There is a catchy little chorus with a disarming message: “God loves me just the way I am today, but much too much to let me stay that way.” I rest in the bedrock belief and security of God’s unconditional love yet there is every indication from Scripture, fleshed out through countless examples, that life is more a journey than a respite, a pilgrimage than a shelter. The enemy of the journey is an attitude of complacency – that “peaceful easy feeling” – when I cease to be a traveler. Sidetracked, I take off my walking shoes and settle in.
Yet it is on the journey that we discover our own gifts and identity. It is where we become more fully all God intended us to be. It is where we encounter God.
Looking back over my journey of faith, I note significant crossroads where I consciously chose a path – right or left – college, career, life mate, children, location, etc.. There were landmarks, not apparent at the time, that were significant in their consequence.
There are crossroads every day that determine the path that will lead me closer to – or further from – God. Through His prophet Jeremiah, God sums the same:
“Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is,
and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.”
What are the “ancient paths” of which He speaks? Where is the “good way?” How do we determine this on the daily walk of our life-long journey? There are many answers or approaches to these questions but certain disciplines – pathways – invariably rise to the top of the list.
The Path of Silence. The Psalmist wrote, “Be still and know that I am God.” What does it mean to be silent before God? E. Hermann, in Secret Garden of the Soul, answers: “Christian silence is not a piece of amateur psychotherapy; it is a great practical discipline which makes a highway for God through the wilderness of all disordered thoughts and uncontrolled emotions. It is the response of our whole being to the call of God. In it the soul stands at attention.”
The Path of God’s Word. In the quietness of soul we meditate on God’s Word where God reveals Himself. As Grandmother Bricker loved to say, “steep yourself in Scripture,” evoking an image of a tea bag infusing a pot of hot liquid with its essence. Amy Carmichael observes: “Have you noticed that from the place where you stand there is always a shining way on the water, in the sunrise or sunset, or in the moonlight? There may be a hundred people on the shore, and yet each one sees that path beginning just where he or she stands. . . It is like that with the Bible. Where ever you are reading you will find a path that leads you from that place straight to the heart of God and the desires of God.”
The Path of Prayer. The most natural response to listening to God through His Word is to respond to Him through prayer. While there are many helpful hints to jump start the conversation with God, I still know no better place to begin than with the most pressing matters of the soul: the intimate longings and expressions of our hearts – be it need, praise, or even frustration with God Himself.
The Path of God’s Work. “The heavens are telling the glory of God; the skies proclaim the works of His Hands.” God has stocked the world with every delight imaginable pointing, as it were, to the Creator of all good things. But do we stop, look, listen? What is God telling us through His Work?
The Path of Witnesses. Consider the testimonies and experiences of those who have pioneered the way before us: biographies of heroes of the faith. . . individuals who people our lives providing example of their pilgrimage and offering us accountability for ours.
The Path of Obedience. The list could go on and on but however aesthetically appealing or emotionally fulfilling any given “path” may appear, if we do not follow that pathway with an obedient heart, we miss the point – and the blessing.
Return with me to the lead-off quote: “Obedience is the atmosphere of God’s revealing.” I link Lilias’s words to her painting of the wayside shrine alongside a winding pathway. It is, for me, a visual invitation to stand at the crossroad and look. . . to ask for the ancient paths. . . to ask for the good way. . . But implicit in the invitation is a challenge: walk in it!
Stand. Look. Ask. Walk! Obedience: that is the atmosphere in which we receive God’s revealing – a revealing that leads to the promised “rest for our souls.”
Painting: Undated pocket sketchbook