|It's not always easy to tell where paths in Central Park - or life - are leading.|
Imagine hiking with a group in an unfamiliar forest. You stop to look at something, maybe an intriguing plant, take a few photos, and when you look up, find the group has moved on without you. At first, you’re not worried, but 15-20 minutes later you still can’t find your group. That’s when concern sets in.
Trusting in your sense of direction doesn’t seem to be working, and you’ve wandered into a dead zone where your cell phone is useless. Even though it hurts your pride, you must admit, “I’m lost!”
Suddenly you hear thrashing nearby. It’s either a wild animal – which might not be a good thing – or another human. Thankfully, it’s a guy who looks as happy to see you as you are to see him. But then he declares, “Man, am I glad to find you! I’ve gotten turned around and have no idea how to get out of here.” Your smile melts into a frown as you think to yourself, “Great! We’re both lost!”
Last year my wife and I were in New York City and decided to trek across fabled Central Park. Most of its paths, however, curve around rather than heading north and south, or east and west. Soon it became evident we were basically walking in circles. We could see the Manhattan skyline in the distance, but that didn’t help much in determining which path was best to follow.
As other walkers and joggers passed by, we asked a couple of them if we were headed in the right direction. They both nodded their heads and proceeded along their way. Only later did I learn that when you ask New Yorkers for directions, they are either too proud to admit they don’t know, or take the attitude that if you’ve gotten yourself lost, “Too bad, sucker!”
Eventually we wandered out of the park – exiting not far from where we had entered. Moral of the story: If you’re lost, be sure to find the right guide to show you which way to go.
This is a foundational principle spiritually as well. Life at best is confusing, if not confounding, and we find ourselves confronted by many conflicting messages. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? How can we know?
During my earlier years, I explored various ideological alternatives. For a time, I bought into the “it doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you’re sincere” mantra. I also tried “selective truth,” picking and choosing what I liked from a variety of worldviews. I finally returned to the teaching I’d not only learned in church, but also in public school, in those ancient, archaic days when no one believed you could become permanently scarred by hearing a passage from the Bible or reciting a brief prayer.
Psalm 23, also known as the “shepherd’s psalm,” opens by declaring, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Psalm 23:1-3).
Although I spent many of my early adult years determined to find my own way, it was only when I submitted to God’s leadership and guidance that I could avoid the series of dead ends, road hazards and detours that had been hindering me on my life’s journey.
The next verse in the psalm has proved equally assuring: “Even though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you (Lord) are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4). Often the path ahead seems dark, uncertain, even perilous. Trusting God is walking with us, knowing well the route we need to travel, dispels anxiety and fear. That doesn’t mean there won’t be problems along the way, but He will ensure that we pass safely through the “valley,” still on course to carry out His purposes for us.
When Jesus announced to His followers, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6), He was asserting there’s no need to consider alternative routes. If we want to be sure to get to where we want to be – even at times when we’re not even sure what the destination is – He’ll get us there, on schedule.
At one point in His discourse known as the “sermon on the mount,” Jesus warned, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).