I’ve loved walking wooded trails since I was a little girl growing up in a rare bit of undeveloped land in central New Jersey. After my Dad had cleared land for our house and lawn he made paths through the woods that remained. And that little wooded few acres became my favorite place to roam…So when I see paths used as metaphors in Scripture my ears perk up. That was especially the case this week in Hebrews:
Make straight paths for your feet, the writer urges. He’s just been advising believers how to run well and how to endure their crosses and now he gives this pep talk:
“So strengthen your tired hands and weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so what is lame won’t be dislocated but healed!” Heb.12:13
What does this look like in real life? I struggle daily with decision paralysis in the little day to day choices demanded of a life made up largely of discretionary time. I find it a daunting privilege to be allowed to order my own days and ‘do as I please’. Free time is both wonderful and weighty because living to please myself is not my goal. And oh the morass of introspection that can result from watching too closely to see if that’s what I’m doing at any given moment! What should I be doing? What would please my Creator? What are the ‘works He has prepared for me to walk in’ since the Creation of the world? I struggle with these things. Especially since turning the big 60. What am I meant to pack into the remaining years of my journey and what to jettison?
What would it look like to make straight paths for myself so my weaknesses aren’t amplified but instead are healed?
Ok, so if all this is foreign territory for you and you are so busy doing the next right thing that you don’t need to stop and recalibrate your path, I will try not to absolutely envy your trailblazing savvy. But I am halted in my tracks by this metaphor. Could it be that I am sabotaging my own steps, taking a circuitous path by instinct when there is a better straighter way forward? Recovering Pharisee that I am, my compulsion is to know the fine print and piously ‘exceed’ it on my own terms. Just give me the blueprint. So every day is a minefield of impossible expectations. Living by faith through grace is an ever more tantalizing goal.
Despite my pleas “Lord show me what I should be doing with my life, with this day, with these moments…” no formulas or detailed schedules have dropped from heaven. Could it be that this too, this charting of a straight path, is a matter of faith? A matter of walking forward in trusting confidence rather than chronic self-doubt…There’s a command here, implying my responsibility to take charge and ‘make straight paths’ but there’s no formula given to reassure my doubting soul. Can I really just move forward, goal in view, and trust that an Unseen Hand is with me on the way to guide and correct? And that should I get off track He will see that I make a course correction…
The Word gives no formula but there are plenty of parameters to steady my heart and my steps. I’ve cobbled together three here, running in and out of a first person point of view because while I’m writing to you, I’m also writing to me! (Thanks for understanding.)
LOOK UP and LIVE
Pairing this command to ‘make straight paths for your feet’ with Proverbs’ advice: “In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight”(Pr.3:6) assures me I’m not on my own to trail blaze through my days.
Look up and know that He is with you, and for that matter that His Spirit is in you to create desire, to correct, and to nudge forward… Walk in newness of life by the power of the indwelling Spirit! As Jesus said to the sickly man on his pool-side mat waiting for a hand into the pool: Get up, Pick up your Mat, and Walk. (John 5:8) You are bed-ridden no longer—Be on your way!
This is not the time to stand around; start walking, knowing that God goes with you to straighten the ways you’ve entrusted to Him.
A second pointer is back a few verses… “Lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares you.”Heb.12:1
I see two things here. One, the weight of expectations that are mine but not necessarily God’s. Things like… every day perfectly orchestrated, maximized, ‘productive’ and clearly contributing to my goals…and ideally doing all the things I enjoy plus all the things that I should do but don’t enjoy, plus well, you know, doing it all! Ideals are burdensome. Speaking of burdens what about all the things I feel responsible for that are out of my control. Things that require omniscience and omnipotence. I am not God. The burden of another’s happiness, another’s godliness, a perfect resolution, or a better whatever!…These expectations are best placed in Hands that can handle them while I wait for cues (if any) about the part I’m to play. Yes, lay aside every weight. Cast your cares on Him…
But then there is this business of sins that ensnare, particular patterns I fall for every time. I need to learn to recognize my particular vulnerabilities and to make plans to steer clear of temptation. And when it hits, to pray for eyes to see the way of escape provided. Maybe there are times of day where heading out the door for a walk is the most spiritual thing I can do. Maybe joining in a Praise chorus. Maybe stopping to look out the window at the clouds or to listen to The Daily Poem podcast would be just the thing, the holy thing to do. And when subtle sins trip me up, again, it’s never too soon to confess and start fresh. Which leads me to the pointer I most need:
The verse that immediately follows ‘make straight paths’ says this:
Make sure that no one falls short of the grace of God…Heb.12:15 This gets fleshed out in the context that follows: You haven’t come to a fearful blazing fire announcing doom and gloom but to JESUS the mediator of a new covenant, into a grace secured by His own blood, into a kingdom that cannot be shaken [even by my shaky performance]. When all the ‘stuff’ of life and its goods and accomplishments falls away there remains the Kingdom of God entered by faith through grace. Hold on to Grace, to gratitude, to Jesus! By these we may serve God acceptably with reverence and awe even though He is a consuming fire! Ahh grace. This is the hardest to live in. Someone has said, we find grace hard to accept because it changes us, and change is painful…Is that it?
Have I tied my identity so much to doing things ‘right’ that the thought of living by faith in Jesus’ righteousness is actually threatening?
But if Jesus is the HERO of my story, the champion and perfecter of faith, then I can breathe deeply the air of–He has done it….It is finished… My life is hid with Christ in God… The life I live I live by faith in Him–. His righteousness, this is what counts in the end. And so my path is straightened, my posture too, from navel gazing to childlike awe in the One who has taken the hard path before him for the joy of reconciling others to the Father. He is my Path, my Truth, my Life.
Search me God and know my heart. Scrutinize my paths and know my anxious doubts. And see if there be any hurtful habits in me and lead me in the way that lasts forever!
–Ps. 139:23,24 (LS paraphrase)
And to him that ordereth his way aright will I show the salvation of God.
–Ps.50:23 JPS Tanakh
Amen! (May it be so)