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 any 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. (Psalm 119:1-8)
Today, as most days, I am challenged by the meaning of the word “follow” - maybe because I don't always do a very good job with this one - trying to take the lead when I really need to just follow the one who really needs to be in the lead! To follow implies many things that I have come to appreciate:
- To accept the authority of the one we make a matter of our focus or attention – it implies a condition of obedience to the authority and counsel of our righteous God. Don't gloss over this one, for it begins with focus or attentiveness - we rarely follow anything that is no longer in our focus. To keep God in our focus - central in our thoughts and primary in our choices is hard, but it is the beginning of a great journey!
- To come to a specified place in a specified time, sequence, or order – we are brought into a place well-planned for us in the exact timing, by the exact method, and in the specific purposes of our unchanging God. The idea of following means we are engaged in the pursuit of something - not just blindly tagging behind. We know there is a specific plan, and we are engaged in that plan, listening attentively to the one who is leading us within that plan.
- To imitate – it is our greatest glory to imitate, or take on the image, of our God. We all imitate something or someone - not one of us are truly unique. There are always examples we pick up little bits and pieces of and 'imitate' in our speech, actions, 'style', etc. The idea of following so as to 'imitate' carries more than the idea of taking on 'selected traits' of the one we are following, but rather the taking on of all the traits Christ has revealed in his character.
- To watch steadily, observe keenly, or to keep the mind on – it is not an inattentive, haphazard pursuit, but one of purposeful, directed steps with a fixed focus and an enlarged perspective. We sometimes limit our forward progress because we limit our focus to the things we 'want' in our lives and forget the things we 'need' might just be more important! God isn't just after us following him for our 'wants' - he would also like us to follow him because of our 'needs'.
- To chase or pursue – passionately engaged in truly catching or laying hold of the one we pursue – overcoming him with our passionate pursuit is what he has in mind as we set out on this journey with him. Not overcoming him so as to 'take over' the control again, but to 'catch up' to him so as to be walking as closely to him as possible.
Regret is an outcome of disappointment – a result of hopes dashed, dreams unfulfilled, and losses deeply felt. This is not the outcome of pursuing the one that is unchangeable in all his ways – it most definitely the result of our pursuit of our own selfish desires, focusing our attention on imperfect people, or embracing empty relationships. We protect ourselves from regret by embracing his wise counsel – by comparing our every movement with what he has outlined in his Word. In it, God outlines “safe paths” and speaks to us “straight from the heart” so that we can avoid the pitfalls of disappointment that await us down the paths he has not designed. We learn to walk in his paths one step at a time – it is not a dash, nor is it a relay. It is a consistent, forward movement toward a goal. It is a patterned pursuit – marked out by the Master of our souls. As we daily seek his paths, we learn to step out in a growing assurance that the way is ordered, well-marked, and free of all that brings harm. At first, we may step out in the path God outlines, then quickly veer to the direction that appeals more to our natural reasoning, only to find ourselves knee deep in hazards we did not anticipate. At these times, we even are so vain as to blame God for the hazards – we question why we face the things that seem to have brought harm into our lives. Thank God, he is a merciful guide – he points out the hazards, heals our wounds, righting our stand – then he places us on course once again. Even in the midst of our accusing and questioning ways, he tenderly guides.
It is a good thing to walk in such a way that we never veer off course, but is an even more comforting thing to know that when we do wander or drift, he is there to restore and renew. He has even planned for our “changeableness” – knowing full well that we may purpose to do what he has revealed for us to do, but that our self-man is weak in its commitment to that path. We are like David – we yearn for the path he prepares – yet we struggle to resist the appeal of the path that offers the immediate reward, the passing enjoyment. David purposed to walk straight – let that be our purpose, as well. Just sayin!