The paths of righteousness
Let’s dive into another Christian devotional based on nature! Our topic: the long and winding road.
Holidays often bring forth travel concerns, be they worrisome weather or timetable tensions, packing problems, or fussy families. Even when walking, we may find our efforts hampered by sudden storms, hidden hazards, or strenuous steps.
Scripture offers welcome advice and comfort for the traveler, both in short stays and time-tasking treks. But many people struggle with this, for that advice starts at the beginning: our decision whether or not to devote ourselves to faith and love of God. Many reasons account for this struggle, from personal ambitions and independent desires to sincere doubts and competing lifestyles or philosophies, religious or otherwise.
For those who care to listen, the Bible offers heartfelt assurances. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path,” as Psalm 119:105 tells us. A debater might argue how this proves true only for those who embrace that divine word, and its author, and yet scripture also tells of times God acted to guide or save unbelievers – the most significant being Christ’s death on the cross. The undeniable purpose behind those efforts is, again, to lead people to faith in Him.
This plays a direct role in scripture’s advice for travelers. “The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore,” Psalm 121:8 tells us. Psalm 18:36 offers another positive endorsement of this: “You gave a wide place for my steps under me, and my feet did not slip.”
For many people, this kicks off problems of trust. It doesn’t matter if they’re descending into the Grand Canyon or walking their neighborhood streets – the suspicious minds (catch that Elvis link?) inside most of us will emulate Thomas, refusing to accept what they cannot see, touch, or test. Christ understands that, although He scolded His doubting disciple for doing this, using now-famous words captured in John 20:29 – “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
If that does not make God’s intent clear enough, Proverbs 3:5-6 spells it out: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.”
It doesn’t matter where we are in this universe, or what we can or cannot see, for as Proverbs 15:3 tells us: “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.” His presence abounds throughout His creation, as Psalm 139:9-10 poetically assures us: “If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me.” God Himself verified this in Isaiah 41:10 – “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
Our accepting this frequently requires not just faith, but patience – which taxes many human travelers, holiday or no. For this world often seeks to impose itself upon us, and yet, when we take such things before God in prayer, we may not gain the instant discernment we crave. This underscores a truth we would like to forget: that our world works not by our efforts or desires, but God’s. “The vision awaits its appointed time,” as Habakkuk 2:3 tells us. “If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.”
Proverbs 16:9 states much the same thing, but from a different angle: “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” Psalm 37:23-24 expands on this: “The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when He delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand.”
That “though he fall” reference brings up a key point: these verses offer spiritual assurances, not promises for worldly protection, health, or long life. God put us on this earth with free will to choose whether or not to believe in Him. We in turn suffer the repercussions of that free will, and not just from our own choices, but those made by others around us. This results in frequent testing, sometimes originating from God, sometimes from His opposition, and sometimes from our own decisions, the works of others, or simple circumstance. This makes our lifelong journey a rocky road of trials and tribulations that far exceed the holiday travails noted above.
Though often painful, such trials help us find God. “I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and He will hear me,” Psalm 77 shares with us. “In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted.”
King David devoted Psalm 56 to such pressures, singing, “Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me; all day long an attacker oppresses me; my enemies trample on me all day long, for many attack me proudly.” Then David shares revealing lessons from these trials: “When I am afraid, I put my trust in You. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?”
This illustrates God’s willingness to let us endure such stress, in hopes we may see His light and, with our free will, change our ways. As noted in 2nd Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
Often our travels, experiences, and lessons learned only make sense after passing through such refining fire. Deuteronomy 1:30-31 reminds us of a classic example: “The Lord your God who goes before you will Himself fight for you, just as He did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.”
The apostle Paul testified of this in Romans 8:28, writing, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”
Indeed, this points to one of the reasons Christ took human form, walked this earth, and endured the cross: to demonstrate how to live, overcoming all obstacles and attacks this world may throw our way. Here’s one of Paul’s most famous explanations of this, 2nd Corinthians 12:7-10 – “A thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
You see, Christ is the fulfilling element in everything shared here. The very first paragraphs in John’s gospel explain how Christ is the Word of God, through which all was made. Eight chapters later, Jesus Himself tells us, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
In Matthew 28, Jesus tells His disciples to travel throughout the world, spreading His light. He reassures them with a distinct promise: “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
These travel plans are part of our creation, tied to our free-will decision on whether to follow our Lord, as Paul explains in Ephesians 2:10 – “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Only when we travel in His steps, at His time, following His will, do we find His peace. As Isaiah 58:11 tells us: “The Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.”
David testifies of this in perhaps his most famous Psalm, number 23. Though you’ve probably heard these words before, ponder anew the travels David shares, which take us beyond life itself:
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”