STEP THREE, IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

“I have stored up Your word in my heart, that I might not sin against You.”  Psalm 119:11

A few months ago, while packing boxes, I was standing in a room full of books and items trying to determine what I needed to keep, and what could be given away or trashed.  There were things which, at one time, had been necessary for the moment but were no longer worth keeping.  I was trying to be very discerning as to what was most important; what was of great value to me; and what was of utmost importance to store.  If you’re like me, boxes of things you’ve forgotten about tend to follow you from one move to another.  It wasn’t an easy process, and at times it was emotional, but it was necessary in order not to waste storage space with things that I really didn’t need.  

Recently I was unpacking a box, and came across something my mom had kept and given to me years ago.  It was a sweatshirt from when I was in Kindergarten at Carnell Elementary; the Carnell Colts.  For those who know me, I can hear you joking about how I could probably still wear it.  Maybe I can, and maybe I can’t.  Nonetheless, I didn’t need it and it was just another thing to store somewhere that would continue to follow me, in a box, from one place to another.  Don’t get me wrong, just looking at it brought up some great memories.  It was the sweatshirt that made me run faster when I wore it, and gave me special skills when I was playing football at recess.  But it was time to part with the sweatshirt.  “Kenny, give me the woobie.”  (Those who know great lines from great classic movies will get that reference.)    

Here’s the point:  It is hard to store what is most valuable, necessary, and important when there are lesser things taking up space.  I’m speaking of something of much greater worth and significance than the things of this world that get lost, are stolen, fade away, become destroyed, or rust.    

The Psalmist writes,“I have stored up Your word in my heart, that I might not sin against You.”  Psalm 119:11

To “store” something means that I not only keep it, but in this context in the Hebrew writings it means to “hide away,” because it is like treasure.  In other words, the writer of this psalm is saying that God’s word is of such great value in showing me how to navigate life so that I take steps in the right direction, that its counsel, comfort, and truths are worth treasuring in the place where my emotions are stirred.  God’s word is of great worth because it becomes guardrails to my affections and emotions, pointing them in a Godward direction.  As well, it speaks truth to the thoughts in my mind that so often can become conflicting.   

CLEAN OUT THE CLUTTER . . .

There was a popular show a few years ago, Hoarders, that shed light on compulsive behavior revealed to hoarding items within a home: food, trash, books, toys, clothes, and other things piled up to the ceiling, blocking the hallways, filling up rooms,  thus making it impossible for healthy and safe living conditions. There were some episodes that were hard to watch.  To see what some people had become trapped in due to trauma or a tragedy in their lives was heartbreaking to say the least.  The purpose of the show was to bring in help by way of therapists and professional organizers to assist in the physical clean up, as well as ongoing counseling for those suffering from compulsive hoarding disorder.  Some were success stories; others were not.  

When I think about what I’ve stored in my heart, and what I still have a tendency to hoard, they are certainly not things that keeping me from sinning against God, but rather keep me in sin against God:  anger, jealousy, envy, pride, unforgiveness, and the list could go on.  Some of these are blatantly obvious; you can see them clearly.  But there are, perhaps, those feelings and thoughts that have been tucked away deep in the recesses of your heart and mind, that you have kept so long, yet give no thought to, that are negatively affecting your life in ways you haven’t really considered.  All of these take up space that crowds out our heart, and leaves no room for the true treasure we need to store.  When God shows me what I need to rid my heart of, as I confess those things as sin, I begin to experience and enjoy the freedom found in treasuring Him.      

King David, prayed this in Psalm 139:  “Search me, O God, and know my heart!  Try me and know my thoughts!  And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”  In other words, David was acknowledging, “God you know my heart.  You know what hurts me, and grieves You!  Show me and lead me in how to really live life well!”   

I’ve found that asking God to show me what is in me, that I’m not even aware of, is a healthy spiritual discipline that eliminates the clutter and creates space for the true treasure God has for me.  It believe it will be for you, as it is for me, a daily discipline that will help you take steps in the right direction.   

KEEP THE TREASURE . . .

There is a state park not too far from where I live that is known for digging for diamonds.  People will come from all over the country to explore the 900-plus acres in hopes of unearthing diamonds.  Just a few years ago, there was an 8-carat diamond found that was worth close to $500,000.  That’s crazy.  I really do need to get a shovel.  

Can you imagine digging up a diamond that’s worth half a million dollars?  Talk about finding treasure.  But there’s a different kind of treasure in God’s word that is lasting; it’s eternal; and it is much more valuable than an 8-carat diamond.  I can hear some saying I’ll take the $500K . . . in cash, please.  Money isn’t evil, but the love of it sure is.  I don’t have time to tell you the countless stories of people who thought they had true treasure after winning a lottery, only to later declare for bankruptcy. 

When your soul lives lavishly on the riches of God’s word you have stored in your heart, you recognize more clearly the worthless trinkets the world seeks to sell you as treasure.  I’ve come to realize that when a heart is void of the authentic treasure of God’s word, it will easily pursue what deceptively sparkles like diamonds.  

To begin a day without storing up the life-sustaining and life-protecting treasure of God’s word, is like waking up and deciding to walk across the Sahara Desert with no water or food.  You will not make it far.  So, I strive to begin each day digging into the Scriptures.  And daily, I always come away with treasure that enriches my life, and helps me take one more step in the right direction.

As you think on this, ask yourself, What do I need to rid my heart of that is keeping me from storing up true treasure and taking one more step in the right direction?  

STEP ONE, IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

I have a friend, Holt, who is a mountaineer.  Currently he’s somewhere in South America scaling a mountain, and I’m here just trying to navigate through my bedroom at night without stubbing my toe.  Don’t me wrong, both are adventurous, and at times treacherous.  

Recently I asked him about some of his treks, which include his climb up Mount Arat in Turkey, three times, with an expedition team in search for Noah’s Ark.  Pretty awesome.  (By the way, you can watch the documentary, Finding Noah, on Amazon Prime). As we were discussing mountaineering, and the skill it takes to navigate a mountain, especially one that is glacial, he mentioned some of the equipment needed, as well as techniques necessary, for having a successful and safe ascent.  For example, it is vital that hikers know the right path to take in order to avoid the dangers of deep crevasses.  To insure that the right path is taken, the lead hiker will use a pick axe to methodically test out the ice so as to locate what is safe to walk on and what is a potential dangerous and deadly crevasse.  It’s often slow-go and, as you can imagine, very intense.  This isn’t some Sound of Music, Julie-Andrews-run-up-the-mountain singing moment.  Every step matters in order to reach the summit.

Holt shared with me that not only was there danger in ascending Mount Arat, but they had to constantly be aware of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party), a terrorist group known for taking climbers hostage due to the dispute between Turkey and the Kurdish people.  Mount Arat lies in the midst of disputed territory; a geo-political quagmire.  As climbers, they had to make sure of their next step, as well as stay alert to the possible threats and attacks of the PKK.  Not just your average stroll up a hill.   

This journey in life is a lot like that.  Every step matters.  Life is a beautiful thing; a gift from God.  But it can also be treacherous, full of dangerous crevasses that look much different than what you find on a mountain.  In our ascent in becoming a better person, and as followers of Jesus becoming more like Him, it is critical that we take right steps in the right direction.  That’s not always easy.  And if that isn’t hard enough, add to it the fact that there is an enemy who doesn’t want us to reach the summit.  That was true of Jesus in the wilderness when Satan tempted Him to misstep and fall victim to the crevasses of power, pleasure, and wealth.  And for us, Satan tempts us no less.  

The enemy is cunning.  He is malicious.  He is a liar.  He will tell you that there is an easy, and much more pleasurable, shortcut to reaching the summit, all the while leading you down a path that is full of painful, sorrowful, wounding, and even deadly crevasses.  He is not a great guide for your expedition through life.

Fortunately, God has not left us to find our own way.  In Psalm 119, the psalmist gives us practical steps for how to navigate well through the ups and downs of life in the right direction. 

STEP ONE:  I MUST DAILY SURRENDER THE THOUGHT THAT MY WAY IS BETTER THAN GOD’S.  

“How can a young man (person) keep his way pure?  By guarding it according to Your word.”  Psalm 119:9

Regretfully, I’ve had many moments where I thought my way was better than God’s.  Although I would have never confessed that verbally to God or others, inwardly I was mapping out my own trail as though I had been down the road further than Him; as though He didn’t have my best interest at heart; as though God just didn’t understand the circumstances or situations as well as I did; as though I was more trustworthy; as though I knew the “mountain” better than Him.  Or maybe it was just because I wanted my own selfish way.  However, there hasn’t been a single time where I have sought to be my own guide and counsel that it has worked out well for me.

You might be thinking, “It’s worked out well for me so far.”  The problem with that statement are two little words:  “so far.”  It may seem like you’ve got this figured out “so far,” like working a Rubic’s cube and having three sides solved, only to find that you’re just one move closer to screwing it all up.  And you will, if you go your own way.  We’re not capable, apart from Christ, to navigate life in a way that leads us to do what is true, pure, and right.  Listen to this ancient wisdom that has always been, and always will be, true:  “There is a way that seems right to a man but its end is the way to death.”  Proverbs 14:12

Several years ago I was in the Congo equipping pastors who would be planting churches, as well as preaching in a couple rural villages.  On one particular morning, I was traveling in the back of an old, and very small, pickup truck, sitting on a crate.  It was a very bumpy and curvy trip down, what seemed to be, a rough dirt road.  And it was a long trip.  Did I mention I was sitting on a crate?  Needless to say, it wasn’t the most comfortable ride.  But several other pastors were packed into the back of this truck with me.  To pass the time we talked about life, and church, and . . . the roads.  Occasionally, the truck would stop and the driver would talk with a group of men who had shovels and what looked to be a rake-like tool.  I thought nothing of it.  After the driver’s brief discussion with the men on the side of the road, we would be back on our winding way.  Once we arrived to the villages, I would preach and leave them with a solar powered MP3 player that was pre-loaded with the New Testament in Swahili.  After a long day we made our twisting and turning journey back to Lubumbashi.  When we got off the truck I asked one of the men, who was my translator, why we were swerving so much down the dirt road we travelled.  For some reason I didn’t think to ask earlier.  In hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t.  He informed me that the reason for the curvy ride and frequent stops along the way was to avoid the active land mines that had been placed in the road by the warring factions in the Congo.  The men with the tools were paid by drivers to inform them where to go, and where not to go so as to not detonate the explosives.  Welcome to the Congo. 

At the time, I was in a little bit of shock at what I just heard but quickly came to realize that God had gone before us.  Thankfully we had a knowledgable and experienced driver who knew when to stop, what to ask, and had travelled that road many times before.  I don’t even want to think what would have happened had I been driving.  My way would not have been best; it would have been disastrous.   

I tell you that story to say this:  we travel a treacherous road that is laden with the enemy’s deadly devices.  If we do not know the way to travel, we will find ourselves as casualties of his attacks. By God’s grace, and because of His goodness, He has not left us without a map or a guide.

Read carefully, again, that verse in Psalm 119:9:  “By guarding it according to Your word.” 

Later in Psalm 119:66, it reads, Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in Your commandments.”    

My life, and my steps, are best guarded not when I live according to my word, or my thoughts, but when I submit to God’s word and His ways.  If I am going to make right decisions, which are always wise decisions, then my judgment and knowledge must be formed by God’s word at work in me.     

God has given us His word, and for those who have by faith fully trusted God in Christ for salvation and the forgiveness of sin, we have His Spirit who guides us into all truth.  We are able to guard our way by living our lives according to what God has said and shown us in His word.  It’s a lot like the driver who knew where to travel on the the dangerous road in the Congo.  As we read and take in the truth of God’s word, the Spirit of God directs our steps.

“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.  Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.  It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.” Proverbs 3:5-8

So today, as you continue your ascent up the mountain before you, take one right step in the right direction by letting every action, attitude, thought, and motive be tethered to the truth of God’s word.  Don’t concern yourself with tomorrow’s climb; focus on the steps before you today.  And as you take one more step in the right direction, allowing the Spirit of God lead you, your climb will be much more enjoyable.