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How to stay on God's Paths
I remember reading years ago about an incident that occurred on the Italian Riviera. A young man was driving his sports car along a road near the sea. It was a beautiful and scenic route. But the road was not what it seemed.
All along the way were warning signs, yet to the young man the road seemed perfectly good. Disaster awaited him. A landslide had recently created a precipice, and no one should have been on that road. He continued at great speed. He ignored all the warning signs. He went straight over the cliff.
Sometimes we are not sure where a path will lead. At other times, we are well aware of where it leads, but choose to follow nevertheless.
Jesus said that there is a path that leads to life. There is also a path that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13–14). Warning signs are not put there as a threat, but out of love. The signs were up on the Italian Riviera to keep people safe. The words of Jesus, the New Testament and the Bible as a whole are designed to keep us on the path that leads to life.
How do we make sure that we are on the right path? Once we are on that path, how do we stay on it?
1. Don’t wander in a desert. Get on the ‘wonderful road’.Psalm 107:1-9
We cannot improve on God’s purpose for us. God is good. He loves us. He wants the very best for our lives. He has a ‘wonderful road’ for our lives. ‘Oh, thank God – he’s so good! His love never runs out’ (v.1, MSG).
He wants us to walk on his paths: ‘He put your feet on a wonderful road that took you straight to a good place to live’ (v.6b, MSG). He doesn’t want us wandering for ‘years in the desert, looking but not finding a good place to live, half starved and parched with thirst, staggering and stumbling, on the brink of exhaustion’ (v.4–5, MSG).
The good news is that in this condition we can cry out to the Lord (v.6a). When we do so, he pours ‘great draughts of water down parched throats; the starved and hungry’ get ‘plenty to eat’ (v.9, MSG).
Four times in this psalm of thanksgiving for God’s many occasions of deliverance of his people, the psalmist says, ‘Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble’ (vv.6,13,19,28). Each time, God rescues them.
This rescue comes from all directions. ‘He gathered [them] from the lands, from east and west, from north and south’ (v.3). God’s rescue is universal.
Furthermore, nothing that we have done in the past disqualifies us from being part of God’s people. The only qualification is that we should call out to God and be redeemed. Redemption means to be ‘set free by God’. Jesus came to make this redemption possible. He satisfies the hungry and fills them with good things (v.9).
Lord, thank you so much for the many times in my life when I have cried out to you in my trouble and you have brought me out of my distress. Thank you for the fact that when I was wandering in a desert wasteland finding no way – spiritually hungry and thirsty – I cried out to you and you delivered me. You satisfied my spiritual hunger and thirst. You led me on a straight path.
2. Leave the old ways. Live on the path of love.2 Corinthians 12:11-21
The apostle Paul was absolutely determined to do the right thing. He wanted to follow the right path (v.18).
He had been falsely accused. The ‘super-apostles’ (v.11) had tried to undermine him. As a result he had been misunderstood and attacked by those who ought to have known better. Absurdly, he had been accused of not wanting to take money from the Corinthians because he didn’t love them (v.13).
He writes, ‘And why is it that I keep coming across these whiffs of gossip about how my self-support was a front behind which I worked an elaborate scam? Where’s the evidence? Did I cheat or trick you through anyone I sent? ... And haven’t we always been just as aboveboard, just as honest? (vv.16–18, MSG).
Paul points out that the reason he didn’t take money from them was because he did not want to be a burden to them. His real motive was that he did not want their possessions: ‘What I want is not your possessions but you. After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children’ (v.14b).
It was because of his love for them that he would have gladly spent everything for them and indeed expended himself as well (v.15). Everything he did was for their benefit (v.19). He was not interested in their money or possessions. He was interested in their souls.
Just as Paul has done the right thing and stayed on the right course, he wants the Corinthians to do the same. He is afraid that some of them may be going off course: ‘Quarrels, jealousy, flaring tempers, taking sides, angry words, vicious rumours, swelled heads, and general bedlam’ (v.20, MSG).
He is afraid that when he comes to them he will find that crowd ‘that keeps sinning over and over in the same old ways, who refuse to turn away from the pigsty of evil, sexual disorder and indecency in which they wallow’ (v.21, MSG).
Paul is urging them to turn away from these things and to be sure that they are on the path that leads to life. The path that leads to life is a path of love – the kind of love that Paul has for the Corinthians.
Lord, help us to seek always to do the right thing, whatever the consequences may be. Help us always to act in love and out of concern for those to whom we are ministering. May we never seek our own personal gain. Rather, may our only motivation be love.
Keep us as a church from ‘quarrelling, jealousy, flaring tempers, taking sides, angry words, vicious rumours, swelled heads, and general bedlam’ and any kind of impurity, sexual sin and debauchery. Keep us, Lord, on your paths.
3. Don’t rush off in your own direction. Ask God about his plans for you.Isaiah 29:1-30:18
Sometimes we make our own independent plans or run straight to other people for help. We don’t ask God first.
The prophet Isaiah criticises God’s people for the way in which they make their plans. They have failed to consult God (30:1–2). As a result they had gone off in the wrong direction. They had gone off to Egypt without so much as asking God.
The trouble is they don’t really want to know God’s plans. Their worship is a mere formality (29:13). ‘These people make a big show of saying the right thing, but their hearts aren’t in it. Because they act like they’re worshiping me but don’t mean it’ (v.13, MSG).
Jesus says these words were not written simply for the people of Isaiah’s day. He says to the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, ‘You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: “These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules” ’ (Matthew 15:7–9).
Because their hearts are not right with God they go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lord: ‘You pretend to have the inside track. You shut God out and work behind the scenes, plotting the future as if you knew everything ... You treat the potter as a lump of clay. Does a book say to its author, “He didn’t write a word of me”? Does a meal say to the woman who cooked it, “She had nothing to do with this”?’ (Isaiah 29:15–16, MSG).
As a result, ‘You make plans, but not mine. You make deals, but not in my Spirit … Going off to Egypt without so much as asking me’ (30:1b–2a, MSG).
They are ‘unwilling to listen to the Lord’s instruction. They say to the seers, “See no more visions!” and to the prophets, “Give us no more visions of what is right ... leave this way, get off this path and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel” ’ (vv.9a–11).
They did not want the prophets to give them any warnings. They ignored the warning signs. In fact, they wanted to take the warning signs off the road, ‘leave this way , get off this path’ (v.11). They said ‘We’ll rush off on horseback!’ (v.16, MSG).
Many times in my life I have messed up by not consulting God and charging ahead with my own plans.
But this passage also contains hope that ‘those who got off track will get back on track’ (29:24, MSG). God says, ‘Your salvation requires you to turn back to me and stop your silly efforts to save yourselves. Your strength will come from settling down in complete dependence on me ... But God’s not finished. He’s waiting around to be gracious to you. He’s gathering strength to show mercy to you. God takes the time to do everything right – everything. Those who wait around for him are the lucky ones’ (vv.15,18, MSG).
Lord, we want to know your plans. Help us to hear your voice. Help us to come to you in ‘repentance and rest’, to walk in your paths ‘in quietness and trust’. Thank you so much that whenever we cry out to you in our trouble, you deliver us and show us your compassion. ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever’ (Psalm 107:1).
‘Some wandered in desert wastelands, finding no way to a city where they could settle … Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He led them by a straight way to a city where they could settle.’
I have no sense of direction. Recently I dropped someone off in a part of London I don’t know very well. After half an hour of driving down dead ends and being blocked by diversions and one way streets, I passed the place where I had dropped them off.
‘He led them by a straight path’ - sounds rather comforting. I now have a ‘sat nav’ which I need to use but I also need a spiritual ‘sat nav’. Life is so busy that I don’t want to waste time wandering off track.