Last time we looked at the two possible different destinations of our life paths. You can read about that in Paths Part 1. Today we’re going to look at what God’s paths lead us through.
The narrow gate and the hard way
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. – Matthew 7:13-14
What does Jesus mean by “the narrow gate”? The only way to eternal life in heaven, the one good destination, is through Jesus. That’s why it’s narrow. We can try many things to make our lives good enough to get to heaven, but anything other than a relationship with Jesus is simply going through the wide gate. That’s not the good gate.
What does Jesus mean by “the way is hard”? We know that God’s paths are straight and level and come with all kind of benefits. That sounds easy and nice. The hard part comes in our minds. Choosing to stay on God’s path for us is hard. The benefits of being on God’s paths far outweigh those of straying onto the paths of destruction. But even if we understand that, it is still hard to choose to stay on the right path moment by moment.
Having a relationship with Jesus means we have to put effort into it to keep it going. And I don’t mean running around trying to do ‘enough’ good works. What makes a good relationship? Here are a few ideas:
- Quality time
- Good conversations
- Being thankful and encouraging
- Showing respect
- Showing affection
- Sharing your good and bad times
- Putting your relationship before tasks and distractions
Is that what your relationship with Jesus looks like? Making Jesus Lord of our life isn’t just a one-time railroad switch that sets us on the right path for the rest of our journey. Every day brings chances to derail and end up on the other track. The trouble is, our path really doesn’t look like a clearly-defined railway track from our perspective.
Every decision we make is a step in one direction or the other. Our sinful nature has strong desires to do what we want to do. The enemy plays our own sinful desires against us. Or he whacks us in the face with branches, throws rocks in our paths to make us stumble or fells trees across our paths to try and make us turn. When we stumble and get hurt we wonder if we’re on the right path. We ask God, “Why? Why are these things happening to me?” Isn’t everything on God’s path good and everything on the devil’s path bad? No. Not in this life. But do the obstacles and events on our paths determine whether we’re on the right path or not? No. The end destination does.
What do God’s paths lead us through?
We know from last time that God leads us in paths of righteousness. Let’s read Psalm 23 to find out more about the geography of God’s paths for us. What will we encounter along the way? What will we walk through? Some answers are here.
- “beside still waters” (v2)
- “lie down in green pastures” (v2)
- “walk through the valley of the shadow of death” (v4)
- “in the presence of my enemies” (v5)
- “in the house of the Lord” (v6)
God’s paths lead us through the good and the bad. Sometimes, this is surprising to us. It is tempting to think that bad things have happened in our lives because we’ve done something wrong, we’ve strayed off the right path. Sometimes that is the case, but bad things are also just part of the geography of walking through this fallen world. The geography of life in the beginning, in the Garden of Eden, did not include walking through the valley of the shadow of death or being in the presence of enemies, aside from sneaky Satan. But God gave man the choice of which path to walk on from the beginning. Adam and Eve strayed onto a crooked and desolate path, tempted by the devil, when they disobeyed God and ate the forbidden fruit, to try and make themselves wise. That one choice, when sin was allowed entrance into the world, changed the geography forever.
Thus, God’s paths lead us through the good and the bad. But the key word here is ‘through’. God doesn’t lead us to bad things, or even to good things, then just leave us there. He leads us through them. Circumstances in life are never the end destination. Psalm 23 is a great illustration of life with God. The first three verses sound beautiful, but if we just stop there and expect only good, easy times in life, we are going to get disappointed.
So what does God do when we’re walking through so many different things?
- He restores our souls (v3)
- He is with us (v4)
- His guidance comforts us (v4)
- He prepares a table for us (provides for us) (v5)
- He anoints our heads with oil (v5), ie; he makes us holy, ready to serve him; he appoints us to be worthy of acting on his behalf (Exodus 30:22-33, Exodus 40:12-15)
And what are the privileges we get for following God’s paths?
- We shall not want (be in need) (v1)
- We can overcome fear of evil (v4)
- Our cup overflows (v5)
- Goodness and mercy will follow us every day of our lives (v6)
“…Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. – Isaiah 43:1-2
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. – Psalm 16:11
What else does God do when we choose to walk on his paths? He guards our paths.
he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of his saints. Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path; for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul; – Proverbs 2:7-10
Interestingly, when we choose to walk on God’s paths we gain wisdom. We’ll come back to that next time.
We have seen that the landscapes, the life circumstances, that God’s paths lead us through can fluctuate between pleasant and difficult. But through all things, he promises to be with us, to help us, to provide for us and more. If you choose his path, he will not abandon you to walk alone. And most importantly, the geography of the path you are on doesn’t change where you are heading.
…forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 3:13-14
- What geographical features can you see in your life path at the moment? Is there anything you’re having trouble getting your head around? If so, ask God to help you understand.
- What can you do to help keep your gaze above your circumstances and aware of your end destination?
- Which aspects of the Psalm 23 lists are the most comforting to you?
- Who could you pray for that is struggling with the geography (circumstances) of the path they’re on?
- Who could you pray for that is on a crooked or desolate path and could do with a step or leap in God’s direction?
All Bible verses are from the ESV (English Standard Version), 2016.