Thursday, January 21, 2016

Deciding Which Road to Take

Over the years I’ve enjoyed the writings of the late poet Robert Frost. Perhaps my favorite is his poem, “The Road Not Taken,” partly because it’s so profound in its simplicity.

Even though it consists of only 20 lines, I’ll not quote it in entirety, but here are the key verses:
The most-traveled path is not
always the best to follow.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair….
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

That last thought, “I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference,” echoes as a reminder that taking the most popular, well-traveled path may seem convenient but it’s not always the best.

This poem brings to mind another quote I came across some time back: “It’s better to walk alone than with a crowd going in the wrong direction.”

We used to hear a lot about the pitfalls of peer pressure, how striving to please those around us and following their lead could result in serious consequences. That hasn’t changed. It’s probably been the case since the beginning of time. Shepherds understand that sheep are prone to follow each other, even into calamity, and the prophet Isaiah observed thousands of years ago, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray…” (Isaiah 53:6). In many ways we are indeed like sheep, following the crowd, sometimes without a clue about where we’re heading.

At one time the Judeo-Christian ethic was largely embraced in our society – not only in our churches, but also schools, houses of government, and even places of business. That’s where our notions of loving our neighbors as ourselves, doing to others as we would have them do to us, and being kind to strangers came from. Today, however, society as a whole seems intent on drifting away from principles that undergirded our everyday lives – and excluding God from the entire equation.

Increasingly, those of us who believe we stand accountable before a holy, all-knowing, almighty God find ourselves having to take this “road less traveled by.” Does that mean we’re in the wrong, that mankind has suddenly gotten so smart God is no longer necessary? Have we become so “enlightened”?

I doubt it. Highly intelligent people throughout the centuries have honored and worshipped God and viewed their lives and work as ways of serving Him and others. In our culture we tend to equate “blessings” with prosperity, but ironically we’ve been so blessed in that way many people no longer feel a need for God. That’s doesn’t mean He’s no longer there – or that His ways are no longer right.

Jesus often spoke about this, noting that even the religious leaders were more concerned about what other people thought of them than how they were viewed by God. Peer pressure, and the adoration of men, served as their motivations. This is why the Lord admonished His followers, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).

Long before Robert Frost wrote his celebrated poem, Jesus spoke about a spiritual road less traveled. “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).

This doesn’t mean becoming regulated by a system of rules and rituals, but rather recognizing that although the vast majority may be joining in following a popular path, they may in fact be heading in the wrong direction. As Proverbs 16:25 warns, There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.”

This is why Joshua, not long before he died, declared to the Israelites he had been leading, “chose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). This is a choice we each must make – it can’t happen by default. If we don’t consciously make this decision, it’s very likely someone will make it for us. And in these times, when people choose the road they will take, it’s not the one that leads to God.

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