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.