation of seeing. Today, as you consider the path you are traversing presently, consider these four characteristics of steadfastness:
  • Persistance - perhaps the path is a little challenging for you right now, but stay the course - the promise of God is that we will be blessed in choosing the path he reveals
  • Anticipation - our every emotion determines how we "interpret" the path we are on, either resisting every twist and turn, or embracing them one by one in anticipation of what the next step will bring - learn to rely on the promises and provisions of God more than you rely on the unreliability of your emotions
  • Trust - the promises of God are trustworthy - his promise is that he will never leave or forsake you; he speaks straight from his heart to ours; and in being kept by his hand and trusting in what he reveals from his heart, we can remain steadfast
  • Humility - be open to admit your wrong turns along the way - right yourself, brush yourself off, and make the necessary corrections in course when you get a little off-course

Today, choose with me to be persistent in your walk with Christ, anticipatory of his every move, trusting in his keeping power, and humble enough to admit we don't know all the "ins and outs" of this path we are walking on. As we do, God will undertake to bring us safely through to the destination he has in mind. Remember, the path he chooses for us may not be our first choice - but it is the best choice! Walk steady, follow whole-heartedly, be blessed in your journey.